For as long as I can recall, I dreamt of becoming a Nurse Practitioner. I always loved science while in school, and I wanted to find a career where I could help others, so nursing felt like the perfect option for me. However, I faced a life-changing day when I started my first year of college. My son, Andrew, who was three years old, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). At this point in my life, Autism was something that I had very little knowledge about or experience with, but that was all about to change. First, I knew it was time to put my career dreams on hold so I could best support my family, as we entered a new world filled with various therapies, centers, appointments, and a new community.
As Andrew and I attended speech therapy sessions together, we learned how to communicate in a new way. He began signing his wants and needs, and after that, he soon started using words with those signs. By this point, my son was almost four years old, and for the first time, he had a way of communicating to me that he wanted a drink, was hungry, or was tired. This was such a fantastic moment for our family. We would spend our days in a child development center and Andrew, who had typically become overwhelmed around other children, was learning coping strategies. He learned that when he became stressed in a group of children, he could go to a quiet space, and I too, was learning so many new ways to support him. These therapies were changing our lives most incredibly. Andrew, who I had once been told may never speak, was beginning to make small sentences to share his feelings. He was learning to play with other children and preparing to go to kindergarten. When he transitioned to school, it was time to start thinking about my career again. I decided to take the Personal Support Worker program, and in the fall of 2019, I graduated with honours. While in this program, I spent a lot of time volunteering at my son's school as a Strong Start To Reading volunteer and classroom helper. During this experience of volunteering with children and supporting them in the classroom, I discovered my passion for working with children. I began working as a Personal Support Worker at Oak Bridge Academy in 2019.
Within my new role, I worked closely with Registered Behaviour Technicians (RBT) and became more interested in their role and the services they provided in our school. I was fascinated by the science of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) and how it was used to support children. I decided to once again return to school, and in 2021 I completed the Autism Studies program with Algonquin College and became an RBT. I am now pursuing my Bachelor's Degree in Behavioural Psychology. I use the skills I learned through my years as a mother and my education to support my students in the Ready 2 Learn classroom, but also to support my own son at home. I’ve learned how important it is to just pause. To notice how you are feeling, and to defuse from hard thoughts. These are skills that I wish I had when my son was younger. I learned how crucial a routine is, as a consistent routine provides comfort in knowing what is coming next. Most importantly, I learned to celebrate all the wins. Providing praise and reinforcement increases the occurrences. When my students are getting their winter clothes on independently they know praise is coming! They’re excited to try new things and work on hard skills because the positive reinforcement makes it worth it. Working with children in this age group is truly so special to me as I know how much growth occurred in my own child at this age through the use of ABA. I understand how important it is for children of this age to gain independence and emotional regulation skills, and for them to learn to communicate their needs and express their feelings in an appropriate way.
Being the parent of a now ten year old child with ASD, I feel I can really relate to the families in my class, I can understand their concerns, and I can truly feel their excitement when they receive updates about the amazing goals their child is achieving at Oak Bridge.
Looking back, my husband and I often reflect on all the progress Andrew has made; he is now ten years old and has achieved so much already. I am so grateful for my son and the journey we continue to experience together; without him, I may have never discovered my true passion for a career in ABA.