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Boundary Autism Society gaining traction

Society co-founders look back on recent successes, call for volunteers
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Interest in programs and services offered by the Boundary Autism Society has grown exponentially since its inception late last year, which founding members say is great, but they are also hoping for more people to help.

What started out as a need to help educate the public about people with autism has quickly morphed into a burgeoning nonprofit offering services and outreach for families with children and youth on the autism spectrum.

While the society is a resource and support organization for families with autistic children and youth, co-founder Shena Dovedoff said all their activities are all-inclusive.

“We don’t require anyone to produce proof of a diagnosis,” she said. “All of our events are open for everyone, but they are to always include people who are neurodivergent. There will never be a threat of anyone asked to leave, but there will always be safe, calming areas in case someone is overstimulated.”

Reception has been wonderful, Dovedoff said, with the first public event at the Grinch Grind, which was a fundraiser for the society. Since then, they’ve been offering programs to see what the public is interested in. April was also Autism Awareness Month, which there were a few activities and awareness events around Grand Forks. Among the popular activities has been sensory play times at events like at a free family skate Feb. 19 and at the Grand Forks Performing Arts Centre recently, as well as a sensory corner at Dr. D. H. Perley Elementary School’s Family Night.

Dovedoff explained sensory play involves activities, usually in a quiet setting, that stimulates a child’s focus and curiosity while minimizing stress. This can include puzzles, reading nooks, physical touch stimulation like rice boxes, shaving cream and play slime.

There was also a soccer camp, which received high demand.

“We had so many kids and everyone loved it, nobody wants to see that end,” she said. “We’re definitely doing that again.”

The Wooden Spoon had a “donut day,” with about half of all proceeds from donut sales going to the society. The Grand Forks Aquatic Centre also held an event where they donated one dollar from admissions to the society.

The society was conceived after a need was identified by an RCMP officer.

“My journey to create this society started with an RCMP Constable joining parents for Noisy Reading Day at my son’s school” she said “This led to a realization that emergency professionals in the area have little to no training on how to interact with a person with Autism.”

After speaking to the officer and school staff, Dovedoff understood there were few resources for people to learn how to interact with Autistic people and when needed, de-escalate a stressful situation. She and Sam Popoff both founded the Boundary Autism Society initially for that reason, but quickly found a need to give families a source for resources and programs.

“The Boundary Autism Society started with the goal of bringing Autism Awareness and Response Training to communities in the Boundary area and I am very happy to report that our society’s Autism Awareness and Response Training course is being developed and is near completion,” Dovedoff said.

There’s a lot of families in the Boundary Region with children and youth with autism, Dovedoff said, as well as groups and sports teams that want to know more about effective communication.

“As much as organizations want to be more inclusive, some kids cannot follow instructions the same way, or they are not competitive, or they just want to run around. Coaches and instructors are not going to want to chase after the one kid that’s running away,” she said. “That makes the situation in competitive sports hard for children who are neurodivergent. So, by bringing this together in a non-competitive environment, where they can run and play and we have people that can make sure everybody is safe, everybody is having fun and everyone is looked after.”

To elaborate, co-founder Popoff used the soccer program they had. There were about six children and six volunteers, so each player was getting direct attention to suit their needs.

“There was one child that found group play intimidating for him, so I was able to go and play soccer with just him, but we still had kids playing soccer together,” she said.

Eventually, they want to make more programs available for neurodivergent adults as well.

So far, it’s been Dovedoff, Popoff and a few other people running programs, but as demand grows, they will be needing more people to help. Anyone interested in volunteering, or seeking programs, can visit the society’s Facebook page, email or 780-207-7281.

About the Author: Karen McKinley

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