Trains, bubbles and fun to celebrate autism program

by Lesley Mulcahy

“It’s not my favorite colour,” Alex quips when asked about the green balloon he’s holding. “Red is. Like my cap.” And off he goes to join the other kids amid the bubbles and trains on a beautiful summer day in Windsor.

Alex and his siblings, accompanied by his mom and grandmother, were just one family among 13 others gathered at Trecothic Creek and Windsor Railway on July 9 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Annapolis Valley Intervention Team for Autism. 

Working with pre-school children who have an autism diagnosis, the program has supported more than 100 families since 2005 when the Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI) Program was added to the existing Autism Consultation and Education (ACE) services. For some families, multiple children have participated. The team, which includes speech language pathologists, psychologists, autism support workers, clinical interventionists and occupational therapists, supports children and families in their homes and pre-schools.  

“Those early years of development are so important for children with autism and we work with children and their families to support their needs and help the child develop their strengths,” said Kimberley Smolenaars, a clinical interventionist with the program. “With everything from language and social communication skills to overcoming difficult behaviours and enhancing play and daily living skills, we work closely with the parents so that we can take a holistic and tailored approach for each child.”

Valerie and Steve Wohlmuth's daughter, Heidi, participated in the program in 2007 and the family came out for the 10th anniversary celebration. 

“We wanted to see and thank all the special people who were a part of Heidi’s EIBI programming, which we believe was an important part in her early development and preparation for school,” said Valerie Wolhmuth. “The program didn’t only teach and work with Heidi but also taught our entire family how to help Heidi in her development. The team helped us get through some difficult times as we were immersed into the world of autism and we are forever grateful.”

Smolenaars notes that giving children and families the chance to connect and have fun was the drive behind the annual fun day that started in 2011. It’s been held at Trecothic Creek and Windsor Railway each year, which offers miniature train rides operated by a team of volunteer conductors and organizers. 

 “Many children with autism – and children in general – really enjoy trains and motion. The team at Trecothic Creek was keen to work with us and they’ve been fantastic with the children,” she said.

 After two hours of train rides, treats, bubbles and fresh summer air, Alex and his family said their goodbyes along with others. Leaving the grounds, under the shade of his red cap and with his green balloon flying over, his shy smile was confirmation of a good day.