Fourteen Pro Sports Teams and Provincial Sport Organizations Unite at BC Place

Vancouver, BC – On Saturday, May 11, Canucks Autism Network (CAN) welcomed over 2,500 attendees at CAN Sports Day, presented by ITC Construction Group. The annual event featured 11 sports stations for children, youth, and adults on the autism spectrum, and their families, to enjoy on the field at BC Place.

Now in its 10th year, the event featured five professional sports teams – the Vancouver Canucks, Abbotsford Canucks, Vancouver Whitecaps FC, BC Lions, and Vancouver Warriors. The event also included a range of Provincial Sport Organizations – BC Lacrosse Association, BC Athletics, British Columbia Golf, Tennis BC, Gymnastics BC, Baseball BC, BC Rugby, BC Wheelchair Basketball Society, and Let’s Play BC.

All participating organizations received autism training from CAN ahead of the event. Staff, players, alumni, and mascots were then joined by CAN coaches and volunteers in order to lead the various activities for participants.

“We believe that every individual on the autism spectrum has the right to play sports,” said Britt Andersen, CEO of Canucks Autism Network. “It is truly inspiring to see professional teams and Provincial Sport Organizations joining forces to create an unforgettable sporting experience for our CAN community.”

Many individuals on the autism spectrum face barriers to participation in community sports and recreation. By training and uniting an entire community of BC sports leaders, the event seeks to build more inclusive and accessible sport opportunities for Autistic athletes across a variety of settings.

Each year, CAN delivers over 700 programs and trains thousands of community leaders province-wide. To learn more, visit


About Canucks Autism Network (CAN)

Canucks Autism Network (CAN) provides programs for individuals on the autism spectrum and their families, while promoting acceptance and inclusion through community engagement and training initiatives across BC and beyond.

CAN’s vision is for every individual with autism to be understood, accepted and supported in all community spaces. Learn more at

Canucks Autism Network (CAN) Media Contact

Lindsay Petrie
Director of Marketing & Communications


Shawn & Leslie are members of The Village, our monthly donor community.

Together, they shared with us why they give. Watch them share their story. Or read their interview transcribed below.

We’re parents to two girls, Siana and Selita. And our youngest Selita also happens to be on the autism spectrum.

When Selita was about eight months, she stopped making eye contact. And that was when we had our worries. Shortly after, she was diagnosed with autism.

I remember feeling very, very limited in what we could support her with. But when we learned about CAN and started using the programs, it was a completely different environment for her.

She flourished. She thrived in that environment.

She seems to know the days of the week based on her schedule with CAN. She’ll say, “This is the day that I have sports. This is the day I have gymnastics. This is the day I have swimming.”

Around the time that it’s time to go to class, she’ll say “Gymnastics?”

It’s in her body language and her level of excitement. And the staff at CAN have gotten to know her over the years.

They’ll immediately recognize her and say, “Oh okay, we know Selita likes splashing in the pool.” And they just meet her where she’s at.

Selita has gained so many skills over the years like from riding a bike to just swimming quite independently.

CAN has given her the ability to learn how to swim. And that’s something that maybe other people could take for granted. She’ll tread water for such a long time now, and it’s just amazing. We owe so much of that to CAN.

As parents, when we first heard of CAN, and we started using their resources, one of the biggest things I felt was relief.

Relief knowing that there’s support here that is appropriate for her. Relief knowing that we’ve found a community here.

What would you say to encourage someone to become a monthly donor?

The programs offer so much. And they they’re not run for free. There’s a lot of infrastructure, technology, and trade professionals that are going into the program design, organization, and scheduling.

There are so many things that we don’t think of that make these programs sustainable.

And you want to see where your donation goes, right? It’s very, very evident in the programs that are that are offered.

And whether it’s a few dollars or a few hundred dollars, it all adds up and goes to the right place.

We’ve been donating monthly for such a long time that we don’t think about it anymore. It just becomes part of our monthly budget.

I think having something that CAN can rely on in a sustained and continuous basis really makes a real impact.

And I really encourage other donors who are considering a monthly donation to think of it that way — donating allows you to be a part of the continued delivery of these programs.

Join The Village! Become a monthly donor today.

More Donor Stories

Why Christina Gives: “I want families to know there is a place for them here.”

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CAN & YVR: Launching a community of support

Dear CAN community,

Thinking back, we kind of knew something was going on when Noah was as young as 18 months old.

When we got his diagnosis, it was upsetting and scary but also freeing in a way, knowing we had a path forward. We started researching autism and joining Facebook forums, but it was just so hard to find the right resources.

My wife and I describe those initial years as experiencing parental loneliness. None of our friends had a child with autism. When we would try to go out into the world, people just assumed we had a bad kid or were bad parents. It was extremely isolating.

My name is Shane McKinnon, and I’m the proud father of three beautiful boys, Eli, Noah, and Luke.

We didn’t discover Canucks Autism Network (CAN) until Noah started school.

I remember day one of kindergarten like it was yesterday. Noah was just screaming and crying looking at me like “Why are you leaving me in this place?” since he didn’t have a lot of language at that time. Somehow Colleen, his incredible Special Education Assistant, quickly made him feel at ease. Colleen’s work with CAN is what got us involved with the organization.

With 1 in 29 BC kids now being diagnosed, the need for support is greater than ever.

A donation will help us respond to the overwhelming demand for our programs. Give a gift >

We signed Noah up for CAN’s Active program when he was five. As far as I knew, we’d take him there, let him burn off a bit of steam, then go home. Little did we know CAN was going to change our lives.

On the first day of the program, we arrived in the parking lot and got out of the car and this group of about five people in CAN t-shirts were smiling and waving at Noah. He started running towards them, but because we were in a parking lot, they all started running towards him. I remember thinking to myself, okay these people know what they’re doing.

Even still, we were so nervous that Noah was going to have a total meltdown. But within 30 seconds of walking through the door, we could just tell by the way the staff were interacting with him that it was going to be okay. We could tell that it was a very good place for him to be.

My wife and I then noticed the other parents. We kind of looked at them and they looked at us, then we looked at our kids acting in similar ways, and we got overwhelmed with this instant feeling of relief.

For $25, you can fund an hour of one-to-one support from a trained CAN staff member. Donate now >

In those initial months with CAN, we were hoping to meet some parents we could talk to and for Noah to meet some friends, but we never expected our whole family to experience such a sense of belonging.

Even the way Noah played with his brother changed. Before CAN, it was very much parallel play alongside his brother. Since practicing back and forth at CAN programs, they now play together.

I even noticed an improvement in the way Noah walked up the stairs at school. It was as if he suddenly had this heightened physical ability from all the activities he’d been doing at CAN’s active program.

But what really hit us was the change in Noah’s communication. He was finally communicating with people who knew how to communicate back to him. It was like CAN helped to unlock his voice.

In the beginning, I remember feeling upset that Noah had this roadblock in front of him but CAN has made that roadblock so much smaller. His confidence has grown more than we ever could have imagined. He’s learned so much and come so far.

Without CAN, Noah wouldn’t have an outlet where he could just be himself and not be on edge. It’s really the only place where he just gets to be a kid. And the only place where my wife and I can truly relax.

CAN has changed the way that Noah can live his life. Because of CAN, Noah has a place to go. A place to belong. We all do. And there is truly no greater gift than that.

Thank you,

Shane McKinnon, CAN dad

More CAN Stories

Brayden: “I believe I can be something in this world.”

“I can tell my brother loves CAN, because…”

Sarah Russell: “CAN is home to me.”



The 2023 CAN Pro-Am Luncheon, sponsored by TD Bank Group, is an opportunity for CAN supporters to mix and mingle with NHL Alumni while supporting the cause.

This year, CAN participant & staff member Brayden Bradbury took to the stage with his grandma, Lori, to share his incredible story. The following is the speech that Brayden & Lori delivered to a room full of 300+.

They received not one, but two standing ovations. Here’s why.


Good afternoon everyone. Brayden and I are so grateful for the opportunity to speak to you today about the Canucks Autism Network and the incredible impact they have on people’s lives.

We know because CAN changed Brayden’s life.

We all have hopes and dreams for our children and our grandchildren. Dreams for success and an extraordinary life. I wanted that for my grandson too.

But when he was diagnosed with autism, it made those dreams harder to believe in. But, I still had them – I mean, you have to!

Childhood can be tough enough for kids with autism. But adolescence became a very dark time for Brayden. A dark time for us all. In his struggles, he lost hope. He felt life was over, that he shouldn’t be here, that life was empty and meaningless.

He felt so lost and afraid. He thought the only solution for personal protection was self-imposed isolation.

By 15, he had dropped out of school and spent the next 3 years barely leaving his room.


In the summer of 2018, my nana found out about the Canucks Autism Network. And it completely resurrected my life.

I started going to some of CAN’s social programs at places like Castle Fun Park. I liked them so we decided to look at more programs. I then did CAN’s woodworking, and fitness program.

But it was their Explore Volunteering program that changed who I was. It’s an eight-week program where you go around the community and help at other non-profits.

A male young adult organizes a clothing rack at a thrift store

I had no idea I was so capable. I had no idea I could relate to others. And that I was compatible with other people.

Before the program, I believed that I was bound to be nothing. I also believed I was bound to be alone. But for the first time, I didn’t find myself so isolated anymore.

For the first time, I started to feel like I could do something with my life.


Before we found CAN, I kept telling Brayden how much I wished for him. But his future was always something we butted heads about.

He would tell me, “You know – getting a job, finishing school…that’s never gonna happen.”

But CAN gave him a belief in himself. They gave him an opportunity to feel in control. To feel responsible for what happens to his life.

I will never forget — after the Explore Volunteering program, Brayden came to me and said, “Nana – I think I want to find a job.”

To have your grandson say to you, after two and a half years of fighting – “I need to get a good start on life. I need to go back to school or it’s not going to be possible.”

It was something I’d only dreamed of.  CAN had flicked a switch in him. By 2020, Brayden had received his Adult Dogwood.

Then in 2021, he signed up for CAN’s Skills Training and Employment Program where he landed an 8-week work experience with New Again Cleaning.

Since then, he has worked as a Program Assistant at CAN’s Hockey, Active, Multisport, Gymnastics and Swim programs and is now a Support Worker at CAN Skate. And this summer, he worked as a full-time Program Assistant for CAN’s Summer Day Camps.

But Brayden’s involvement with CAN isn’t limited to his work with them. He continues to attend CAN programs like hiking, mini golf, and snowshoeing and even joins CAN’s Adult Leadership meetings when he has the time. And I truly hope he has the courage to access their mental health programs this coming year.


CAN’s impact on my life continues to this day. It continues with events like this one.

When the 2020 CAN Pro-Am was announced, I was just old enough to sign up. My nana registered me and told me that I had to raise the money myself and I did! That first year, I brought in $2,250 for my team, helping us land 6th overall pick on Draft Night.

After Todd Bertuzzi and the Sedins were drafted, my team narrowed it down to two players: Canucks Alumni Brad May and Mason Raymond. May went 5th so our decision was made.

We welcomed former Canucks winger Mason Raymond onto our team. Based on how the tournament went, I think we may have come out with the best pick in the draft.

On day one, Raymond kept setting me up, but I just couldn’t score. Although we lost both of our Saturday games, we were all having fun, and that’s what mattered most. We got a laugh out of Kyle Wellwood’s cherry-picking against us. And taking a faceoff against Geoff Courtnall was something I never thought would happen.

Then, on our last game of the tournament, I scored a goal assisted by Mason Raymond and Taylor Pyatt! Never in my life would I have dreamed this would happen. But CAN makes things like this possible. They’ve made so many things possible for me that I never could have dreamed of.

For me, hockey is a place where I can be myself. Hockey doesn’t care who I am. It soothes my soul and lives in my heart.

And at CAN Pro-Am, I get to be “just one of the guys.” The atmosphere is electrifying, and the environment is so warm, friendly, and welcoming. It’s like coming home.


I’m so proud of him. I tell him every day how proud I am.

Just a month ago Brayden obtained his Learner’s Driver’s License; another milestone which he thought would never happen.

And thanks to a recommendation from a fellow CAN member and CAN Pro-Am teammate, Brayden has now joined a Co-Ed Rec League.

Sometimes, I can’t believe how far Brayden has come.

CAN was the light in the darkness and a lifeline for Brayden both mentally and emotionally.

As Mark Twain said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.”

We know in our hearts that with CAN by his side, Brayden will find that why.

I thank Canucks Autism Network and I thank everyone in this room. CAN relies on people understanding the benefit of what they do. And it is because of your support that CAN is able to change the lives of thousands of people just like Brayden.


Before CAN, I was a high school dropout who never left the house.

Today, I am so busy with work opportunities that I often face conflicts in my schedule. Who would have ever thought this would be my reality?

Because of CAN, I believe I can be something in this world.

CAN has changed my life. I honestly cannot express my gratitude enough. Thank you.

More CAN Stories


2023 CAN Pro-Am: Over $1.07 million raised with NHL Alumni!

Canucks celebrate autism acceptance at Rogers Arena!

Autism accessibility continues at NHL, AHL & junior arenas across BC

Breaking barriers: From CAN to Chilliwack Minor Hockey

Dear CAN community,

I love playing soccer. I’ve been playing for over 9 years. I also love going camping and recently became a Beaver Leader.

But I’m most proud to be a big sister to my brother Tanner, who has autism. Growing up as Tanner’s sister was hard at times, but mostly it’s been really good.

My name is Gemma and I’m 16 years old.

My brother and I weren’t really close as kids because he didn’t talk much. I wanted to play with him, but he just wanted to be by himself and was obsessed with playing Mario. He’s been playing it for years and has basically memorized every route of the game. He may even like it more than Thomas the Train.

School was kind of rough for Tanner when he was little. Sometimes his teachers couldn’t get him to do something, so they would pull me from my class to get me to help with him. My mom would get a lot of calls from the school asking her to pick him up early.

For a while, it was really hard to get him to go anywhere or do any kind of activity.

My mom heard about CAN when they first came to Kelowna in 2014. She signed Tanner up for their first-ever skating program.

At the start, all he wanted to do was lay on the ice and lick the snow shavings. But instead of saying that my brother was too hard, the CAN staff made piles of ice to motivate him to skate to the piles. That’s how he learned to skate.

My brother also did basketball in his first year with CAN. He used to try to run out of the gym, so they put benches in front of the doors to keep him safe. They kept welcoming him back, even after he pulled the fire alarm.

They said that it didn’t matter if he didn’t participate with the group, because as long as he was there, it was progress.

They always just let Tanner be Tanner. And they never called my mom to pick him up early.

My mom kept signing him up for activities because as long as it was a CAN program, he was willing to try it.

He’s done CAN soccer, swim, bike camp, day camp, gymnastics, kayaking, snowshoeing, and even teen social activities like laser tag. We’ve also done a bunch of CAN family events together.

His favourite CAN program right now is their hiking program. But he really doesn’t like the word hiking, so we call it the ‘Walking uphill with friends’ program.

He always tells my mom that she can drop Tanner off with his friends and pick him up after, but make sure to leave, because it’s his friends.

I can tell how much my brother loves CAN, because he does this thing when he’s really happy where he shakes his hands back and forth and smiles. He always does that there.

He’s made so many friends through CAN and really likes their staff. Something about them makes him open up. He really didn’t talk much at home, but the CAN staff said he would talk at programs. We couldn’t believe it.

I got to see it for myself when we went to CAN day camp together. He just wanted to be around me and talk to me. He didn’t do that at home, so it was really special for us.

We got so much closer, and it made me so happy to feel more like siblings. It was also so nice to meet other kids who had a brother or sister with autism.

Tanner actually just finished another summer at CAN day camp last month. He had the most amazing time.

He was so excited for it that he started the countdown at the beginning of the summerHe is really into calendars right now, so he checked every day to see how many more days until he got to see his friends at CAN.

I’ve watched Tanner in so many CAN programs over the years and it’s been so great to see how he’s grown. It’s like CAN helped him find his voice. He talks now, he has friends, and he has confidence.

CAN got to see a different side of Tanner and now we get to see it too.

When I think about it, the thing I love most about my brother is how funny he is. He’s hilarious. It’s all about the comments he makes and always at the perfect time.

I don’t think I would have gotten to see this part of him if it weren’t for CAN opening him up and giving him permission to just be himself.

I’m so grateful to everyone at CAN who helped my brother get to where he is today. CAN has been so good for him. CAN has been so good for our whole family.

Thank you,

-Gemma, a CAN sister

More CAN stories!

Breaking barriers: From CAN to Chilliwack Minor Hockey

“I want to help other kids like me.”

“Mom, I’m really happy today.”



by Sarah Russell, CAN participant & staff

I think I always knew that I was different.

For so many years, I carried around this feeling of inadequacy without really knowing why.

When I found out about my autism diagnosis as an adult, it was the most validating information that I could have ever heard.

I was finally able to let go of the weight I’d been carrying and the pressure I’d been putting on myself my whole life. What I used to think of as inadequacies were actually just different ways of experiencing the world.

My name is Sarah Russell. Since 2015, I’ve been working with Canucks Autism Network (CAN) as a Support Worker, Coach, Onsite Supervisor, and Learning Facilitator. And in 2021, I learned of my diagnosis and joined as a Participant.

I began supporting CAN participants before knowing I was on the spectrum. Even then, I always knew that I could be myself at CAN programs.

My involvement with CAN first started when I was working through a partnered program in Victoria called PISE. PISE was looking to accommodate beyond physical disabilities and CAN was looking to expand on the Island.

I kind of fell into the role of CAN Coach, and once I started, I was hooked. I just loved helping participants develop their sports skills so they could ultimately access community programs or school programs or just keep up with their neurotypical peers on the playground.

Since starting at CAN, I’ve held various roles and find them all equally rewarding in their own way.

As a CAN Support Worker, it’s so fun to get to run around with the kids and get big silly reactions out of them, while also being the person who can help them integrate into new situations. I know how hard that can be because I struggled with it my whole life.

For so long, I felt like I had to hide my feelings and authentic experience just to fit in. Autistic people call this masking. When masking, you’re trying to present yourself in a typical way while suppressing your real feelings and experience. It’s upsetting, overwhelming, and uncomfortable.

For so many years, I was supporting CAN participants without knowing that I, myself, was on the autism spectrum. One of the most liberating things about becoming a CAN participant was knowing that I could leave my mask at the door.

I knew from my experience as CAN Staff that I’d be in a safe space where I could just be my authentic Autistic self.

Even when I’m having a hard day, I know I’m going to be supported. I know I’m going to feel heard. And I know I am going to be welcomed as I am.

Being Autistic, you’re already in a marginalized group. Those who identify as female are marginalized even further. So for me, having an opportunity at CAN like the Women’s Peer Support Group is so important because it creates a safe space for us to feel heard and included. We get to come together monthly to share our similar experiences while supporting and validating each other.

When you’re a person on the spectrum who has low support needs, it actually limits the number of resources that you’re able to access in the community.

CAN is really the only organization that I’m able to access.

If it weren’t for CAN, I wouldn’t be able to go the gym or be a part of social activities like bowling or rock climbing because the facilities are too loud and overstimulating. The experience itself wouldn’t even be enjoyable because I’d be forced to push so hard just to be in that space.

Because of CAN, I’m able to access community activities, be physically active, be social with my friends, and even make new friends.

When I think about it, my favourite thing about CAN is that it’s essentially home.

The people who work at CAN are like an extension of my family. Whether I go to a CAN program or event as a staff or a participant, I feel like I can let go of everything and just be myself.

It’s really the most comfortable and welcoming place that you could ever be.

More CAN Stories

Breaking barriers: From CAN to Chilliwack Minor Hockey

CAN removes diagnosis barrier for youth & adults to access programs

Why I Celebrate Autism Acceptance

“I want to help other kids like me.”

This speech was delivered by CAN dad Gary Bryant at the 2022 CAN Pro-Am Luncheon, sponsored by ICONIX Waterworks. 

Our family’s story is about a young boy with a passion and a dream. It’s about how Canucks Autism Network (CAN) paved the path that allowed our son Mitchell to break many barriers with the seemingly endless support of the most amazing and dedicated staff and volunteers I have ever seen.

Hockey has touched every single corner of our lives as far back as 1999. I played. Both of Mitchell’s older brothers played. And I coached their teams for 12 years. So naturally, from the moment Mitchell could walk and he was able to hold anything that resembled a hockey stick, Mitchell was “playing hockey”.  Mitchell showed an unusually strong passion for the game. As you can imagine, we were all very excited to get Mitchell involved in this wonderful game as soon as he was ready.

Mitch with former CAN Ambassador and Canucks defenceman Dan Hamhuis in 2014.

Mitchell was introduced to the sport at the age of 5 with minor ball hockey. This was Mitchell’s first real experience in a structured environment. He did not socialize with his peers. He would not participate in any of the drills or games. He would not respond to me or the other coaches.

No matter what any of us tried, Mitchell had his way of doing things. To use a “coach’s term”… we thought Mitchell was simply un-coachable. This was our first cue as parents that he was not like his peers although at the time. But we didn’t understand why.

Our relationship with CAN began when Mitchell was diagnosed at the age of 9. Our first official act as parents with a child on the spectrum was to register Mitchell for CAN Hockey. I’m not sure who was more excited — us or Mitchell. It became our Saturday morning ritual. We would all get up at 6am, pile into the van to make the trip from Chilliwack to Surrey.

From the moment Mitchell first hit the ice, he was in his glory. You couldn’t wipe the grin off of his face if you tried.

Mitch during a special scrimmage with the CAN hockey program at Rogers Arena in 2015

The Saturday morning skate with his team became the most important part of Mitchell’s week. He belonged to a team. He had a team jersey. He had a team jacket. He was now just like his friends at school. He was a hockey player.

The flexibility, structure, and supportive environment at CAN allowed each player to experience hockey in their own way. I cannot put into words what it was like to see my son become a part of a team like this. Mitchell always dreamed of playing hockey. But in addition to making his dreams come true, CAN gave him a second home where he felt welcomed and accepted.

Mitchell’s passion for the game and desire to be the best hockey player was only fueled and further nurtured by the tireless efforts of the amazing CAN staff and volunteers.

Mitchell progressed significantly in the program. And by the end of his 3rd season, we could see his levels of frustration begin to build. Mitchell was starting to want more from the program than the program was intended to sustain.

As parents, we started to reluctantly face a bitter reality — that it might be best for Mitchell to “graduate” from CAN Hockey and allow another child to embark on the very same journey. But we were unsure if Mitchell had developed a strong enough skill set at CAN to transition to minor hockey with typical peers.

He was 14 at the time, so he was eligible for 2nd year Bantam. We were worried it might be too large a leap for a player on the spectrum. We were worried about how he would respond to the social environment, how he would manage in a game in a competitive environment.

The fall of 2018 might have been the end of Mitchell’s hockey journey had it not been for the support of those around us and the foundation he had built with CAN. Mitchell was also skating with an adaptive hockey program in Chilliwack. The organizer — and a good friend of ours — Ben Champaign kept pushing us and telling us he was ready.

So Ben arranged to have the Chilliwack Minor Hockey Director of Player Development Lee McCaw come out and assess Mitchell. The following week, we registered Mitchell and Lee insisted that Mitchell be placed on his team.

Mitchell’s first season was a complete success primarily due to the coaching staff who did an amazing job of ensuring that Mitchell was well supported through his introduction to competitive hockey. They worked tirelessly to ensure that he was a part of the team and they embraced the spirit of inclusion, proving that hockey was for everyone.

This year marks the start of Mitchell’s 4th season. He is now competing at a level equal to his peers as a 3rd year Midget player.

Mitch (right) as a member of the Chilliwack Minor Hockey Association in 2022

Barriers are made to be broken. Watching Mitchell as he has made his journey has been a very special experience for me. But we could have never done this alone. They say that it takes a village to raise a child and Mitchell’s story is a testimony to this.  Mitchell’s success would not have been possible without the incredible efforts and the amazing support of so many wonderful people.

Canucks Autism Network started it all for Mitchell. CAN started this journey for so many players, including those on Mitchell’s first team. CAN helped 20 kids who were desperate to belong, find a second home wearing the same jersey.

I hope that by sharing Mitchell’s story, you know that CAN has a very powerful impact. That supporters of the cause make a huge difference. To kids like Mitchell, CAN gives them a chance to dream. Canucks Autism Network allowed Mitchell to believe that he CAN be a hockey player.

Supporters of CAN are helping to write the next story… to fulfill the next dream and help ensure more barriers are broken. Isn’t that a beautiful thing?

After Mitch’s dad delivered his speech at the CAN Pro-Am Luncheon, Mitch was given the opportunity to skate alongside NHL Alumni in the CAN Pro-Am All-Star Game two days later.

Further Reading

Visit the CAN Blog >

4th annual CAN Pro-Am shatters fundraising record

Dear Canucks Autism Network: A letter from a CAN hockey parent

CAN & Sport Surrey give hockey participants a day to remember

CAN removes diagnosis barrier for youth & adults to access programs


Home » Sports and Recreation Programs

November 8, 2022

At Canucks Autism Network (CAN), we believe that every child, youth and adult on the autism spectrum has the right to play sports. And that includes the joy of being in the pool!

Being confident in the water can open up a wide range of recreational opportunities for our participants – from family vacations at the lake to competitive swimming. And in beautiful BC, where we’re surrounded by lakes and oceanfronts, swimming skills can be lifesaving.

As we prepare for our upcoming winter season next year, we have an important announcement.

Beginning January 2023, CAN swim will transition from its alignment with the Canadian Red Cross to the new Lifesaving Society format.

This is a move endorsed by the Canadian Red Cross, as they phase out of their delivery of swim programs nation-wide. So what does this mean for CAN programs?

You can still expect the same high-ratio of participant support. And, of course, the same level of enthusiasm that our staff and volunteers bring to the program each session!

Much like the previous Canadian Red Cross format, the Lifesaving Society focuses on water safety in addition to swimming skills. In particular, their curriculum emphasizes Water Smart® Education and Swim to Survive® skills.

Not sure which CAN swim program to register for? Refer to our transition table below!

Current CAN Swim
Under Canadian Red Cross
New CAN Swim
(Starting Jan 2023)
Under Lifesaving Society
Skills Required & Taught
Swim (3-6yrs) Preschool Swim (3-5yrs) Skills Required: For kids just starting out

Skills Taught: Safe entries, surface support, underwater skills & movement/swimming skills

Swim 1 (7-12yrs) Swimmer 1 (6-12yrs) Skills Required: For kids just starting out

Skills Taught: Safe entries, surface support, underwater skills & movement/swimming skills

Swim 2 (7-12yrs) Swimmer 2 (6-12yrs) Skills Required: For kids who can jump into chest-deep water by themselves or deep-water wearing a lifejacket

Skills Taught: Focus on opening eyes & holding breath underwater, floating, kicking & front/back gliding

Swim 3 (7-12yrs) Swimmer 3 (6-12yrs) Skills Required: For kids who can jump into deep water and do a sideways entry wearing a lifejacket

Skills Taught: Focus on supporting self at surface for 15s, whip kicks in vertical position, swimming 10m on front and back

Swim 1 (13+yrs) Youth & Adult Swim (13+yrs) Skills Required: For youth & adults who are just starting out

Skills Taught: Safe entries, surface support, underwater skills & movement/swimming skills (equivalent to LSS Swimmer 1)

Key transition takeaways:

  • The previous 3-6yrs age group is now offered only to 3-5yrs.
  • The previous 7-12yrs age group has been expanded to 6-12yrs.
  • Please refer to the skills column above to determine which level to register for.*
  • Previously completed Canadian Red Cross levels can be carried over to the new Lifesaving Society format.**

*It is the parent/guardian/participant’s responsibility to sign up for the correct level. If a participant has not been placed correctly, our ability to transfer them into the appropriate level once the season has begun will be subject to program availability. If space is not available in the appropriate level, the participant will have to removed from the program.

**If a participant had previously completed CAN Swim Level 1, they can register for the new CAN Swimmer 2 program.

After benefiting from adapted instruction at CAN, Linden took her skills & confidence  to City of Surrey swim lessons to obtain her Canadian Red Cross Level 3 badge! Read Linden’s story >

Beyond CAN swim:

Like the previous Canadian Red Cross model, the Lifesaving Society delivers instruction beyond the Swimmer 3 level.

We will continue to provide standardized report cards that allow CAN participants who are ready to transition out of our programs.

With your Lifesaving Society Swimmer 1, 2 or 3 report card from CAN, you’ll be able to transition to typical swimming lessons at your local community centre.

This past year alone, our certified CAN swim instructors taught over 650 participants across BC.

We can’t wait to see what 2023 brings!

Ready to dive in? See which CAN swim programs are being offered in your community in the Winter 2023 Program Guide!

Further reading

Meet the Program Coordinator Team: Julia, Laurel, Donne & Katie

CAN removes diagnosis barrier for youth & adults

CAN Swim: Stepping stones to success


Home » Sports and Recreation Programs

September 28, 2022

Hi there!

We’re your new Program Coordinators! We work in the office and oversee all Lower Mainland children’s programs. As a team we value being approachable, collaborative, adaptable and working together as a unified team.

Here’s what we do:

  • Develop curriculums & schedules based on member needs & interests
  • Book facilities & maintain partnerships with program partners
  • Guide our Training Team in providing resources to our participants & staff
  • Guide Onsite Supervisors in their on-the-ground support of program staff

While Onsite Supervisors are your go-to for any day-to-day questions in programs, the Program Coordinator team is your support system in the office.

We want to foster a place where staff can learn, grow & develop professionally. You will see Program Coordinators regularly supporting and representing CAN within our programs and at major events!

Our goal is to provide a safe and welcoming place for everyone while upholding CAN’s vision and our values.

Julia Sawers

Julia (she/her) is a graduate of Dalhousie University with a Combined Honours degree in Psychology and Law, Justice and Society.

After spending four years in Halifax, Julia recently swapped out the east coast for the west coast. Julia has worked previously at the Autism Research Centre in Nova Scotia and at Autism Nova Scotia, in addition to working at the Early Phase Psychosis Unit while writing her thesis.

Julia played competitive basketball for over 10 years until retiring after moving across the country to attend University. She is looking forward to playing a part in ensuring every individual has an opportunity to access and enjoy the countless benefits of sports and recreation that she was able to experience during her basketball years.

She is thrilled to start this next chapter with CAN and to grow alongside this team!

Fun Fact: Julia loves to travel and had the opportunity to live for six months in Bath, England on an exchange prior to COVID. Julia also has a twin … brother!

Katie Ashley

Katie (she/her) is a graduate of Dalhousie University with a B.Sc. (Honours) degree in Therapeutic Recreation. After six years in Halifax, she moved back to her hometown on the west coast to attend the University of British Columbia where she completed her master’s degree in Special Education, specializing in Autism and Developmental Disabilities.

Katie has spent the last seven years working with autistic individuals, as well as individuals with other disabilities, in community and home settings. During this time, she worked with her clients to build self-care skills, daily living skills, and utilized recreation and sport to enhance their lives.

With a background in therapeutic recreation and being an avid lover of sports and all things leisure, Katie cannot wait to help foster this love in others by playing a part in providing inclusive, accessible, enjoyable, and meaningful experiences at CAN!

Fun fact: During her free time, you can find Katie either on a surfboard behind a boat, on skis at a local mountain, or at the pottery studio making all kinds of ceramics!

Laurel Curtis

Laurel (she/her) grew up on Vancouver Island and spent much of her childhood exploring the beautiful outdoors that BC has to offer.

Laurel has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and has worked at BC Children’s as a nurse in various wards and clinics since graduating from the University of British Columbia. Prior to switching degrees to nursing, she completed three years in Kinesiology focusing on adapting programs and improving accessible recreation. During her summers, she worked for overnight camps including leading multi-day trips.

She has worked as a coach and support worker for CAN for many years in a variety of programs, including most recently as the Summer Day Camp Coordinator. Laurel can’t wait to support CAN’s programs on a larger scale.

Fun Fact: Laurel LOVES pickles and her favourite food is pickle-flavoured hummus. (You’re welcome for your new favourite snack!)

Donné Davidson

Donné (she/ her) comes into this position with 11 years experience working as a Special Education Teacher Assistant, eight years of Recreational Access, and two years with CAN as a Support Worker and Onsite Supervisor.

Being active has always been a part of her life as a competitive swimmer and basketball player during her high school career. From those experiences she has passed her love of sports to high schoolers by coaching multiple sports such as basketball, swimming, volleyball, ultimate frisbee, and rugby.

Through her work, Donné has developed a passion for creating welcoming environments for all with, a special place in her heart for those on the autism spectrum.

Fun Fact: Donné was born in South Africa and really enjoys being outside. You can often find her camping, in the water, or on the water kayaking.

The new Program Coordinator team is excited to provide inclusive, accessible, enjoyable, and meaningful experiences.

We are here for our members, staff and volunteers. We value being approachable, collaborative, adaptable, and working together as a unified team.

The team cannot wait to meet you in person!

Further reading:

Meet Kayla: “Growing up with undiagnosed autism was hard at times.”

Programs for Children, Youth and Adults on the Spectrum

Our Office Team


May 4, 2022

At Canucks Autism Network (CAN), we recognize that needs change with age. We believe that every Autistic individual should be supported during important transitions into adulthood.

We’re proud to have evolved over the years to meet the changing needs of our members by addressing some of the major gaps and most urgent issues impacting youth and adults on the spectrum. This includes program opportunities in employment, social and community connection, and most recently, mental health.

One of the most common barriers that Autistic youth and adults face is the need for a formal autism diagnosis to access supports.

In talking with CAN members and the broader autism community, many themes have emerged as potential barriers to formal diagnosis including cost, access to a professional who is qualified to provide a diagnosis, fear of not being believed, and other challenges navigating the healthcare system.

For the above reasons, CAN will no longer be requiring a formal diagnosis for individuals over 13 years of age who are interested in accessing any program or service provided by CAN. This important decision to increase accessibility has already been met with enthusiasm from our CAN community.

Longtime CAN program participant, and now CAN program and training team staff member, Kayla Tellier shared her excitement about the change.

“I almost didn’t get a diagnosis. The cost and fact that it was a late diagnosis would have been barriers if not for having an amazing counselor at the time,” Kayla shared.

“I am very excited about this change as I experienced barriers to services for a couple years after high school and struggled to get a diagnosis due to doctor issues and cost. I was lucky enough that I eventually did get my diagnosis, but I can see these issues being a continued barrier for many others, especially women/girls who frequently go undiagnosed. Allowing people to self-diagnose for services opens opportunities for those who were not lucky enough to find a workaround and for those facing other barriers that often stand in the way.”

CAN Office Administrator and program participant, Maxwell, elaborated on the importance of this shift to allowing individuals who are self-diagnosed to access CAN programs and services.

“As an Autistic individual, I have invested so much time in trying to find appropriate services that would match my support needs. I have eventually just given up on services after having to put in a LOT of trial and error in finding things that can help me,” Max shared.

“Making the diagnosis criteria optional for youth & adults opens a gate of opportunities for other individuals on the spectrum, especially in their time of transitioning from high school onto their own journey.”

CAN’s core program focus areas for youth and adults include: 

  • employment & volunteering
  • social connection
  • recreation & leisure
  • mental health & wellness
  • life skills development


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