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On the bookshelf: Becoming Autism Friendly by Anne Laurie

It takes a special town for people across Canada to pack up their belongings and move to a town of 4,000 people, on the southwest coast of Newfoundland and with no traffic lights. This is Channel-Port aux Basques, the first accredited officially accredited autism-friendly town.

The story of Autism Involves Me is a prime example of the old saying “it takes a village to raise a child”. This book quickly acknowledges the lack of support most towns and cities have when it comes to supporting children with autism. However, it also highlights the power and effect of change that can occur when a couple of people have a vision mixed with a passion to better their community turning it into a whole-community effort. They started small with passion and commitment that made their entire town turn heads and want to help to make their town as inclusive as possible. Every effort they made was a victory for the community. In the end, the town understood that children with autism did not have to fit into society, but society itself had to be re-designed for the children.

This book dives into a unique look at local businesses such as bookstores and restaurants and reveals how their intentions of being autism-friendly succeeded. It also provides you with the necessary resources to become more aware of autism and support your town towards autism-friendly accreditation. This book is as heart-warming as it is resourceful since it provides roughly 30 pages of resources and guides that will appeal to community members, parents, children, teachers, support workers, grocery clerks, and hotel owners alike on how we can all be more inclusive for individuals with autism. These guides, from checklists to discussion questions not only help us understand the “what” of autism” but the “how we can do better”. I read this book in one sitting, but I know I will be consulting it again and again for myself and friends.

On one hand, you get to know community members and their hearts for changing their town. One the other hand, you get an excellent grasp on how to make small and big changes for all individuals, both neurotypical and autistic. You finish the book not only feeling like you are part of the community, but you feel more prepared to support children with autism.

I was drawn to Joan Chaisson, the Director and Co-founder of Autism Involves Me. Her special touch was she not only cared for the children but their parents alike. I was left wanting to know more about her. I felt she had more to teach us about her approach to community engagement and getting people to consistently say yes to her. She is mentioned in a few chapters, but I could feel her hard work in every chapter as the backbone of the movement.

I had two questions throughout this book. The first was, “What happens when these children become adults? Will they find solid employment?” Autism Involves Me argues that it is a challenge for all towns and cities including their own to find fulltime employment for adults with disabilities. While the book did not provide a direct answer, I hope the supporters of Autism Involves Me will delegate resources to this cause.

My second question was, “What about children with disabilities who are not autistic? Are they receiving support? This was somewhat answered in chapter 8 from a speech-language pathologist who reminded us that there are children who do not have autism but have special needs, such as down syndrome, need just as much community support. This is a reminder that while we champion for one group, we need to elevate other groups as well. I am left to assume that since the town is quite educated when it comes to the differences and needs of individuals with autism, they are also well-equipped and compassionate enough to support individuals with other disabilities.

I highly recommend this book to all community members, schools, and businesses. All of us can learn a little that can have large effects and this book demonstrates this. Channel-Port aux Basques was never on my radar of “places to visit” but if I one day have the privilege to step foot in Newfoundland, I am certain I will take any detour to see the town for myself.

Anne Laurie is a PHD student in education, specializing in child studies at Concordia University.

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