Irene Brown and her son Josiah, 10, with their invitation to the Canucks Autism Network (CAN) Birthday Festival planned for July 7 at Surrey Civic Plaza, in celebration of the organization’s 10th anniversary. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

Canucks host all-inclusive birthday party for B.C. kids with autism

Such invitations are rare for some kids with autism, and one B.C. family knows the feeling

When the Canucks Autism Network (CAN) throws a 10th birthday party in Surrey next month, the event invitation will be a rare one for many of the special guests who attend.

Some kids with autism just don’t get invited to a lot of birthday parties, and Surrey resident Irene Brown knows the feeling.

“My son (Josiah) has been invited to only two birthday parties – one for another autistic child and one for a kid in his class,” Brown said. “Birthday parties are very rare for him to attend.”

So, it was a special moment this week when Josiah read aloud the personal invitation he received for CAN’s big bash, planned for Saturday, July 7 at Surrey Civic Plaza.

“It was exciting when he got it in the mail,” Brown recalled with a smile. “It’s a big party, too. It’s a great idea.”

Games, live entertainment, inflatables, a dunk tank, vendors and more will be part of this particular party, a first-ever event organized to celebrate CAN’s 10th anniversary of providing sports and recreation programs to people and families living with autism.

The organization, founded in 2008 by Vancouver Canucks co-owners Paolo and Clara Aquilini, also aims to increase autism awareness and provide related training in communities across B.C.

Admission is free at the CAN Birthday Festival, which is open to the public from noon to 6 p.m. on July 7.

Special “sensory-friendly hours” will take place that morning, from 10 a.m. to noon, for those who may have difficulty dealing with large crowds and loud noise. During that time, noise-cancelling headphones will be available for rental.

• RELATED STORY: More support needed for those aging with autism.

The inspiration for the birthday event came from “the countless stories of children with autism who are excluded from birthday parties,” according to an advisory from CAN.

In the weeks leading up to the party, the organization mailed out some 1,700 personal invitations to kids and youth with autism, “marking the first-ever birthday invite for many of the recipients.”

Bobs and Lolo will entertain during the event, as will the band Famous Players.

“We look forward to welcoming hundreds of children, youth, young adults and families with autism, as well as hundreds more from the general public,” stated Katy Harandi, president and CEO of Canucks Autism Network.

She called the festival “an unprecedented celebration of the incredible successes that our thousands of members have accomplished throughout CAN’S 10-year history.”

• RELATED STORY: Magic unlocked in kids at Canucks Autism Network hockey tourney in Surrey (photos, video)

Surrey is home to close to 15 per cent of CAN’s province-wide membership, which hovers around 4,000 families, the organization says. Not surprisingly, Surrey has the largest number of children and youth with autism of any city in B.C., according to Ministry of Child and Family Development stats cited by CAN.

Residents of the Green Timbers area of Surrey, the Brown family has taken advantage of many CAN programs for Josiah and his two older sisters, including bicycle riding lessons, soccer, baseball and swimming, along with movie screenings and visits to the holiday light display at VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver.

• RELATED STORY: Kids living with autism can show their Canucks colours.

The programs are becoming more popular, said Brown, who welcomes more of them coming to Surrey.

“It’s been great for us,” she explained. “We tried doing the regular rec programs, but it just wasn’t the right fit.”

At Newton Recreation Centre a couple of years ago, Josiah entered into a soccer program where some of the ball-handling skills were a bit challenging for him.

“So they got those kids to participate in other ways, such as collecting cones and setting up the games,” Brown recalled. “It’s neat how they got everyone involved in some way.”

A fan of numbers, Josiah noted the CAN birthday party will be held in the year he, too, turns 10.

The boy has a bright mind for science- and geography-related topics, and has a passion for the Titanic, BC Ferries boats and tape measures.

“You can show him a silhouette of a BC ferry, and he can tell you the name of it – the Queen of whatever,” his mother said.

Get him going about Pangaea, earth’s old super-continent, and Josiah just can’t stop talking.

“My son talks about Titanic like yours talks about cars, you know,” Brown said. “Kids with autism are the same as the rest of the kids, and do things just like other kids, and this (party in Surrey) is a celebration of that, I think, and the whole city is invited.”



tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

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