Continued partnership between Canucks Autism Network, Vancouver International Airport, and the Air Canada Foundation increases accessibility for autism community

Richmond, B.C. – Today, individuals on the autism spectrum and their families took part in this year’s first YVR Autism Aviation Days event. The collaborative initiative between Canucks Autism Network (CAN), Vancouver International Airport (YVR), and the Air Canada Foundation includes three single-day events during the month of May. 

YVR Autism Aviation Days provides an opportunity for attendees to rehearse the entire pre-flight process in a highly-supported environment. The practice run includes checking-in, going through security screening, boarding an Air Canada Express aircraft for a simulated pre-flight experience, and, for the first time this year, a short taxi in the airplane.

The three events will welcome a total of 180 attendees – ranging from families with children and youth on the autism spectrum to Autistic adults looking for experience to travel independently.

“With an estimated 1 in 30 children and youth on the autism spectrum in B.C., events such as these are vital to increasing accessibility and inclusion,” said Sarah Armstrong, Director of Strategic Partnerships with Canucks Autism Network (CAN). “Airport ‘rehearsals’ can greatly benefit Autistic individuals and their families by increasing predictability and decreasing stress.”

The initiative began between CAN and YVR in 2014. After 10 years, the events have made a positive difference for more than 500 individuals.

“Travel is essential to maintaining human connections, expanding our experiences, and accessing essential services. By offering neurodiverse individuals and their families the chance to rehearse the pre-flight process, we open doors to important travel possibilities,” stated Tamara Vrooman, President and CEO of Vancouver International Airport. “We are proud to partner with CAN and Air Canada to create these experiences and thank the many government agencies and businesses at the airport for their support with this initiative.”

“Travelling should be accessible to everyone, and we are proud to help make that possible through initiatives like this with the help of our employees at Air Canada and of our partner, Jazz Aviation LP,” said Valerie Durand, Spokesperson for the Air Canada Foundation. “In bringing these simulated pre-flight experiences to fruition again, this time in Vancouver, for children with autism and their families, we hope they can develop the confidence and comfort to take that much anticipated trip together soon.”

“We believe in providing accessible and inclusive travel experiences for everyone,” said Kirk Newhook, Vice President of Employee Relations and Operations Support at Jazz Aviation LP. “Jazz is proud to take an important role in providing these experiences to families through our participating flight and cabin crew members, and those contributing behind the scenes of this initiative, which also serves as a learning opportunity for Jazz on supporting diverse travellers.”

In addition to the rehearsal, each family receives a YVR Sensory Resource Kit, which includes noise-cancelling headphones, an airport map, and check-list to support Autistic travellers or anyone with sensory sensitivities. The kit is available year-round from any pre-security YVR Customer Care counter.

More information and select digital resources can also be accessed at Accessibility Travel Resources | YVR.


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

Canucks Autism Network (CAN) Media Contact
Lindsay Petrie
Director, Marketing and Communications

About Vancouver International Airport (YVR)
Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is a diverse global hub that connects people, cargo, data, and ideas and serves as a platform for our community to come together and thrive. We are motivated by supporting regional economic development and making a positive difference in the lives of British Columbians. We do this with a focus on serving our passengers, partners, workers, and community through digital modernization, climate leadership, reconciliation, and financial sustainability.

Vancouver International Airport (YVR) Media Contact
YVR Media Relations

About Air Canada Foundation
The Air Canada Foundation, a not-for-profit organization focused on the health and well-being of children and youth, was launched in 2012. It offers both financial and in-kind support to Canadian-registered charities. Core programs include the Hospital Transportation Program, which redistributes Aeroplan points to 15 pediatric hospitals across Canada, enabling sick children to access the medical care they need away from home. The Air Canada Foundation, in collaboration with the airline, also engages directly in fundraising activities such as the Every Bit Counts program, which encourages customers to donate loose change of all denominations on board flights or through collection containers available in Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounges. The Foundation also offers continued support to major health-related causes that benefit Canadians and is an active participant in international humanitarian relief activity as the need arises. For more information about the Air Canada Foundation, please read the 2022 impact report or the Air Canada’s 2022 Corporate Sustainability report available at

Air Canada Foundation Media Contact

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.”

Annual ride renamed in honour of Dave McAnerney

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

Arenas across the province have come alive again! From the big leagues to the juniors, we are well into hockey season.

At CAN, we see the positive impact that sports have on our participants and families. While our participants’ love of sports can start in our programs, it often extends to stadiums where they can watch their favourite teams play live and in-person.

That’s why our training arm has worked tirelessly to make professional and junior hockey games more accessible in leagues across BC.

Starting with our partnership with the Vancouver Canucks, Rogers Arena became the first Canadian NHL stadium to feature comprehensive autism accessibility in 2018.

Read more: Autism Accessibility at Rogers arena (

Elias Pettersson representing the cause at the Canucks’ autism acceptance game in 2023. Photo: Canucks

In addition to providing autism training to frontline staff, CAN collaborated with the Canucks to develop in-arena resources for any fan that might benefit—whether they are on the autism spectrum or have sensory sensitivities.

In the four years since, we have expanded training & resource development to include teams from the American Hockey League (AHL), Western Hockey League (WHL) and British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL).

During the 2022-23 season alone, partnering teams included the Canucks (NHL), Abbotsford Canucks (AHL), Kamloops Blazers (WHL), Coquitlam Express, Chilliwack Chiefs, Nanaimo Clippers & Victoria Grizzlies (BCHL).

Resources can vary from stadium-to-stadium and typically include:

  • Autism-trained frontline staff
  • Noise-cancelling headphones & sunglasses for those with sensory sensitivities
  • Visual cues like a visual walkthrough, map and game timeline to help illustrate what to expect
  • Sensory toys like squishy pucks for those who benefit from tactile stimulation
CAN participants benefiting from noise-cancelling headphones at Coquitlam Express & Kamloops Blazers games.

In many cases, teams chose to announce their new partnership with CAN during Autism Acceptance Month last April. In addition to the availability of sensory-friendly resources, teams gave key opportunities to CAN participants, parents and members from the autism community to be part of the game.

Hundreds of CAN families were provided tickets to WHL & BCHL games to enjoy the on-ice action and sample the new resources. Meanwhile, Autistic adults & CAN parents alike were featured during key in-game opportunities, like singing the national anthem, dropping the ceremonial puck and announcing the game behind the PA mic.

And at each of the Autism Acceptance-themed BCHL games, families were even welcomed onto the ice to skate with the players post-game!

  Read more: Coquitlam Express welcome hundreds in the stands and on the ice

CAN participants drop the puck at the Nanaimo Clippers’ autism acceptance game in 2023. Photo: Nanaimo Clippers
The Victoria Grizzlies invited CAN participants & families to join them on the ice post-game! Photo: Grizzlies

Most importantly, the availability of sensory-friendly resources will continue at six NHL, AHL, WHL & BCHL arenas in 2023-24.

Resources are available for each home game* for each of the following teams:

*We recommend reaching out to the team and/or arena’s guest services to confirm availability of resources.

We believe that every community should take action to support individuals on the autism spectrum. Hockey is for everyone – and we have been so encouraged to see so many join us in this belief.

Our hope is that these six NHL, AHL, WHL and BCHL teams will be joined by many more in the years to come!

Questions? Contact!

Further reading

Canucks celebrate autism acceptance this Sunday!

YYJ marks Autism Acceptance Month by increasing accessibility

Breaking barriers: From CAN to Chilliwack Minor Hockey

CAN & Sport Surrey give hockey participants a day to remember

Coquitlam Express welcome hundreds in the stands & on the ice


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.”



Top photo: Roger is second from the right.

It’s no secret that we love our volunteers. They’re a key piece of what makes our programs and events so special.

This National Volunteer Week, we’re celebrating the positive impact our volunteers have had on Canucks Autism Network (CAN) participants across BC by featuring a handful of their stories on social media and our blog.

Did you know that CAN has 200+ volunteers across British Columbia?
Join our volunteer team >

Today, we’re highlighting Roger Roy.

A retired father of two, Roger began volunteering with CAN because of his sons, both of whom are on the autism spectrum.

After volunteering in both Children’s and Youth & Adult programs, Roger discovered that his ability to relate to teenagers on the spectrum set him apart.

“As much as I loved working with kids in the swim program, I found it easier to relate to teenagers, possibly because I have two grown sons of my own.”

Roger (2nd from left) helping CAN youth & adults with digging & maintenance work at Little Campbell Hatchery.

Roger’s passion for working with Autistic teens was so strong that, a couple of years later, we were proud to have him join our Employment Programs and Services Team as staff.

Having raised two boys on the autism spectrum, Roger knew how challenging it could be finding support for Autistic individuals, especially once they enter their teen years. Rather than enjoying a quiet retirement, he decided to go back to school so that he could provide support to other families like his.

While studying to become a Behavioural Interventionist at Douglas College, Roger signed up to volunteer in CAN programs to get hands on experience working with individuals on the autism spectrum. After his first program, Explore Volunteering, he quickly realized the impact he could have.

“I was volunteering in a program with these two boys that were 15 or 16 years old. They were so fun to be around. I loved working with them, encouraging them, teaching them new things, and kind of being their mentor.”

After volunteering in several Youth & Adult programs, Roger heard about the opportunity to become an Employment Support Worker through CAN’s Skills Training Employment Program (CAN-STEP).

Rogers helps a CAN youth with some holiday wrapping as part of the Explore Volunteering program.

“I remember hearing one of the instructors at Douglas College talk about how there was a need for workers to support teens and young adults. There’s a lot of people going into BI, but a real shortage of people working with that age group. So, when I saw that CAN was hiring, I immediately applied.”

Thinking of his own children and their experiences entering the workforce, Roger was determined to help create a more welcoming and inclusive environment for Autistic job seekers. And it’s clear that he has done just that.

“Roger became an Employment Support Worker about nine months ago and he’s been phenomenal”, said Robbie Hsieh, Director of Employment Programs and Services. “He’s so great at supporting CAN-STEP participants. I recently spoke with an employer that he was supporting, and they said he’s the best job coach they’ve ever worked with.”

For Roger, seeing participants develop their skills and confidence, and supporting them as they learn to navigate workplace culture is its own reward.

“My goal is for them to have sustainable employment, so they can go to work, be accepted, and be able to become increasingly independent.”

While Roger loves his current role, he credits his CAN volunteer experience with helping him find this new direction and giving meaning to his semi-retirement.

“It’s very rewarding work, either as a volunteer or an employee, because you get to change lives.”

“You give hope to people who may be experiencing difficult times, who may be getting bullied, who may not have the opportunities that neurotypical people have. They’re oftentimes looking for personal connections and you can provide that. Be a friend to them. A lot of the time, they’re looking for someone who’s warm and kind, who accepts them as they are.”

If you’re interested in making a difference like Roger, join our volunteer team >

More stories from CAN programs

Breaking barriers: From CAN to Chilliwack Minor Hockey

“I want to help other kids like me.”

“Mom, I’m really happy today.”

Meet Morgan: The first step is understanding and inclusion


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


Apr 19, 2022

In honour of Autism Acceptance Month this year, I participated in a CAN video that highlighted the important distinction between being aware of autistic people and being accepting of them. I think it’s very crucial to be accepting and inclusive to individuals of all different abilities because everyone deserves mutual respect and kindness.

When I first found out I had autism at age seven, I didn’t understand what that meant, let alone how receiving an autism diagnosis would impact my life moving forward. On the outside I didn’t look autistic, but within, I felt very different from my peers. I was very quiet and kept to myself most of the time. I didn’t enjoy hanging out with other children my age. Reading body language and facial expressions was challenging for me, and this is something I still struggle with as an adult.

I have always had a tough time accepting myself. However, in the last few years, I have realized I should not pay that much attention to how others perceive me. I am still learning to embrace my autism and think of my diagnosis as a blessing rather than something I should be ashamed of.

I have always been very open and honest about my diagnosis because it is a part of who I am. I don’t want to have to hide this part of myself in order for others to accept me.

It’s not something I feel anyone should have to do. That is why I wanted to be a part of this video that challenges the wider community to be more accepting and supportive of people on the spectrum.

Through sharing my story, I hope that more people on the spectrum will be inspired to speak their truth and support the movement from awareness to acceptance. By incorporating autism acceptance into my life, I have felt more comfortable interacting with neurotypical individuals. I don’t feel as much of a need to hide my autism. I am also starting to get to a place where I can openly speak about my struggles with my friends and family.

As a writer who has written two books on autism spectrum disorder, I feel as though I am better able to express myself through written output. Sometimes when I am speaking to other people, the words get jumbled up in my head and I have trouble forming sentences even though I know what I would like to say. I believe that we all have a story to tell and that our voice should be heard and not silenced. I am constantly learning how to be comfortable with sharing my stories with other people. I feel as though writing brings out the best and helps me and helps me hone my creative skills. I am able to speak honestly about how I feel, and this is something, which I have trouble doing verbally.

Visit to learn more about her self-published book I Only See in Black & White.

It’s taken me years to accept my autism diagnosis and I think it’s because I didn’t really understand myself when I was younger. I wasn’t sure why I would get angry with other people if they didn’t want to be my friend, and these negative thoughts would often lead to depression. I tried to switch to a more positive way of thinking and tell myself that it wasn’t my fault if other people didn’t want to hang out with me or get to know me. But, still the hurt and animosity would catch up to me.

I didn’t know how to handle these emotions and I didn’t understand why I was feeling this way. It’s taken me 26 years to learn to accept myself and come to terms with my autism diagnosis. However, sometimes I have bad days where I feel as though nothing is going right, and those around me don’t understand how I am feeling. My life is not perfect and I don’t think it’s ever going to be and this is something I have learned to accept.

Practicing autism acceptance has become a huge part of my daily routine.  I encourage other individuals on the spectrum to practice autism acceptance as well. But more importantly, I encourage the community at large to choose acceptance.

Through writing and telling my story, I hope that I can inspire other autistic individuals to become more comfortable with their diagnosis. I believe that everyone is unique and special in their own way, and this is something I wish I would have come to realize earlier in life. Autism doesn’t define who I am as an individual, but it’s a small part of who I am. And a part that I am proud of.

-Keara Farnan

Further reading:

Keara Farnan: Keeping it fresh & healthy

Keara Farnan: My life with autism

Keara Farnan: My experience coping with change during COVID-19

Keara Farnan: Climbing new heights with CAN

Keara Farnan: Maintaining a ‘sense of belonging’ during COVID-19