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New Horizons for autism and special needs

100 Mile House Free Press - 4/5/2021

Brenda Buschlen looks forward to the day her autistic son Matthew can come home to 100 Mile House - with the services in place to support him.

Buschlen is a volunteer with the Family First: New Horizons Autism Support Society, which recently opened an office in 100 Mile House at 530 Horse Lake Rd., offering everything from adapted programs and support groups to occupational therapy and basic life skills. Some 18 families have already signed up.

Collaborating with groups such as Blue Sky's Autism Services and the Cedar Crest Society for Community Living will be key to the organization's plan.

"These kids belong in their community," Buschlen said. "They have a right to be included and access supports and services."

Buschlen said more services are desperately needed for people like Matthew, who was diagnosed with autism at two-and-a-half and is largely non-verbal. Although he accessed early intervention programs in 100 Mile as a child, Buschlen found a lack of other specialized services in the community, which meant her son's medical conditions that exacerbated his autism went untreated and left him aggressive and in pain.

While he briefly attended school in 100 Mile, he became segregated and wasn't able to socialize with his peers.

"The doors just continued to close for him over the years and now he's turning 13 and he lives in Kamloops in a special needs agreement," Buschlen said. "For me, that is an unacceptable outcome."

Early intervention is key to helping those with autism, Buschlen said, but also remembering that support is needed as the child gets older.

While she hasn't formally studied autism, Buschlen aims to help teach families how to advocate for their needs and puts them in contact with local services that can help support their children.

Tanya George, office coordinator for 100 Mile's New Horizons, said many parents are overwhelmed.

Many don't have funding or social workers and are being forced to do stacks of paperwork to get their children the help they need. The society is doing its best to fundraise to help them, she said.

"One thing I love about these ladies and what their vision is is to not only help the child but also help the parents," George said.

Crystal Turatus, founder of Williams Lake'sNew Horizons Autism Support Society, noted the demand for services at the Williams Lake society has grown exponentially over the last year, with the client list increasing from 39 to 253.

"It's overwhelming, but it's needed," said Turatus, whose son was diagnosed with autism at birth. "I'm glad that the children, not just my son, got the support that they needed."

Peggy Archer, who has worked with special needs kids for 40 years and is vice president of 100 Mile's New Horizon's board of directors, said New Horizons seeks to roadblocks facing parents and streamline the process of getting help and care that puts the family first.

"If you don't treat the family, how do you treat that child?" she said. "It has to be intertwined. That's my biggest goal that the family and community understand."