Chinese parents whose children have autism find like-minded support

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BACI meetings help parents understand they aren’t alone
Monday April 18, 2011 — Kristian Partington

When John Tsang’s son was five-years-old he was diagnosed with autism.

In the Burnaby Association for Community Inclusion (BACI) Chinese Autism Parent Support Group, Tsang found other parents who not only faced the challenges autism presents, but also those associated with life as new Canadians.

His son is now 17 and Tsang is currently the group’s co-ordinator. Typically 10 to 15 families participate on a regular basis, but at times, that number will rise.

He says speakers often present on autism-related programs and support systems available in the community before the meeting becomes a social outing where families discuss the challenges they face, and the successes they’ve had in supporting the needs of their loved ones.

“The evenings are very positive in the sense that . . . parents are normally very stressed out; most of them are (English as second language) parents and they speak Chinese, and they mostly have two jobs and then they must deal with say, school problems,” he says.

“So during kind of the social time, maybe over a cup of tea, we share experiences and we see that each child is different, and each situation is different.”

There are many commonalities, however, so some of the parents who have older children, such as Tsang, may have solutions to similar problems that newer participants may be facing.

The idea of sharing best practices and advocacy advice factors heavily into the meetings, says Tsang, as well as the understanding that Chinese parents who have a child with autism are not alone and need not be isolated.

That sense of strength and togetherness spills over into the BACI advocacy committee, of which Tsang is also a member. In that position he often finds himself supporting parents in the school system struggling to articulate their needs because of a limited command of English.

The advocacy work is of critical importance says Tsang, and the group offers much needed support for Chinese families.

He says he’d like to see the support group expand to different locations and perhaps increase frequency from one night a month to two or three, because many parents come from outside of Burnaby and because of other commitments, can’t always make the meetings.

As autism awareness increases, along with the number of Chinese families choosing to settle in the Lower Mainland, the need for targeted support will as well, he says.

If you have a story to share, please call 800-294-0051, ext. 24, or e-mail kristian(at)axiomnews.

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