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

Foundry and Canucks Autism Network (CAN) are excited to offer a new initiative to equip youth peer supporters with training to better support Autistic youth in need of mental health services.

Foundry provides young people in BC, ages 12-24, and their caregivers access to integrated health and wellness services, including mental health, substance use, physical & sexual healthcare, and social services through Foundry centres or the Foundry BC App.

This partnership will provide Foundry BC’s youth peer supporters access to an online training module, co-developed by CAN, to better understand the unique needs of Autistic youth, using Foundry’s existing peer support curriculum as a foundation.

This training was developed with direct input from subject matter experts engaged in professional clinical practice who directly support the mental health needs of Autistic individuals, Youth Peer Support Workers in the Foundry network, and Autistic self-advocates and job seekers engaged with CAN through Ready, Willing and Able (RWA) and other CAN services.

We can’t wait to see how this initiative, in addition to Foundry’s recent MSDPR provincial grant for development of the youth peer support program, will impact mental health support for the autism community in BC!

Learn more about Foundry Peer Support and visit the CAN mental health & wellness programs page for more information about Canucks Autism Network.

Additional Info

In a resource scan done by CAN and Autism Nova Scotia in 2021, lack of autism trainings and resources was identified as a significant barrier Autistic individuals face when accessing mental health resources.

Here’s what we know:

  • 92% of Autistic youth & adults indicated a need for support, but only 40% indicated they had adequate access to services.
  • Autistic youth & adults are seven times more likely to attempt suicide than non-Autistic individuals.
  • 66% of newly-diagnosed Autistic adults have reported feeling suicidal.
  • Autistic youth and adults are at greater risk of substance misuse and addiction than non-Autistic individuals.
  • Approximately 70% of Autistic people experience at least one co-occurring mental health issue.

Read the report summary and visit the CAN mental health training webpage to learn more.

We would like to acknowledge Ready, Willing and Able (RWA) who provided funding for this training. RWA is a national partnership of Inclusion Canada and the Autism Alliance of Canada and their member organizations. RWA is designed to increase the labour force participation of people with an intellectual disability or on the autism spectrum.

More News & Stories

Government of B.C. awards $540,000 to Canucks Autism Network in support of mental health initiatives for Autistic individuals

CAN removes diagnosis barrier for youth & adults to access programs

“Mom, I’m really happy today.”


Vancouver and Halifax, Canada – On Tuesday, March 22th, 2022, Autism Nova Scotia (Autism NS) and Canucks Autism Network (CAN) launched a free online training for employers, HR professionals, or anyone looking to improve mental health supports for Autistic employees and job seekers in the workplace.  

The free training, funded by Ready, Willing, and Able, is self-paced and covers the following topics: 

  • Explanation of autism and the mental health concerns that Autistic individuals often encounter in the workplace 
  • Practical low-cost or no-cost strategies that are critical to the well-being of Autistic employees, yet benefit all employees 
  • Strategies on how to identify and respond to a mental health crisis from an autism-aware lens 
  • How to direct employees to external mental health resources  
  • How to select inclusive employee benefits 

A group of advisors based in Ontario, Nova Scotia, and British Columbia came together to advise on the development of the training. The group was made up of Autistic advocates, employers who recruit or hire inclusively, and clinicians who support the mental health of Autistic youth and adults. Managers in Workplace Mental Health with the Mental Health Commission of Canada also provided constructive feedback on the training. 

Kevin A., an Autistic advocate and professional, was among the group of advisors.

“Minimizing noise can be simple and beneficial in many workplaces”, stated A. “But it’s also important that everyone in the workplace knows what autism is, so that Autistic people’s behaviour isn’t misinterpreted as ‘inappropriate’, or so that they can get direct, clear feedback rather than being left to ‘read between the lines’.” 

Tammy Morris, Neurodiversity Centres of Excellence Leader for EY Canada, was also a part of the advisory group. 

 “It is great to see a disability resource that brings together healthcare insurance benefits, EFAP, and public supports, offering a full picture for employers, employees and job seekers who have had to navigate silos,” said Morris. “The training is a good balance of informational content, definitions, videos, case scenarios and take away tips.”   

CAN and Autism NS see the training as a step towards addressing the gap in mental health supports for Autistic youth and adults in Canada.   

“We know there are critical service gaps in mental health supports for Autistic youth and adults across Canada. This online training was created in direct response to that growing need and is a crucial step towards addressing the issue” said Cynthia Carroll, Executive Director of Autism Nova Scotia. 

CAN CEO Britt Andersen further noted, “The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the employment and job search of many individuals on the spectrum who were already facing pre-existing barriers to employment. Our goal with the training is to equip employers with better knowledge and resources to support employees or job applicants on the spectrum.”  

Learn more or access the training >

About Canucks Autism Network (CAN)
Canucks Autism Network 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. 

About Autism Nova Scotia (Autism NS)
Autism Nova Scotia is a community-based organization that builds understanding, acceptance, and inclusion for Autistics/individuals on the Autism Spectrum and their families through leadership, advocacy, education, training and programming across the lifespan. 


For media inquiries:
Lindsay Petrie, Director of Marketing & Communications
Canucks Autism Network

Mariann Peters, Executive Assistant 
Autism Nova Scotia 
902.446.4995, ext.61 

As we continue to celebrate Donor Appreciation Month at Canucks Autism Network (CAN), we want to recognize Vancouver International Airport (YVR) for their ongoing support.

As a longtime community partner, YVR’s work with us has naturally focused on increasing autism accessibility within their walls. But in recent years, they have expanded their commitment to CAN by dedicating vital funding towards our training initiatives province-wide. This is their story.

February 18, 2022

For years, CAN & YVR’s Autism Accessibility Tour was a highly-anticipated staple in our event calendar. Held annually from 2014-19, the event provided a simulated travel experience for individuals on the autism spectrum and their families, while introducing them to vital accessibility resources that remain available year-round at YVR.

These events allowed kids, youth and adults to familiarize themselves with the check-in, security screening and boarding process, launching them into a world of air travel possibilities.

“Ensuring the airport is accessible and a place of welcome for all is a top priority at YVR,” said Richard Beed, Vice President of People and Brand at the Vancouver Airport Authority.

A mother and son pose for a photo on an airplane during the 2019 CAN & YVR Autism Accessibility Tour.
Kerry and her son (pictured in 2019) are among hundreds of families who have benefited from CAN & YVR’s annual Autism Accessibility Tours.

As part of the partnership, YVR staff and partners also received valuable autism training.

“The familiarization tours and training sessions have provided an opportunity to educate our teams and partners, share best practices, and learn ways we can support individuals and families based on their needs and preferences,” added Cathy Nyfors, Manager of Passenger Programs at YVR.

Due to COVID-19, we haven’t been able to deliver the tours since 2019. We are hopeful that we will be able to re-introduce the YVR event in the very near future.

But in the absence of the annual tour, YVR has found new ways to broaden their support of CAN.

In recent years, we have been so thankful to see our local airport authority become a key funder. Those involved with the CAN Virtual Challenge will remember YVR as the fundraiser’s presenting sponsor in both 2020 and 2021.

Beyond sponsorship, YVR’s financial support is essential to our Training and Community Engagement initiatives.

After leading by example, they now provide funding to ensure our work with them is duplicated far and wide across BC. Knowing the benefits of the training is what inspired YVR to help fund our efforts to increase accessibility across community settings.

With YVR’s help, CAN provided training to over 40 different organizations in 2021.

Among those who received training in 2021 are North Shore fire fighters, police officers and search & rescue volunteers.

From sports & rec providers to educators to first responders and employers, those efforts have amounted to over 1,000 individuals are now equipped to include individuals on the spectrum in their community spaces.

We are so grateful to have had YVR’s support for over eight years now. At CAN, we believe that every community should take action to include and support autistic individuals. It is only together that we can make real change.

Thank you, YVR!

Learn more

For more info on autism accessibility at YVR, please visit
For more information on CAN training, please visit

Feature stories

Learning to fly ‘without apology’ with YVR
One family’s story from the annual accessibility tour in 2019

North Shore commits to safer community for autism population
An unprecedented partnership with North Vancouver City & District Fire, North Vancouver RCMP & North Shore Rescue

El Santo: Serving up support for CAN and the community
A donor spotlight: Local CAN dad and restaurant owner gives back

First responders join forces to partner with Canucks Autism Network

Vancouver, BC – As of October 2021, the District of North Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services, City of North Vancouver Fire Department, North Vancouver RCMP and North Shore Rescue have all completed training on how to identify and safely support people on the autism spectrum in emergency situations. Over 200 first responders attended the Canucks Autism Network (CAN) training, with the common goal of improving their understanding of autism to create a more inclusive and supportive North Shore community.

The prevalence of autism continues to increase, with 1 in 37 children being diagnosed in BC. Individuals on the autism spectrum are seven times more likely to interact with first responders in an emergency setting. Regardless of their age, autistic individuals can experience anxiety, sensory sensitivities and communication barriers, particularly in emergency environments. CAN training increases first responders’ basic understanding of autism, and improves the ability for fire, police and search and rescue personnel to respond to the unique needs of community members who are on the autism spectrum.

“We believe that every community should take action to support individuals on the autism spectrum,” said Hallie Mitchell, CAN Director of Children’s Programs and Community Training. “Before this partnership, we had never seen four first responder groups from the same municipality unite to receive our training. It’s a remarkable show of support for the North Shore’s autism community.”

According to Mike Danks, Assistant Fire Chief – North Vancouver City Fire Department (NVCFD), it is our duty as first responders to commit to continuous learning in order to best support the diverse needs of community members.

“First responders are dispatched to a myriad of calls for subjects with all ranges of abilities and backgrounds every day” stated Mike Danks. “It is of utmost importance to NVCFD and the District of North Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services (DNVFRS) that we are well prepared and able to provide inclusive, comprehensive emergency response for every callout. It is our duty to flex and learn to meet and exceed the ever changing needs and requirements of our community. Our collaboration with CAN and our service partners to learn about autism has been engaging, comprehensive and vital.”

Sgt. Peter DeVries further highlighted how this deeper level of understanding can make all the difference between a positive and negative outcome.

“As police officers, every day, we encounter people from across society, spanning a range of abilities, challenges, and unique characteristics,” said Sgt. Peter DeVries of the North Vancouver RCMP. “As with every aspect of the work we do, having the proper tools and training can make the difference between success and failure, not just for us, but also for the person we encounter. This training gives us another tool we can use, and equips us to meet the diverse needs of those who are on the spectrum.”

CAN’s two-part workshop provided a valuable introduction to autism alongside practical strategies for communication and support. Participating firefighters, officers and search and rescue volunteers are also now armed with CAN resource kits that are housed aboard their vehicles. The kits include sensory toys to reduce anxiety, visual resources to improve communication, and noise-cancelling headphones to ease sensory sensitivities.

CAN is considered a provincial leader in providing autism training to a variety of community-level groups, including over 1,600 first responders across BC and beyond. View CAN’s full suite of autism training and resources at


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

For media inquiries:
Lindsay Petrie, Director of Marketing
Canucks Autism Network

Sep 27, 2019

Jeannie Rohr is a longtime proponent of inclusion and accessibility in sport.

In her current role as Director of Community Development with Tennis BC, she oversees a wide range of initiatives to get kids and youth active on the court.

This includes managing Tennis BC’s coaching certification system to increasing overall participation across the province.

Earlier this year, Jeannie first took the Supporting Positive Behaviour eLearning Module. The free training opportunity was launched by Canucks Autism Network (CAN) and Canadian Tire Jumpstart this past January.

Visit, select “Supporting Positive Behaviour” and use code JSCAN-A2B3C4D.

Since then, Jeannie has shared the online training opportunity across her organization. Her efforts have ensured that over 450 tennis coaches province-wide have the opportunity learn about inclusion and accessibility.

She hopes it will soon be featured nation-wide through Tennis Canada as well.

We sat down with her to discuss the importance of including kids of all abilities in tennis – and how Supporting Positive Behaviour is helping her achieve that goal.

What motivated you to take the Supporting Positive Behaviour course online?

My sister is on the spectrum. Growing up, I felt that she was left out of programs or not included quite often.

Then I worked in child and youth mental health and saw many kids who were also not included in programming. It’s hard when you see that.

So when I came to Tennis BC, something really struck me. There’s something missing for coaches.

We’re always provided tools to teach the sport. But not for engaging people of different personalities and different abilities.

As a coach, I was very determined to add pieces into our coaching certification program that could include all kids.

How do you engage a child who’s sitting on the bench and not wanting to participate? What language do you use to engage that child?

Or if you have a child running around, climbing the fence or poking another kid – how do you work to include that child and make them feel like they can participate? Our coaches often don’t have those tools.

So when CAN created the Supporting Positive Behaviour module, I was blown away. It gives our coaches the tools that they need to be able to include and engage with all kids.

How has the training impacted BC Tennis coaches?

First of all, it gives them more awareness. Coaches might have an idea that something is different about a child. But if they don’t have the tools to better understand the child, they might default to think that they’re simply misbehaving.

But with the training, they might have a different approach. They’ll think, “Something about that child’s behavior seems familiar to me. I heard something in a workshop that I just did.”

Tennis BC coaches after in-person training with CAN. To book in-person training, visit

It empowers them to dig a little deeper. And now they have these tools that they can revisit, go back into their class and practice applying them.

My nephew just took the course and he’s coaching in Victoria. He told me how much he learned and how he’s been able to apply it in his day-to-day lessons.

And whether your coaching a child with a diagnosis or not – the module applies to everybody.

The Supporting Positive Behaviour course is now eligible for NCCP Professional Development Points. How valuable is that for coaches?

Tennis coaches across Canada have to re-certify every two to four years. Having an online workshop opportunity is really going to increase the number of coaches learning about inclusion.

Not just in tennis, but other sports too.

And for those in rural areas across BC – they can’t come into a physical workshop, but now they can choose an online professional development opportunity. They can choose the Supporting Positive Behaviour module.

A girl prepares to hit a tennis ball with her racket.

How does inclusion in sport benefit our community?

It gives kids the ability to play a sport for life. And for me, playing sports all my life has given me leadership skills, people skills, communication skills.

But it’s not just an impact to the kids – it’s the parents too.

I had a recent experience with a parent. I could tell by the look on her face – she thought it was going to be another failed attempt to include her son in sports.

I told her, “Your child is going to be okay. I’m going to include him in everything.”

And then I allowed her to sit on the side of the court, because that’s what the child needed. I slowly engaged her child, based on some of the strategies from the Supporting Positive Behaviour module.

He started to grow some confidence. And the other kids began playing with him.

Then the parent had that confidence to think – “my child can be in this class.” Slowly, she could leave the class and go have a coffee. She could have a little bit of time for herself, which is really important too.

So I think the Supporting Positive Behaviour modules are just such a great step forward in inclusion.

A child prepares to hit a tennis ball with his racket under the guidance of a coach.

What are the next steps for Tennis BC?

We’re starting to run our after school programs and our coaches have taken this training.

Every day, I want them to practice one aspect of the tools they’ve learned. In every sport, the more practice, the more permanent it becomes.

And it’s the same with coaching. You start building confidence and then as soon as you have a child come onto your court that might have some differences, you’re gonna say, “I got this.”

I can’t wait for the next steps for coaching in Canada. We’ve got 450 tennis coaches in the province of BC. And if all 450 take that course – wow.

Tennis Canada is going to include it on their Tennis Professionals Association website. And if it’s the same across Canada – that’s even better.

It’s exciting!

Take Supporting Positive Behaviour for FREE!

Visit and use code JSCAN-A2B3C4D at checkout.

Eligible for 2 NCCP Professional Development Points.

National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) coaches who are required to maintain their certification and who have submitted their NCCP numbers upon registration will be eligible for 2 NCCP PD Points.

Questions? Email:

Sep 23, 2019

Noah Jobson loves soccer. But what he loves even more is sharing his passion with young players.

In his seven years coaching for Cliff Avenue United FC in Burnaby (and nearly two years as Head Coach), Noah has guided hundreds of kids and youth.

But when asked to reflect on his coaching career, a specific young player comes to his mind.

“He was probably about nine — new to soccer and struggling to keep up. But he was also struggling socially and to follow along with my instructions to the group.”

Noah responded by providing the newcomer with a bit more attention. The child’s mother took notice and after the first session, she approached Noah to thank him. She also let him know that her son had autism.

Upon hearing of the diagnosis, Noah decided to research strategies to help the young boy succeed.

“One technique that really stuck with me was to avoid abstract direction,” said Noah. “So instead of ‘Everybody stand nicely over here’, I would say something like, ‘Put both feet on this line.’ I used very concrete, real life terms. I put in extra effort to be concise, clear and straightforward with my instructions.”

With small adjustments to his communication style, Noah saw huge improvements in the young player. More importantly, he noticed that the boy started to enjoy soccer.

Soon after, Noah began applying the same principles to other players – not just those with a diagnosis, but anyone who was struggling to focus or follow instructions.

Sure enough, Noah noticed the same progress across a wide range of players. He concluded that he had to share the same tips with the other coaches in his club.

To support his efforts, Noah’s Technical Director pointed him to CAN and Canadian Tire Jumpstart’s eLearning Module– Supporting Positive Behaviour.

Launched this past January, the online resource is currently available FREE of charge at (select “Supporting Positive Behaviour” and use code JSCAN-A2B3C4D).

“The module covered all the same things about being concise, clear and direct. And it was 100% applicable to a wide range of kids. Not just those with a diagnosis,” Noah said.

“I recommend it to all the coaches that I teach. It’s a win-win, because [the training] helps us coach kids on the spectrum. But also, I strongly feel that the tips from the module help all kids.”

Since discovering the online resource at the beginning of the year, Noah has shared it with as many coaches as he could. And the word is getting out.

This summer, Noah spoke with a mother who was in the process of receiving an ADHD diagnosis for her son. Despite the difficulties with his behaviour, she was trying hard to get him involved in sports.

“After day one [of summer camp], she was so thankful,” Noah told us. “She had heard from a friend that our club was specifically good at working with kids of all abilities.”

It’s that kind of feedback that continues to fuel Noah’s commitment to inclusion and accessibility at Cliff Avenue United FC. As the Head Coach, he wants families to know that everyone is welcome and can be successful.

“We want to incorporate everyone into our programs.”

Learn more about Cliff Avenue United FC programs at

At CAN, we share Noah’s commitment to inclusion and accessibility. We are so proud that resources like the Supporting Positive Behaviour module can help coaches like Noah champion the cause in the community at large.

And for coaches who are part of the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP), the training is now eligible for 2 Professional Development Points.

According to Noah, the end goal is simple. “We need kids of all abilities to be engaged and having fun.”

And we have to say that we agree.

Take “Supporting Positive Behaviour” for FREE!

Visit and use code JSCAN-A2B3C4D at checkout.

Eligible for 2 NCCP Professional Development Points.

National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) coaches who are required to maintain their certification and who have submitted their NCCP numbers upon registration will be eligible for 2 NCCP PD Points. Questions? Email:

May 1, 2019

Rob MacMillan is a BCEHS paramedic specialist who serves on the Canucks Autism Network (CAN) First Responder Advisory Committee.

First responders are more than seven times more likely to interact with an individual with autism. However, most are not trained on how to recognize autism or utilize effective support strategies in crisis situations involving those on the spectrum.

Due to anxiety, sensory sensitivities, triggers or communication barriers, emergencies involving an individual with autism can often escalate quickly without this background of understanding.

As a BCEHS Paramedic Specialist and father of a daughter with autism, Rob MacMillan is highly motivated to bridge this gap of understanding. Together with six other members of the Canucks Autism Network (CAN) First Responder Advisory Committee, Rob played an instrumental role in developing and launching our First Responder eLearning Module this past January.

A screen shot of the Autism Awareness eLearning Module for First Responders.
The First Responder eLearning Module is a FREE 1-hour course available to fire fighters, police officers, paramedics, search and rescue and other emergency care providers across BC. Visit to access now!

Rob recently shared an example from the field that illustrates how a little awareness can go a long way in emergency situations.

Last month, Rob was at a dispatch centre when a call came in involving a boy with autism who had climbed three stories up a tree. Rob arrived on scene to find the boy’s mother anxiously watching as her son continued climbing to dangerous heights.

“Fire rescue had already arrived,” Rob recounted. “And any time one of them tried to approach the boy, he just kept climbing higher and higher. He wasn’t afraid – he was just having fun. But we were all extremely distressed. Meanwhile, the tree was starting to sway as he continued climbing.”

Despite Rob’s personal experience with autism, he knew that each child with autism is an individual with their own unique personality. He asked the boy’s mother about her son’s likes, dislikes, triggers and ability to communicate. The mom informed him that her son was non-verbal. They began to strategize together.

Learning that the young boy was highly interested in his mom’s iPhone, they initially tried to show him something on a smart phone to encourage him to climb down.

A paramedic specialist vehicle in the park
As a BCEHS Paramedic Specialist, Rob provides on-scene support for high-risk situations in the Lower Mainland.

When that didn’t work, Rob regrouped with the firefighters. Although the boy was non-verbal, Rob explained to them that he could likely understand the words they were saying and that they simply needed to adjust the way they communicated with him.

“They just needed to talk to him nice and slowly, allowing time for their instructions to sink in,” Rob recounted. “His mom had also indicated that he likes [sensory] pressure, so if they needed to hold him to help him down the tree, he’d probably like that if it felt to him like a hug.”

Armed with a bit more awareness of the boy’s needs and communication style, the firefighters began another ascent up the tree. But slower. And with newfound confidence felt more confident that the boy was understanding what they were saying, and that they could interpret his behaviour a bit better as well.

When one of the firefighters eventually reached the boy, he used simple language and offered the boy a big hug. The boy accepted his invitation with open arms and together they made their way back down to the ground.

After nearly two hours on-scene, Rob watched as the boy was successfully rescued and reunited with his mother.

“She had tears in her eyes. Most of all, she was just so relieved that somebody there understood autism and what was happening up in that tree.”

CAN’s eLearning Module for First Responders is FREE and available 24/7 online. Since launching in January 2019, over 800 first responders across BC have accessed the training. Take the 1-hour course at


Jan 8, 2019


In an innovative effort to increase accessibility for individuals with autism in community recreation, Canucks Autism Network (CAN), in partnership with BC Recreation and Parks Association (BCRPA), has launched a free E-Learning Module for recreation providers across BC. Funded by the Ministry of Child and Family Development (MCFD), the online resource represents an unprecedented collaborative effort among government, recreation, and the non-profit autism sector.

The one-hour online module outlines behaviours associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), as well as effective strategies for supporting children and youth with autism in recreation settings. The interactive module also highlights interviews with experienced recreation leaders who have successfully implemented these strategies, which include communication tips, behavior support, and teaching tools. The E-Learning Module can be accessed at no cost at or

“Canucks Autism Network has been providing workshops to the recreation sector since 2012, and demand grows exponentially every year,” said Dr. Stephanie Jull, VP of Programs and Training at Canucks Autism Network. “This new online training module provides an exciting opportunity to spread knowledge and build capacity across BC and beyond, creating a positive impact for the thousands of families living with autism in our province.”

The project began after CAN successfully pitched the need for a widely-accessible online resource to the MCFD in 2017. With 1 in 66 Canadian children diagnosed with autism, and over 16,000 children and youth with autism in BC alone, MCFD recognized the growing need for community accessibility.

“All kids deserve the opportunity to participate in sports and other activities,” said Katrine Conroy, Minister of Children and Family Development. “I’m pleased that MCFD could collaborate with CAN and BCRPA to bring this specialized training to recreation providers so that they can provide the supports kids need to join in with their peers.”

Research shows that individuals with autism are far less likely to participate in community recreation than their typically-developing peers. Furthermore, research indicates that physical activity can increase attention and cognition while decreasing anxiety, among children and youth with autism.

“We are thrilled to be presenting this valuable E-learning module in partnership with CAN, said Rebecca Tunnacliffe, CEO of BCRPA. Our members who manage and work in recreation facilities across BC hold very highly the importance of creating a positive experience for all their participants. This module will directly assist staff to amplify their awareness of the needs of autistic individuals, and implement strategies to provide them with a positive experience so they will want to return again and again.”

Since 2012, CAN’s province-wide team of training facilitators has delivered hundreds of workshops to well over 10,000 individuals in the public sector across BC. In addition to supporting the sport and recreation sectors, CAN’s live training team builds capacity for first responders, education staff, and a variety community spaces including YVR, Science World, and the Vancouver Aquarium.

CAN is proud to unveil three online training resources for various sectors in January 2019. In addition to the launch of the E-Learning Module for recreation providers, CAN has also released an online training module for first responders and will be unveiling an online resource for sport coaches in late January.

For more information, or to book a live training workshop, please visit

Nov 28, 2018

The City of Surrey hosted their annual Tree Lighting Festival & Holiday Market this past Saturday. Featuring live music, rides, vendors and the lighting of a 60-foot tree, the festival is a highly anticipated holiday event that brings joy to hundreds of families in the community.

Held for the eighth year, this iteration of the festival was extra special for families living with autism. For the first time, individuals with autism and other sensory sensitivities had access to a Sensory Friendly Space.

Sensory Friendly Spaces provide a quiet place for individuals with autism and other sensory sensitivities to decompress from the busyness of public events. With the support of Canucks Autism Network, City of Surrey piloted their first Sensory Friendly Space back in July.

City of Surrey’s Accessibility Specialist, Karin Pasqua, witnessed first-hand the benefits of the resource. Encountering numerous families living with autism, she was overwhelmed with the positive feedback that she received about the Sensory Friendly Space.

“We heard from numerous families would could stay and enjoy the event far longer than they would have otherwise,” Karin explained. “I met one family who was able to visibly relax as they sat on the couches and watched their son giggle away playing with the sensory toys we had available.”

“One mother was so grateful she was in tears.”

In addition to the Sensory Friendly Space, individuals with autism can borrow noise-cancelling headphones to manage the high volumes of the event. Karin personally recounted four instances of children using the headphones. Two kids in particular had used them so they could wait in line to see Santa.

Including the CAN Birthday Festival, where the initiative was launched, Sensory Friendly Spaces have now been offered at two major public events at Surrey Civic Plaza. The City of Surrey’s hope is to continually expand the events and venues that the resources are offered.

“We had staff from other City of Surrey facilities, including the Surrey Arts Centre, come by to see how the room was set up and how it works,” recalled Karin.

About Sensory Friendly Spaces
Sensory Friendly Spaces are one way that Canucks Autism Network (CAN) aims to improve accessibility for individuals with autism living in Surrey. Other components of this partnership include staff and volunteer training, resource development, and co-hosting autism friendly events.

For more information about the City of Surrey’s Sensory Friendly Spaces, please contact Karin Pasqua at

In addition to the City of Surrey, CAN supports a range of community partners, including Vancouver International Airport (YVR), Science World and Rogers Arena.

For more information on how Canucks Autism Network can support your organization to improve accessibility for individuals with autism, please visit or email