GUELPH SERVICES FOR THE AUTISTIC (GSA)
PRESIDENT’S REPORT FOR 2002-2003

Guelph Services for the Autistic was incorporated in August 1980 by core members of the Wellington County Chapter of the provincial organization now known as Autism Society Ontario. In 1997-98, GSA redefined its focus to become a housing trust and to support adults with autism and their families and friends as they move towards personalized planning and funding. Both of these are attempts to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities, while making the best possible use of community resources. GSA can look after the financial administration and maintenance of homes for people who need such support but want to have a sense of pride and security by living in their own homes. GSA recognizes the rights of each focus person to make choices about their lives and the people with whom they will share their time and their homes. Each adult is supported by a cluster or network of family members, friends and professionals.

For the past six years, GSA’s efforts have been concentrated on making a success of its first house and organizing itself to extend its services to other vulnerable adults. GSA’s first focus person and “active member” has lived in his own home for more than six years. With his parents, he has helped to prepare the house for occupancy by others whom he may choose as living companions and to provide practical support in return for reduced living costs. Last July he composed this message on his computerized communication device: “People should know what a wonderful home I have and the things I do every day. I have my own home and it revolves around me. I know everyone who comes here is friendly to me. I’m sorry more people can’t have this. I have this because my parents are good advocates and they got me individual funds to help. I think I am comfortable and safe here. My garden is heaven on earth. It is a friendly neighbourhood. I have gotten out a lot. I like to greet people when they greet me. I try to smile. Amy [companion dog] is my friendmaker. I love to walk with her. In my home, I have space for different things, room to do things like art and the computer, and my room is private. There is an apartment in the basement and a room or two upstairs and many bathrooms. I like my bathroom sensor. It is a good idea and my alarm on the door if I need to get help. If I need help I can open the door. I’m happy with our progress. Well planned and not stressful. I grow into each step. I like to be a pioneer but it is too slow and scary sometimes. I might get the wrong people. I have lots of good people in my life but not living here yet.” Because of this first success, GSA has been approached by other adults and/or their families who want various kinds of help with housing and residential support. 

GSA also works with other organizations in seeking to understand and draw attention to the needs of adults on the autism spectrum and to develop effective ways of helping them to live with dignity and fulfilment in their home communities. GSA and Waterloo-Wellington Autism Services (WWAS) co-operate in the quarterly newsletter Adult Autism Issues in Waterloo-Wellington (AAIWW). Information and communications about adult autism issues have been strengthened by the Ontario Adult Autism Research and Support Network (OAARSN) website at URL: http://www.ont-autism.uoguelph.ca. 

During 2002-3, GSA has made special efforts with ASPIRE, the Autism Support Project: Information, Resources, Empowerment, for both the Region of Waterloo and Guelph-Wellington, using funds generously provided by Waterloo-Wellington Autism Services. ASPIRE has two main parts. One is surveying the present situations, abilities and needs of adults with autism. The other is modelling effective ways to inform and empower autistic persons, with their families and friends, so they can plan and find resources for all the elements of a good life, including relationships with a personal support network, a home of one’s own, ways to make choices and contribute to the community, and a safe and secure future. 

Jan Cooper began to work part-time in August 2002 as ASPIRE Advocate. She has met with 15 families at least once, for in-depth discussion of needs and goals. GSA sent her to Toronto for a  three-day course offered by the Marsha Forest Centre for Inclusion, Family and Community in April, so that she could advise ASPIRE families about how to use the planning tools of CIRCLES, MAPS and PATH. Jan and Beth Hancox of Waterloo together facilitated a workshop in Guelph for ASPIRE adults and their families in early September 2003. 

GSA made it possible for Marlene Klimkosz to attend a London conference in October about adult autism. As president, I represented GSA at the workshop offered by Kerry’s Place Autism Services in association with its AGM in November. The subject of the workshop, “Balancing Rights, Risks and Responsibilities” is challenging social service agencies. Paramjeet Arneja and Elizabeth Bloomfield represented GSA at the University of Guelph Volunteer Fair in September. During 203, Elizabeth Bloomfield has represented GSA and adult autism issues on the Guelph-Wellington Working Group on Autism Spectrum Disorders that includes staff of the various agencies that have any connection with ASD. She was asked to write a report about the current situation of adults with autism in Guelph-Wellington.
   
GSA also speaks up on issues and supports movements that enhance quality of life and self-determination for and by adults with autism and related disabilities. We were invited to contribute a display about Adult Autism to the Ontario Ministry of Education’s conference in September 2003, for which we produced the brochure Adults with Autism.  We are sharing our experience and documentation with other organizations and family groups who want to use housing trusts for residential support so individual adults may have homes of their own or incorporated aroha entities so adults may direct their own lives with understanding support by family members and friends.

Because of her work with GSA, OAARSN and our first active member, Elizabeth Bloomfield is often invited to speak on the various issues that are part of GSA’s mission. This year, she gave presentations at the national Autism and Fragile-X conference in Kingston and Ryerson University’s Institute of Disability Studies in July 2003. She has also addressed meetings of Families for a Secure Future (Wellington-Dufferin), Planned Lifetime Networks (Waterloo-Wellington) and HAADD: Homes for Adults with Autism and Developmental Disabilities (Toronto). 

We thank members and directors of GSA for their service in 2002-2003—notably Dave DeVidi (secretary), Amar Arneja  (recording secretary), John Verhart (treasurer), and Henk Ensing, Andrew Foster and Paramjeet Arneja who continue as directors. We greatly appreciate the service of Mary Johnston and Grace Swartz as Audit Committee for GSA’s accounts for each the past four years.

We express our deepest sympathy to the Naylor family of Guelph in the recent death of their son Josef (at the age of 22). Phil Naylor has been associated with the GSA Board as a director at large for the past three years. 

Gerald Bloomfield, President          
November 2003