New Brunswick

Organizers hoping to save Fredericton program for children on the autism spectrum

The organizers of Sensory Circuits, held once a month at the Fredericton Public Library, are searching for funding to save one of the city’s few free programs for school-aged children on the spectrum.

Grant money for program is depleted, final outing takes place Saturday

Kim MacLean, left, and Rebecca Wurm created the Sensory Circuits program for children on the autism spectrum at the Fredericton Public Library. But now the pair is looking for funding to save it. (Colleen Kitts-Goguen/CBC)

The days appear to be numbered for a Fredericton-based program that encourages children on the autism spectrum to take part in physical and social activities in a safe space.

The organizers of Sensory Circuits, held once a month at the Fredericton Public Library, are searching for funding to save one of the city's few free programs for school-aged children on the spectrum.

The grant money for the program has dried up, and the final outing takes place Saturday.

"It feels like we're filling a hole in this community," said Rebecca Wurm, a pediatric occupational therapist who helped create the program.

Wurm, who moved to the city from the United States three years ago, frequented the library with her young children. She noticed how few special needs children were there and mentioned it to a friend who works as the children's library assistant.

It turned out Kim MacLean was thinking the same thing and wanted to encourage more of the children to come into the space.

"I wanted them to feel comfortable," MacLean told Shift New Brunswick. "I wanted them to know they are welcome here as well. I wanted them to be seen."

The Fredericton Public Library has been offering a free program for children on the autism spectrum. But funding for Sensory Circuits has come to an end. Now, children's library assistant Kim MacLean and pediatric occupational therapist Rebecca Wurm are looking for a new way to pay for it. 8:11

The pair decided to create Sensory Circuits, a program they said is designed to encourage children on the spectrum to love physical activity. They applied for a Go NB grant, provincial funding devoted to proposals that promote physical literacy and reduce barriers to sport.

The grant in particular supports under-represented populations, according to the government website.

Wurm said she considers children with autism spectrum disorder and their families as "marginalized."

"It can be really challenging to feel comfortable bringing your child into public because of their atypical sensory systems — how they respond to noises or a busy environment or the noises they make or the movements they need to make to feel comfortable," Wurm said.

'They're excited to be here'

The program allows parents to drop off their children for one of two 45-minute sessions on one Saturday a month. The first group is for children with a higher level of need and the second is for children with mild to moderate autism.

The first session, which is limited to six kids, focuses on sensory motor opportunities, using trampolines, ball pits and exercises, with one-on-one support, Wurm said.

"For that first group, we really provide an opportunity for free exploration," she said.

The second session focuses more on structured group interactions. About 15 children in total attended the sessions.

Wurm said organizers have received positive feedback from the parents and the children and are hopeful they can receive another grant or sponsorship to continue providing the program.

"Kids come in here and just have a smile across their face," Wurm said. "They're excited to be here."

They said they're looking for $750 per month to cover the room rental and supplies.They're also hoping to begin paying volunteers for their time.

With files from Shift New Brunswick

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