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Celebrating the holidays with CAN

A mother skates on the ice while holding her son's hand.

Dec 23, 2017

Whether it’s photos with Santa or a festive lights display, the holidays are marked by the special outings that we have with loved ones. That’s why Canucks Autism Network (CAN) was so thrilled to host the Holiday Skate yesterday for over 25 families with autism in Kelowna.

As with all CAN family events, yesterday’s celebration was offered free of charge and provided a non-judgemental environment where families with autism could enjoy themselves in the community.

This was Kelsey General’s second year at the Holiday Skate. A single mother of two boys on the spectrum, Kelsey travelled an hour from Penticton so they could spend the holidays with CAN.

With two-year-old Lincoln strapped to her back, Kelsey strolled around the rink alongside Brentley, her oldest. At three years old, Brentley already has a season of CAN’s weekly skate program under his belt and loves being on the ice.

After a few laps around the rink, Kelsey and her boys retreated to the sidelines where CAN volunteers waited with hot chocolate and photos with Santa.

It was just over a year ago that the Generals had their first experience with CAN. “I saw an ad on Facebook for a family picnic event that CAN was hosting in Kelowna.”

With both sons diagnosed, she recalled how challenging it was for her to enjoy the same outings together as a typical family. “When you go to typical events, one thing you might encounter are lots of lines,” she explained. “But for my kids, waiting around is not usually feasible. After 10 seconds, Brentley would start yelling and the people around us wouldn’t understand why. It was very isolating.”

Though Kelsey and her sons live nearly an hour away, she eagerly signed up for CAN’s family event.

“It was a place where the kids could run around and just be themselves,” Kelsey remembered. “But in addition to that, we got to meet other families with autism too. It had a very community-like feel.”

In the year that followed, Kelsey signed up for two more family events — the first Holiday Skate in December 2016 and a Family Bowling event in April 2017.

“I thought I was going to break my back supporting Brentley on the ice, but Kayla [CAN’s Regional Coordinator in Kelowna] came and helped me.” Kelsey continued, “At the bowling event, Bentley was running down the lane while my youngest was throwing balls at other people.”

But what struck Kelsey most is that she didn’t have to worry about what other families thought. At CAN’s family events, everyone is familiar with the challenges that autism can pose. And whether it was a staff member or another family, there was always someone there to support. “One of the other families came up to me and offered to help. They simply understood.”

As soon as Brentley turned 3, Kelsey signed him up for the weekly programs too. To date, he has done all three of CAN’s Early Years programs for children aged 3-6 — I CAN Be Active, I CAN Swim and I CAN Skate.

“I tell a lot of other parents about CAN and they tell me, ‘Well, my kids don’t listen to anything.’ But here, they make adaptations for the kids to be successful — eating snow on the ice for the whole first session if that’s what it takes!”

For Kelsey, attending a CAN family event was her first step to seeing what her son was capable of on the ice. It was the first step to being part of a community. And hopefully, the first of many more CAN holidays to come!

For more information, please visit our Family Events webpage.

For more information on becoming a member, please visit canucksautism.ca/join.

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