Calgary group focuses on social aspects of the disorder

On a calm Sunday morning, in the basement of the B-4 building inside the Currie Barracks, children run, flip and play with each other.

Smiles are painted on the kids’ faces for full two hours, as instructors work with the children, teaching them valuable life skills through the participation in various activities.

One boy shouts out, “I’m Spiderman,” as the group starts out by having a variety of different races across the room and then they break into some gymnastics.

With each passing minute the four instructors encourage the children to be themselves, have fun and interact with each other.

This utopia for the children is the clubhouse for the Autism Aspergers Friendship Society of Calgary, or AAFS; a place where children and adults with autism can get away from traditional ways of treating autism and be themselves.

Traditional ways of treating autism often involve hours of therapy with doctors and most of the focus is on functionality and behavior.

Dean Svoboda, AAFS founder and executive director, noticed this and wanted to give people with autism a place to be happy, social and have relationships.

Children at the Autism Aspergers Friendship Society of Calgary are encouraged to participate in a variety of activities.

Photo by Ian Esplen“We try to encourage them to embrace their differences and once you’re confident in yourself and you have a group of people that you identify with, it doesn’t matter how eccentric you may be,” said Svoboda.

The way they encourage autistic people to be themselves and overcome their challenges in life is by providing them with a large variety of activities, which include such things as waterslides, camping trips, sleepovers, stampeding, gaming, active movement, movies, making movies, drinks, sporting event, other events and pretty much anything else you can imagine for the group’s members that range from four to 34.

Getting to try such types of activities have resulted in life altering changes for Michelle McKechnie and her 14-year-old son Jackson – who has been going to activities at AAFS since he was six years old.

“When he was six he didn’t ever want to be away from us. If we went grocery shopping he’d want to be there with us. If we had a boring bank appointment he wants to be there with us,” said McKechnie.

Now, eight years later, Jackson has improved his self confidence and can’t wait to get going and join his friends at AAFS for activities ranging from rafting on the Bow River to camping trips in Canmore.

Michelle is so grateful for the work that AAFS has done with Jackson that she describes the organization as an, “absolute Godsend.”

Liz Shepherd is also grateful that AAFS has been there for the past eight years for her 18-year-old son Will, and given him countless opportunities to try activities that he might not necessarily try without AAFS.

Through those activities, Will has become great with maps and become very good at finding waterfalls.

While Will has several great memories of past events with AAFS, meeting Victoria Duffield at last year’s Stampede is one of his highlights to go along with spending time with the AAFS staff and his friends.

“Dean is a really caring person and I don’t know what I would have done without him. I’ve had a blast with him and AAFS has become what I consider a home away from home,” said Will.

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