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Joan Chaisson receives award for AIM work

Joan Chaisson and Governor General Mary Simon in Ottawa earlier this month. — Submitted photo

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter PORT AUX BASQUES — After being nominated back in 2016-2017 for the Meritorious Service Decorations (Civil Division), Joan Chaisson, one of the co-founders of AIM (Autism Involves Me) was finally able to bring home her award. Eligibility Meritorious Service Decorations (Civil Division) recognize achievements in any field, from advocacy and health care services to research and humanitarian efforts. Recipients have tackled poverty in their community, improved education opportunities for children in Canada and abroad, or raised awareness of important causes and issues. Any person whose deed, activity, achievement, contribution or act of innovation occurred after June 11, 1984, is eligible to receive an MSD (Civil Division). The decoration is not intended to recognize longevity of service, but rather to recognize an achievement that was accomplished over a limited period of time. Any person, regardless of citizenship, is eligible to receive an MSD (Civil Division). However, their achievement must have brought benefit or honour to Canada. The Governor General MSD Civil Ceremony opened on Dec. 7, 2023, and Governor General Mary Simon, the first Indigenous Governor General, gave the opening speech. “Since becoming governor general, I’ve had the privilege of meeting so many Canadians who are improving their communities, and this country, through their contributions. People using ingenuity, interest, kindness and commitment to make things better. Their stories are inspirational. And so I am honoured that today, we get to share your stories, stories of amazing people who are making Canada better every day. Today, we are honouring you with the Meritorious Service Decorations, which recognizes your efforts to fulfill a specific need or service for our country or the world. Every one of you here today, every recipient of the Meritorious Service Decorations, has experienced success, and when others learn about what you have done, when your stories are shared, you will no doubt encourage and inspire them to pursue their own passions and dreams, with generosity, innovation, understanding and respect,” said Simon. “You have all done this in different ways. Your stories are diverse, as are the fields you work in. Yet, you are all improving the lives around you. Your stories make clear that you are all united by your desire to do good for your communities, our country and the world. A few people who will be honoured today are no longer with us, but we are so grateful that their memory, their stories, and their contributions will always be with us. There are also a few recipients who are making incredible contributions while living abroad. Together, you represent the collective power that comes from making a difference on a personal level. The decoration you have earned is not the last step, but just one more on your journey. I look forward to seeing where you will go next.” A total of 62 Meritorious Service Decorations (Civil Division), including 13 Meritorious Service Crosses (M.S.C.) and 49 Meritorious Service Medals (M.S.M.), were handed out during the ceremony at Rideau Hall, and Chaisson attended the ceremony with her husband and son. “Sometime back in possibly 2016-2017, someone nominated (AIM co-founder) April Billard and myself for this award. I have no idea of who nominated us and I would love to know who it was so I could personally thank them. I did ask on social media but no one came forth,” said Chaisson. “The announcement was made on January 2, 2021. However, the official date on my certificate is Nov 20, 2020. It was quite sometime between the actual declaration and the presentation of the medal. I was told that this was due to the COVID-19 backlog, plus it usually takes a couple of years. I received the large certificate, lapel pin and other items in the mail shortly after the official announcement.” The trip was also a great way to reconnect as a family. “We flew to Ottawa on Dec 5 and returned on Dec 10. Our airfare and hotel/meals for two nights were looked after by the Federal Government. We decided to add a few more days on to give us some time for the three of us as a family. We had had a very stressful fall since my only brother had become quite ill and passed on November 13, 2023. I was also very busy with my church work for Wesley United Church and this family time was very much needed,” said Chaisson. “The presentation of the Meritorious Service Decorations (Civil Division) took place at Rideau Hall on Thursday, Dec 7, at 10:30 a.m. All recipients were emailed directions to follow once we arrived. Also, each of us, including our guests, had to show our personal invitation with our name on it in order to get through the gate leading into Rideau Hall. Once inside, we were separated from our guests since we had to have more information and directions given to us. The whole atmosphere was very formal and very organized. We were instructed on how to nod to Her Excellency —The Right Honourable Mary Simon, Governor General of Canada — and there were rules as to how we had to line up to go to our seats, to not mix up our seating arrangements and to sit in the row ahead of us when we returned. We had to stand on the first X when we were being introduced and then walk to the next X in front of Her Excellency to be presented our medal. This certainly brought back many memories of my thirty plus years of teaching and having the students follow such directions for concerts or assemblies.” It was when everyone stood and applauded as the recipients walked in that Chaisson truly understood how important this medal was. “As I was sitting, and listening to all the introductions of the other recipients, I was really in shock that I was included with these very worthy people. The AIM (Autism Involves Me) group was started in 2012 with just four members at our first meeting. It was meant to be a supportive group where we would support each other. The other co- founder was a parent of two children on the spectrum and she was superb in understanding what the parents were experiencing. I was the educator and the consultant for the parents,” said Chaisson. “Our working together worked really well and our group increased each time we met. Then parents started to discuss their challenges that they had when taking their children places in town for social events or outside of town for medical appointments. So we decided to see if we could work on ways to decrease these challenges. The other co-founder decided to leave our group in 2016, which left a large void in our group. COVID-19 played a large part in stopping our monthly support meetings and my volunteer position as consultant became much more active.” During a meet and greet that followed the official ceremony, Chaisson was able to connect with the other people in attendance. “I was pleasantly surprised to see how many were interested in our town and how we became autism friendly. I had taken two of the books ‘Becoming Autism Friendly’ written by R. L. Roy which is to be used as a guide for other towns to follow. I gave one of the books to Her Excellency and the other was given to David Hein M.S.C., who is one of the creators of ‘Come From Away,’” said Chaisson. “He explained to me that they are now working on a play about being autistic and he was very interested in what we did in our town. He was very appreciative that I gave him a book. My fingers are crossed that he may come to visit our town! I also have addresses of others who asked me to mail them a book.” The pride that Chaisson feels for her community is immense and readily transparent. “I have been so proud of our town over the years and especially since we were given this award in 2020. I have always promoted that this is not my award, it is our award, everyone who is involved with AIM in any way. It may be a member of our group, a business person, a leader of an organization who knows nothing about us but still wants to learn how to become autism-friendly. The book, which I mentioned, has been sent to such counties as India, Egypt, United States, Great Britain, Pakistan, and to many places in our own country. It has been bought by many visitors as well as citizens of our area. All of these people are part of this award. Without the support of our Town Council, the citizens of our town and surrounding areas, AIM would not be successful,” said Chaisson. “This is definitely not an individual award. In this case, it is a team award. I told many people in Ottawa of how a grandmother worked so that her grandson and other AIM children could be part of our town’s Christmas Parade. She was retired from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, so she asked if they would go into a partnership with us and tow their large boat in the parade. Our group, with the superb help of a new member who has no children on the spectrum, helped to decorate the float, showing how we were partners with them. Our children, along with some of their siblings and friends sat in the boat passing out treats as they drove by. We also had a parent, member and child carry our banner in front of the float. This was the first time that the DFO has ever taken part in our parade. Everyone now has ideas for next year’s parade! This is a wonderful example of showing how we all work together so we can have our town autism-friendly.” Chaisson noted that AIM’s work is not yet finished. “We have come a long ways and the members who started this group have moved on to the next generation. Their children are now becoming young adults, which opens up new challenges and ideas for us to work on. We have been working with the Autism Employment Pilot Program for adults. This has been successful, but the program is supposed to be ended in March. We are now waiting to see what may happen. We also know that there are adults living in the homes of aging parents. These adults need assisted living and this is something that is going to be soon a major predicament. Also, we need to look at helping our young teens find summer jobs which can be comfortable for them socially. They need to be successful in summer type jobs in order for them to be comfortable in trying other more stressful type projects as they get ready to leave the safety of their high school,” said Chaisson. “I have been asked if giving out medals for this type of work is important. To be truthful, I had never heard of it until I was a recipient. Also, I truly did not realize what an honour it was until I was part of the ceremony in Ottawa. I feel it is important since, for us, it was a wonderful opportunity for people to learn about our town, surrounding areas and members of AIM. I did not co-found AIM to receive a medal. I did it so that the children, and adults now, could feel comfortable, be accepted for who they are, and live actively in our town.”

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