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Finding Support for Foster Children on the Autism Spectrum

The foster parent’s name has been changed to respect privacy and confidentiality.  

At Foster Calgary, we understand each child coming into our care has their own unique story. Sometimes, those stories include being on the autism spectrum.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental condition that can affect many areas of life, such as social communication, restricted interests, and repetitive behaviour. We work hard to match each child with the best foster family, and the same goes for children with ASD. Children coming into care face their own circumstances, and we support both the foster family and the foster child.

We interviewed Annabelle, a passionate foster mom who fosters children on the autism spectrum. She shares her experiences and key learnings about what foster parents should know when they decide to foster a child on the spectrum. Annabelle also highlights some of the ASD resources available in Alberta for foster parents and children. 

1. As a foster parent, what inspired you to foster children on the spectrum?

In 2014, we decided to become foster parents. Like many other foster families, we wanted to support and help children in need of care. However, we decided to foster children on the autism spectrum because our family is made up of autists, and we wanted to help other children with the same needs. It was a personal decision for me, too, because I also suspected myself of being on the spectrum.

2. Can you share your first experience of fostering a child on the autism spectrum?

We opened our home to a foster child who was two years old with autism. The child had some developmental challenges, but we worried more about language and social-emotional development. The child’s case team responded to our questions, and we received the assessments and approvals we needed quickly - which made things easier for us as foster parents.

3. In Alberta, what programs are available to support children who are on the autism spectrum?

We have been fortunate to have access to various programs over the years. Alberta is known for having some of the best programs and supports for kids on the spectrum. 

Here are resources we would recommend:  

  • The Ability Hub
    • The Ability Hub is based in Calgary, Alberta, and is a world-class facility operated by The Sinneave Family Foundation. It is an excellent source of information for autism and currently showcases a best practice model for creating positive, welcoming, and practical environments for autistic individuals.
  • Autism Alberta
    • Autism Alberta provides event listings, information, and a free membership.
  • Centre for Autism Services Alberta
    • The Centre provides services and support for children, teens, and young adults with autism, along with their families. Examples of support offered include: early childhood services; sports, leisure, social and skills programs; and pre-employment programs.
  • Autism Calgary
    • Autism Calgary supports families affected by autism through presentations, workshops, events, support groups, and more.
  • Autism/Asperger's Friendship Society
    • AAFS is a place for respite care where children, youth and adults on the autism spectrum are welcomed into a social and recreational environment.

 

4. What are some of the biggest opportunities and challenges in fostering a child on the autism spectrum?

When you foster a child on the autism spectrum, support is crucial for the child, the foster family, and the child’s biological parents.  

As a foster parent, you can do a few things to help! Encourage and involve the biological parents to come to appointments. They will learn and support their child all at once.

Advocacy is always a big part of being a foster parent. This point is highlighted even more when dealing with children with higher needs. We represent and are their voice when dealing with doctors, school, and sometimes family and friends. Speak up and talk with the case team. We even encourage case worker involvement in appointments as much as possible too.

It’s also important to provide structure to children on the autism spectrum, the use of visually minded supports, and the creation of safe spaces can be assets. I like to share this great video from ISP Fostering for daily foster parenting tips related to foster children who have autism. 

Behaviours can be difficult. Certain supports can have long waitlists. Dealing with public perception and stereotypes of giftedness can be challenging, or even being told how to parent them. As a foster parent, you can find it hard to cope sometimes. Don’t forget to take care of yourself and ask for help when needed, including using your respite days for some time to recharge your energy.

5. What has been your most significant learning experience about fostering a child on the autism spectrum?

Autism is beautiful, and when a foster parent can be open to seeing what the child can accomplish, it is so rewarding. These children are unique and full of character, often very accepting and always full of surprises. They continually share and express things we often take for granted. They think outside the box and show us a different perspective. If anyone is interested in fostering and is willing to accept children on the spectrum, you need to go into this experience with an open mind. Research ASD, look at available supports, and accept the child for who they are. To foster a child with autism is to expect nothing and everything because they are capable of much but often need time and understanding. We aren’t trying to change the child; instead, we are opening the doors inside them to help them grow and reach their potential.

Annabelle’s last words of advice?

When it comes to fostering a child on the ASD, it comes down to providing a nurturing environment to help facilitate growth and understanding each child’s needs may be different. With some compassion and support, all children will have the opportunity to learn how to be the best version of themselves. 

If you feel like you would be a great fit as a foster parent to a child on the autism spectrum, be sure to reach out to Foster Calgary. You can find out more information by visiting fostercalgary.com

Want to stay up to date with foster parenting in Calgary and the surrounding area? Follow-us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and sign-up for our newsletter.

References:

American Psychiatric Association (2022). What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder? Washington, D.C.: APA. Retrieved from: www.psychiatry.org

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