August 8, 2023
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 summer. He 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.
-Gemma, a CAN sister
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