Posted on 18 July 2012 by Mathew White
Any mother will tell you, raising a child is one of, if not the hardest jobs on this planet. But when it comes to raising a child with autism, Kim Dragseth will tell you that’s something completely different.
“I have a huge philosophy: ‘whatever works for that day,’” said Dragseth. “Obviously we follow a lot of schedules and rules, but parenting a child with autism is totally different than parenting a typical child. It’s a lot different.”
According to Autism Canada, autism is a disorder that typically impacts brain development, leaving many individuals with communication problems, difficulty with social interaction and a tendency to repeat specific patterns of behaviour.
Dragseth’s son Jude was diagnosed with autism about three years ago, just before he turned three years old. She and her husband Brian noticed a few signs of autism in her son early on, such as anti-social behaviour, problems with speech and trouble playing with toys, she said.
“We knew that he had autism, but we didn’t have the diagnosis,” said Dragseth, who added it often takes up to a year to get an official autism diagnosis.
Once the diagnosis was confirmed, Dragseth said she put Jude into a supportive autism program out of Penticton (the closet location available).
But making the commute was both very difficult and costly, she said.
“I had my youngest (Nohl), who was an infant at the time, and they would both get car sick,” she said.
“We were always driving back and forth and the people were coming out here and it just took up a lot of the autism funding.”
Autism funding is provided to a family supporting a member who has been diagnosed with the disorder. Dragseth said the amount she receives each year in autism funding is very workable, but only if a supportive program is easily accessible.
As the days and months rolled on, Dragseth said she continued to make the commute to Penticton, dealing with two car-sick kids and the increased costs.
But one day the commute just became too much and she decided it would be a lot better for everyone involved if they did the entire program from home.
Her first step was finding a consultant to oversee the operation. Dragseth said after a bit of soul searching, that person became Henrietta Penney, a category A behaviour consultant, who she said “totally saved (their) lives” and who will also be heading the autism centre.
Through Penney, Dragseth said she was put in contact with a number of excellent specialists to work with Jude, something she’s eternally grateful for. But as her support team continued to grow, she said it became too much to handle out of their home, so she started looking for somewhere that would accommodate everyone a lot better.
“What happened was we were doing everything here and it just got to be too much … occupational therapy, speech therapy, three behavioural assistants and consultants in and out of the house,” she said. “Everyone has keys to the house. There were people here all the time (and) it was just too much.”
With her boys Jude and Nohl attending the Osoyoos Child Care Centre, Dragseth said she noticed one day how the downstairs area of the building wasn’t being used.
After speaking with Penney, who then spoke with Cheryl Smith, manager at the Osoyoos Child Care Centre, they were able to work out the details and after a few short weeks, the Osoyoos Autism Behavioural Centre was approved.
But what started as a way to simply get more space, quickly turned into something bigger.
“Initially it was just supposed to be for me and my family,” said Dragseth. “But I thought there must be other families here that need this as well.”
Dragseth said it has taken her three years to get to the comfort level she’s at now and she would love to see other parents also be able to get to that level.
Raising a child with autism can come with a steep learning curve and can be a very tiresome job, so having a place where information and help is available would be a great service to Osoyoos and its surrounding communities, she said.
“If I can help the new parents that are where I was three years ago, lost and confused … it will be way easier,” said Dragseth.
“I’m not a board certified consultant or behavioural interventionist. I’m just a parent who wants to help other parents, and with all the contacts that I have, hopefully they can find a way as well.”
The Osoyoos Autism Behavioural Centre is scheduled for a grand opening fundraiser at the Osoyoos Child Care Centre on Saturday, July 21. The event kicks off around 9 a.m. and will include a raffle table at Buy-Low Foods, sprinklers and games for children at the centre, T-shirts for the volunteers, a garage sale at Curves, and to finish the day off, a performance by the Vancouver band Phatty Phatty at 2 p.m.
Interested residents will also have access to information pamphlets and request tours of the facility will be given. Dragseth said she is hoping families from all over the South Okanagan and Similkameen can take advantage of this new centre.
Lastly, Dragseth said she would like to thank everyone who has helped her through this journey, including the staff at the Osoyoos Child Care Centre, the various people who make up her autism support team, and of course, all the friends and family members who have lent helping hands over the years.
When it comes to autism, it is important to have a community of supporters and that’s exactly what she has found, she said.
“I am really grateful and humbled each day and I am so thankful to have my family the way it is,” said Dragseth. “I wouldn’t change it for the world.”