Nfld. & Labrador

Magazine names Channel-Port aux Basques most autism-friendly town in Canada

Channel-Port aux Basques has gone from zero resources to special rooms at a local hotel and training for town recreational staff.

Community group has created accessible spaces and raised awareness, says Today's Parent

Autism Involves Me helped create a mini gym at the town's recreation complex, the Bruce II Sports Centre. (Submitted Today's Parent/Carla Antonio )

Improving services for children with autism and their families has put a town in western Newfoundland on the pages of a national magazine.

Today's Parent has declared Channel-Port aux Basques the most autism-friendly town in Canada.

To mark World Autism Day on Monday, the publication released a video and web article telling the story of two women who "transformed their tiny Newfoundland community from a zero-resources town to the best place in the country to raise kids on the spectrum."

Joan Chaisson is an ABA, or applied behavioural analysis, home therapist. (Submitted Today's Parent/Carla Antonio )

One of those women, Joan Chaisson, founded a support and education group called AIM, or Autism Involves Me, with the mother of a child with autism who Chaisson works with.

Improving resources

"I think that the children and parents both, especially the parents, they felt very alone because the people outside — the public — just didn't understand anything about autism," Chaisson said, referring to life before AIM.

"There was no awareness and very little education on it for the parents."

AIM set out to change that.

It helped a local hotel become the first autism-friendly lodging option in the country — modifying some units and creating a sensory room.

Autism Involves Me approached Hotel Port Aux Basques owner Cathy Lomond about donating existing space within the facility so it could be transformed into a sensory or quiet room. (Submitted by Hotel Port Aux Basques)

Business have donated spaces for storage and social events.

There's a mini gym set up at the town's recreation centre, where staff have received training in how to work with autistic children.

"The parents have places to go now," Chaisson said.

"If their child is having a sensory issue at home, they can take their child there."

Autism in the province 

Newfoundland and Labrador has the highest rate of autism spectrum disorder in the country at one in 57 children between ages five and 17, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The national average is one in 66 kids.

According to the Today's Parent article, 14 of the 300 children in Channel-Port aux Basques's elementary school have been diagnosed.

Community partnerships have been vital in AIM's work to create accessible spaces for those children, according to Chaisson.

She says the group has "never had a closed door."