Autism N.S. pilot program gets rave reviews from three MPs

Yevonne Le Lacheur and Danielle Griffin, who has autism, provided a short, half hour presentation on the Healthy Relationships, Sexuality and Autism (HRSA) program to Halifax-area MPs during a tour on May 22. (Healey photo)

Program being launched at eight locations, including Autism N.S. chapters in the Sotuh Shore and Autism Truro

BEDFORD: Three Halifax-area MPs who were among the Atlantic Liberal caucus to advocate for a pilot program from Autism Nova Scotia had the opportunity to hear from the brains behind it on May 22 in Bedford.

Inside the Autism N.S. offices in Sun Tower, Sackville-Preston-Chezzetcook MP Darrell Samson; Dartmouth-Cole Harbour MP Darren Fisher; and Halifax MP Andy Fillmore listened to Yevonne Le Lacheur and Danielle Griffin, who has autism, as they provided a short, half hour presentation on the Healthy Relationships, Sexuality and Autism (HRSA) program.

A federal investment from Ottawa is helping Autism N.S. spread the 12-module program to eight partner locations across Atlantic Canada, including at AutismNS chapters in the Annapolis Valley; Truro; and the South Shore. They are also partnered with Autism Connections Fredericton, N.B.; Centres de l’autism NB Autism Centres; Autism P.E.I.; Autism Society of NL; and Stars for Life Foundation for Autism.

HRSA supports teens and adults (19 yrs and up) with autism through introducing concepts of sexuality and social skills in interactive, sex-positive, inclusive sexuality education lessons. They meet twice a week for two hours (at a time) for eight weeks.

Some of the topics include: Human Development; Gender; Relationships; Sexual Behaviours; Sexual Health; Social Interactions; Dating; and more.

The presentation included a Fact or Myth game where Le Lacheur and Griffin posed a question as part of the presentation. Those in attendance could show their answer with a stick provided that had fact on one side and myth on the other.

Halifax-area MPs Darren Fisher; Darrell Samson; and Andy Fillmore attended a presentation on Healthy Relationships, Sexuality and Autism (HRSA) program the feds are funding. It will be an Atlantic province program from Autism N.S., with plans to expand it nationally. Holding the binder with the program information inside are Samson and Griffin. (Healey photo)

Griffin explained while those who are non-autistic seem to understand the body language they see—whether it’s how to flirt; the signs of interest; or what and how to go on a date, some of those with autism struggle with that understanding.

“The sex education programs in schools seems to assume we will learn the skills and knowledge as we go on dates,” she said. “But for someone like myself who doesn’t have flair, we miss many of the life lessons.”

The program aims to fill in the life lessons and gaps that they sometimes miss, said Griffin.

“From anatomy to social thinking, it covers everything imaginable,” she said. “The program gives us all the skills we require in order to fully dive into this and explore new areas for us.”

Le Lacheur said the program aligns with standards on sexualization and that is how it was built.

“It’s comprehensive sexuality education, which is a different concept then sexual education as it’s not focused on just reproduction and STIs,” she said. “It’s focusing on social skills, it’s focused on emotions, dating, and different types of relationships.

“It’s a really comprehensive look at sexuality and taking that idea and recognizing it as not just who the person is attracted to, but all aspects of that persons life.”

Fillmore asked how they are going about rolling the program out. Le Lacheur said they are doing it through community partners in Atlantic Canada as a result of the two-year funding support received from the federal government.

Samson said Autism N.S. made it simple for them to advocate to the chequebook holders that HRSA deserved funding.

“We can’t do that without experts in the field, so when we hear from people on the ground and sharing those important concepts and initiatives, it makes it easier for us to sell that,” he said.

Before the presentation, the MPs were given a tour to see exactly the good work that those employed with Autism N.S. are doing to support individuals on the autism spectrum.