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“Justin has autism.”
Justin was just three years old when his parents heard those words, and at that moment, their lives changed.
They soon had those same questions that many other parents of children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) find themselves asking.
Will he be able to talk? Show affection? Look after himself? Live on his own one day? Have friends? Have a career? Fall in love? Will he be okay? Will he be happy?
Leslie and Carey had concerns about their son’s lack of speech and other behaviours, so they asked his pediatrician to make a recommendation for an autism assessment. Justin was later diagnosed with ASD at Children’s Hospital.
“There are many different challenges along the journey of autism as the years progress,” said his mother, Leslie.
Their biggest challenge has been Justin’s reaction to thunderstorms.
“He won’t go out if there are thunderstorms in the forecast,” said Leslie. He’s gotten better over the years, but I fear this will always be a huge anxiety for him.”
Leslie said there are many things they can’t do that other families do together.
“Although we’d love for him to be with us for certain events, we’ve come to learn that what we enjoy and what he enjoys can be very different, and that’s okay,” she said.
“We are very fortunate that Justin is now able to talk, which wasn’t always the case,” said Leslie. Justin particularly enjoys sports and movies.
“My favourite sport is baseball. I love the Winnipeg Goldeyes, and I love to play basketball and soccer, too,” said Justin. “And I love Disney movies and all the characters.”
Over the years, Justin has made excellent progress in language and behaviour, thanks to supports he received throughout his childhood and teen years from schools and organizations with specialized programs.
One such organization is Rose and Max Rady Jewish Community Centre (Rady JCC), a United Way Winnipeg donor-supported agency partner, which offers a variety of programs to young people with special needs.
“We’ve been going to the Rady JCC for about seven years,” said Leslie. “I can’t believe how the years have flown by.”
Justin’s parents learned about the programs at Rady JCC through another family who had a child living with autism.
Having a place for Justin to thrive and learn in a safe and caring environment is great for Justin and for Carey and Leslie as well.
“It gives us three whole hours to do things that we need to get done or just have a needed break,” said Leslie. “We’re so fortunate to live in a city with programs such as these and so grateful to United Way Winnipeg and their supporters.”
Justin is now 18 and attends the Triple F (Fun, Fitness, and Friends) program for teens and young adults on Sunday afternoons.
“It’s been amazing for Justin,” said Leslie. “He loves going to the pool and doing yoga, dancing, music therapy, cooking, and seeing all his friends every week. And he loves going to summer camp as well.”
Leslie offers these words of advice to families with newly diagnosed children.
“Use each and every resource available to help your child succeed,” she said. “I don’t know where I’d be had I not found others living with autism on a daily basis. They have been my life preserver many days, and their children have become friends for our son. Nothing beats that.”
“We will continue to support and help him along his journey and hope to find a program that will continue to help him thrive in his adult life,” said Leslie. “Our goal for Justin is to continue learning new skills throughout his life and be an active and productive adult – the same as everyone else.”
Carey and Leslie may still have questions in their minds about Justin’s future, but for now, they know he’s getting the support he needs, he has many friends, and he’s happy.