Tell us about your organization. What kinds of services do you provide for young autistic adults and their families?
M: posAbilities offers a full spectrum of community living services, including deep roots in behaviour support. One of our five founding organizations was Laurel House Society. Today, we serve youth and their families as behaviour consultants and coaches for skill development workshops like Connect with PEERS®. We partner with posAbilities Employment Service to offer youth-oriented Spring and Summer break camp opportunities and will be starting a research study this Spring to evaluate the most successful youth employment interventions. posAbilities also partners with the Vancouver School Board and Community Living BC (CLBC) to provide a gateway to skill development called #Limitless. Youth enrolled to attend school part-time and spend the balance of their week with us. The service includes a discovery period, and individualized goals setting and skill development that includes things like transit training (as needed), connecting with community and volunteering. There is also a version for youth or adults who are not in the school system, called Explore, which uses a similar approach to personal development.
R: BACI is one of the largest service providers in the province. We serve over 1000 individuals and their families. Most individuals we serve are funded by the Ministry of Children and Families or CLBC. We offer a wide variety of programs. For teens who live in Burnaby or New Westminster and who quality for Ministry of Children and Family Special Needs Services, we have day camps that run throughout spring break and the summer holidays.
J: STADD is a voluntary service that provides transition support to youth ages 16 to 24 who are eligible for CLBC services. We work in a person-centred way to ensure the voice of the young person is at the centre of all activities in their transition plan. We coordinate youth, families, and transition team members to come together and highlight what parts of the transition plan they can support and share ideas and resources for the youth’s consideration. We also collect information that is shared with others in the social service system highlighting strengths and opportunities to improve transition pathways.
What are your motivations? Why do you do what you do?
M: What brought me to this job was the opportunity to align my skills in communications and engagement with my newfound passion for family support and advocacy. I started as a Family Support Worker and Technical Writer for the Association 11 years ago. I also desperately needed a flexible job that was close to home, so that I could participate more in my son’s education, and advocate for his support needs. My son struggled mightily throughout his elementary school years, attending four different schools during that time.
My son graduated from Moscrop Secondary School in Burnaby in 2018, with 2019 being his plus year. Through PATH planning, a dedicated support network and the judicious use of Individualized Funding, I am happy to share my family’s successful transition journey with others.
I have appreciated the learning opportunities, insights, and support of many family leaders and agencies all along the way. I aim to contribute in the same way, hopefully making the journey a little bit easier for others.
R: My son, Leslie, who has a rare disability, is 36. He receives day and residential services from BACI. My involvement with BACI started when I joined their parent support group twenty-eight years ago. Since then I have had a variety of roles in the organization, both volunteer and paid. Four years ago, I became a BACI family services consultant.
J: I was drawn to this role by the reliance on person-centred planning and the emphasis on ensuring that youth were aware of their rights and options for supporting their dreams over time. There was also the appeal of working using a team-based approach to coordinate planning, and recognizing how the information and knowledge that folks had could make a big difference in supporting the experiences youth wanted to have in this world.
MT: I am passionate about supporting youth and families in their transition journey. I am a family member with an uncle who lived with various labels of disabilities and I had spent 20 years working with various non-profits and at Community Living BC (CLBC). I have seen the power of planning for various transitions of life. I had seen and championed the pilot navigator programs around BC, so when the navigator program for Burnaby was announced, I was happy to assist with the launch and coordination for Burnaby and soon after, New Westminster.
Describe a typical day at work.
M: No two days are alike. I am the Director of Community Engagement and the point person for coordinating family resources. I represent posAbilities on various internal and external committees that help advance equity and inclusion, and I oversee a small team of communications specialists.
R: My job involves creating a bi-weekly newsletter for Burnaby families, organizing educational events and doing 1-1 support for families who are looking for information and resources. In particular, I can help with Person-with-Disabilities applications and representation agreements. BACI also has a parent support group for Chinese families run by John Tsang. Our family services are available to anyone who lives in Burnaby or New Westminster.
J: My daily routine varies a lot. I meet with youth and families to get to know them better. We clarify a vision for the young person’s life and break things down into smaller steps to see how we can get there including the resources required. I also do presentations in the community to introduce folks to STADD services and on the STADD online web portal platform, Collaborate. I pull together community partners, youth, and families to discuss the current supports and services in place and create a plan related to the opportunities to support youth transitions differently or most effectively.
MT: No two days are the same but will include some combination of planning meetings, planning meeting coordination and communication, researching supports that support planning, and case consultation with inter-ministerial partners at Ministry of Children and Family Development’s Children and Youth with Special Needs team, CLBC’s team, health teams, Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction teams, etc.
Can you share a life-changing moment you experienced in your job?
M: In addition to our work innovating services through a social R&D approach, I am incredibly proud of our organization’s leadership in the annual Inclusion Art Show, and other arts and cultural projects. For example, I have seen significant growth in confidence and pride amongst participating artists, and other individuals who are taking on roles like performing and emceeing on stage. When I see the joy they experience as they tackle new challenges and brave new frontiers, I feel a great sense of fulfillment. It’s wonderful to see how service design changes like the creation of an art studio as a community inclusion initiative, can bring about new opportunities for community connection and belonging.
R: The year Leslie left high school was one of the most challenging of my life. Funding for programs was being cut drastically and I was told that nothing was available for Leslie. I advocated hard and eventually got him the services he needs. I want to share what I have learned as a parent, a volunteer, and an advocate, with other families. Everyone should have the chance to make the most of their potential. The most rewarding part of my job is when I see families and individuals get past an obstacle and find opportunities on the other side.
J: I remember a moment when a young person was in a transition support team meeting and agreed it was okay for me to share a problem they had identified with the other team members. Once it was shared, the question of “what do you want this to look like” emerged and the young person found their voice and shared their vision with passion for being supported in this area with everyone. The other team members offered additional support for the young person to be able to claim their space and live aligned with their vision. Watching someone tap into their voice and be open to getting support to live more authentically was meaningful to me.
MT: It’s always terrific to share with youth, families, and transition teams, the successes of transitioning youth. Success is as varied as each youth, but some planning goals achieved include high school classes, friendships, work experiences, a job, a home, volunteering, relationships, transit independence, etc.
Any words of encouragement for young autistic adults or their parents?
M: Be courageous and be a lifelong learner. I have seen so many youth blossoms in their later teens and early adult years. I encourage you to try out new interests and to participate in different experiences, even uncomfortable ones so that you continue to grow and live a good and full life.
R: At our annual BACI Winter Dinner Dance, Leslie sat with two of his friends from high school. It has been eighteen years since they were at Burnaby South together. As I watched them enjoying each other’s company, I reflected on how much they have learned in the last eighteen years. They are, all three, much more mature and capable. All young people develop throughout their twenties, but for individuals with disabilities, this development can be extraordinary. Transition is often the start of a period of tremendous learning.
J: We all have a developmental path in life and varied abilities. Do not be afraid of the size of the dream and the number of steps you may need to make dreams come true. You will find that when you share what you want and ask who is open to support you, often what you need will become accessible.
MT: Transition after high school is scary for all youth. Take things one step at a time and know that a team is possible to develop before 19 and AFTER 19.
Watch Monique, Rachel, Jules, and Meaghen’s presentation on Transitioning into Adulthood from the Front Lines: Navigation and Lived Experiences:
Monique Nelson, (Parent, and Director of Community Engagement for posAbilities), Rachel Goddyn, (Family services consultant from BACI)
Jules Wilson and Meaghen Taylor Reid (STADD Navigators), and Joette Heuft (Square Peg Society) talk about their professional and lived experiences on the topic Transitioning into Adulthood for young autistic adults.