Dr. Nicole Burnett, a psychology instructor at Medicine Hat College, helped found the Medicine Hat Autism Society. PHOTO COURTESY OF MEDICINE HAT COLLEGE

Dr. Nicole Burnett, a psychology instructor at Medicine Hat College, has a son who was diagnosed with autism when he was four years old and, even with her degree, she was lost.

Not knowing any other parents who had children with autism also left Burnett feeling alone. Even with provincial Family Support for Children with Disabilities funding, she was unable to hire qualified help.

Once Burnett’s son entered the school system, the built-in supports made things easier. “As part of my quest for information,” said Burnett, “I’m an academic, I like research, I did all the reading, I found everything I possibly could about autism.”

She completed an additional three years of education and now holds a post-graduate certificate in autism and behavioural science.

“Now I’m armed with information, and my goal is to help other families in our community.”

With the help of other parents and people in the community, the Medicine Hat Autism Society was formed last September. Burnett also sits on the board for Autism Alberta, a governance board that supports all the individual societies in the province and also has connections to other provinces.

In April this year, Burnett attended the ninth annual Canadian Autism Leadership Summit with a few other members of Autism Alberta. The group was invited to the senate to celebrate the passing of the national autism strategy and meet some of the senators responsible for tabling the bill, along with the MP who brought it forward.

At the summit, she was also able to connect with other societies and organizations. “Hearing that we are not alone, there are other societies all over Canada who are facing the same troubles we are. In connecting with those groups, we are supporting each other. We are now communities supporting other communities,” said Burnett.

Part of the national autism strategy is to have autistic individuals included in all levels of society. Federal policy and federal funding strategies need to be created that will be implemented by the provinces. The Medicine Hat Autism Society and Autism Alberta are beginning to prepare for what that might look like, as the government does not intend to promote autism acceptance and awareness within the general population.

“The Medicine Hat Autism Society is going to try and fill that gap,” stated Burnett. Starting in fall this year, they will provide information sessions to the public about what autism is and how to support an autistic individual.

“Autistic individuals are capable as long as they have supports and accommodations in place,” explained Burnett. “When you think about employment, they may not interview well. Only 10% of people with autism hold jobs. Part of my goal is to provide information to the public about autism so autistic individuals can feel more included in our community.”

By SAMANTHA JOHNSON, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jun 20, 2023 at 09:16

This item reprinted with permission from   Medicine Hat News   Medicine Hat, Alberta
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