Bringing caregivers together from all over the province during a pandemic has been one of my greatest experiences as Service Navigator for Autism Ontario. Part of the role as Service Navigator is to host a variety of events and support groups within our communities, though I could not have anticipated the way in which this program would connect our team with caregivers from all over the province. Covid-19 quickly halted all in-person events which were a large part of the way we connected and supported our families in Ontario. Fortunately, the CARES program has allowed us to come together virtually and support one another during these current and unprecedented times.
Facilitated by parent volunteers and trained staff, the CARES program offers an opportunity to connect effectively and share experiences pertaining to caring for children and youth on the Autism spectrum. Throughout the six-week program, caregivers explore topics such as: stress management, helpful thinking, self-compassion, and problem-solving, which allow them to learn and reflect on their personal mental health needs.
The CARES program provides helpful and relatable content to participants across the province of Ontario. For some, taking part in this virtual platform has also helped create connections and build friendships that continue beyond the program. Parent Maria Silva states, “My son’s new diagnosis with ASD has been extremely difficult for me. Having some supportive people around me is very appreciated during this unprecedented time.”. In my time as a Service Navigator and CARES program facilitator, hearing caregivers share their experiences is always a privilege. Their resiliency always shines bright and their support for one another as parents is truly inspiring to witness.
Participants of the CARES program that have connected across Ontario, including from more remote areas of the province, have expressed their sincerest gratitude for the program. They also stated that they would have never been able to attend this program and connect with other parents, province-wide, if not for the virtual platform. One mother shared that she has traveled up to four hours one way in order to attend other programs she felt were important. Fortunately, the CARES program allows for caregivers to participate from anywhere in the province, from Thunder Bay through to Hamilton, and anyplace in-between, all from the comfort of their own homes. Many parents have expressed that not having to worry about travel concerns or organizing childcare, in order to be able to attend important programs such as the CARES program, reinforced their willingness to participate and their ability to commit to the six-week program. There is something to be said about virtually bringing caregivers together province-wide, helping them feel understood and supported, while in the comfort of their own homes. As Service Navigator for Autism Ontario and program facilitator, taking part in this essential virtual platform and helping parents build connections province-wide has been an incredible achievement and heartening experience.
Covid-19 brought forth many interruptions in our daily lives, but in this case, it has provided us with an opportunity for meaningful virtual connections. With all the positive feedback received by caregivers from across the province, Autism Ontario hopes to continue offering the CARES program on an ongoing basis, utilizing the virtual platform. Our next six-week program is set to begin in the new year, and we look forward to seeing you there!