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Second annual Osoyoos autism awareness event attracts huge crowd of supporters
For more than 15 years, Norine and Brent Holderbein felt alone and “were winging it” when trying to deal with the many challenges involved with raising their autistic son Daniel.
But that has all changed over the past year since they accessed the services and support provided by the Osoyoos Autism Behavioural Centre (OABC).
“We finally feel like we’re not alone and we don’t have to wing it on our own any more,” said Norine, who along with her husband and son participated in the second annual OABC Awareness Walk this past Saturday.
A large crowd of close to 150 people participated in the walk, which helped raise close to $6,500 for the local centre, which was organized in early 2013 by Osoyoos residents Kim and Brian Dragseth.
Participants were to raise pledges and many of the walkers dressed up as “superheroes” as part of the event theme.
Information booths were set up inside the Sonora Centre, there were children’s games and everyone was treated to lunch.
Raising an autistic child is difficult at the best of times, but it’s much more difficult when you don’t know exactly what’s wrong or how to access services and support, she said.
“We had a very late diagnosis with Daniel and it was only after he was diagnosed as autistic last year that we finally heard about this program,” she said. “We’ve been taking part in the support group in Osoyoos and that has helped a lot as we finally realize we’re not the only ones going through this.
“We’re also accessing information and services to try and help Daniel and it has been very helpful. I honestly don’t know where we would be without this centre because we were getting burned out.”
Being part of the support group has been an amazing and rewarding experience, she said.
“We not only support each other and discuss what we’re going through, but they bring in specialists and guest speakers to help us and guide us,” she said. “We’ve become friends with a lot of the other parents. It has been great.”
Events like the awareness walk are important to not only raise money for autism research and programs, but also to inform members of the general public about autism, she said.
Having the services provided by the OABC in Osoyoos is helpful in more ways than she can mention for her family, she said.
“Everyone had to go to Penticton or Kelowna to access any kind of services or support … now we find almost everything we need right here in our own community,” she said.
After being home schooled for most of his life, Daniel is attending his first year at Osoyoos Secondary School and the support they have received from the school’s teachers and administration has been amazing, she said.
Henrietta Penney is the owner of Alpha Behaviour Services and is a Kelowna woman who has dedicated the past 35 years of her life to helping families with autistic children.
She was beaming with pride while sitting beside Dragseth after the successful awareness walk.
There are almost one dozen parents from Osoyoos who belong to the support group and programming and services for six local children, said Dragseth.
While helping those directly affected is a big part of the centre’s mandate, it’s also important to share information and assist anyone who needs assistance, she said.
“We will get calls or emails from people who want information about what they can do to help their brother or sister or niece or nephew,” she said. “We will send them out information packages or provide contacts. We’re all about helping the families, but also sharing information with anyone in the community.”
The latest statistics indicate one in 68 Canadian children is born autistic and that number is growing, said Penney.
The fact there is no known cause remains frustrating, said Dragseth.
“It’s very frustrating because, of course, you blame yourself at first and wonder what did I do wrong during my pregnancy or did I do something wrong when your child is a toddler,” she said. “Eventually you have to accept it and do what you have to do to try and get help and assist your children.”
The amount of community support for the OABC the past two years has been “simply remarkable,” said Dragseth.
“Events like this are the reason why we do this and have put in all the hard work to getting this centre going,” she said. “We’re keeping families together and that means a lot to me.”