Town of Milton New Years Levee

Wondering what to do on New Years Day of 2014? Why don’t you come down to Milton Town Hall for the annual Mayor’s New Year Levee.

All the fun starts at 1pm and goes until 3pm.  Lots to see and do, so I look forward to seeing you then.

From Michael Gregory at the Milton Canadian Champion

Milton town councillors are inviting residents to join them for a festive kick-off to 2014 at the annual New Year’s Day Levee.

The traditional celebration will take place Tuesday, Jan. 1 from 1 to 3:30 p.m. at Milton Town Hall.

“Milton council is pleased to continue this tradition,” Councillor Cindy Lunau said in a news release. “We invite Milton residents and their families to join us in celebrating the new year.”

The event will feature musical entertainment and refreshments from La Rose Bakery and Tim Hortons.

Milton residents will also have a chance to discuss Town projects, and learn about council initiatives for the upcoming year.

Levee festivities date back to the mid-17th century when the governor of New France hosted an event to update citizens of the happenings back in Europe.

The tradition continues to be celebrated by many municipalities across Canada.

Stuff A Bus Returns March 23rd

This JUST in.  No, really it just came in my town email.  I just finished up editing a previous post and I thought I’d share this bit of news.  Seeing how Metro is in ward 6 I thought you should know.  If youre outside ward 6….well come on out as well :)

March 20, 2013

All are welcome to participate in Milton Transit Easter Stuff-a-Bus

Milton Transit will be holding its annual Easter Stuff-a-Bus event on Saturday, March 23, 2013 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The event will be held at the Metro Supermarket at 1050 Kennedy Circle, Milton. Residents of Milton are encouraged to bring non-perishable food items to donate to the Salvation Army food bank.

“On behalf of Milton Council, I would like to thank everyone who has come out at past events to help less fortunate members of our community during festive seasons, and our corporate partner Metro for hosting this event again,” said Milton Mayor Krantz. “We were told by the Salvation Army that last year’s contributions from the Milton community stocked their bare shelves in time for the Easter season and beyond, so we know we are making a difference!”

At the 2012 Easter Stuff-a-Bus event, more than 1,800 lbs of food donations were collected in addition to cash donations.

For more information on this event or on Milton Transit, call 905-864-4141 or visit the Town’s website, www.milton.ca/en/live/transit.asp.

- 30 -

For further information, please contact:

Paul Cripps – Director, Engineering Services

905-878-7252, ext. 2501

Liliana Busnello, Communications Specialist

905-878-7252, ext. 2154

Here is a link to the Milton Canadian Champion Editorial urging Milton residents to “Stuff the Bus”

Stuff that bus, Milton

Easter is around the corner and the holiday weekend will be filled with customs and traditions, including the celebratory feast many families will sit down to enjoy.

But not all local residents have the means to put such a meal on the table, not at Easter or at any time of the year.

While the Salvation Army, which operates the local food bank, doesn’t hold an official Easter food drive, there’s still plenty of opportunity to assist those less fortunate.

No doubt Salvation Army officials and volunteers would be the first to admit how much they wish they could announce the closing of the local food bank due to a lack of need. But that, sadly, isn’t the case — poverty does exist in Milton. Many recipients are the working poor or those who have been caught in a financial squeeze.

So how can you help?

Milton Transit will hold its annual Easter Stuff-a-Bus event this Saturday at Metro. A 40-foot bus will be parked at the Kennedy Circle supermarket from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with volunteers accepting donated bags of food for the Milton Salvation Army Food Bank. Residents, who can either bring their own filled bags or purchase a pre-made bag at Metro for $5.99, are encouraged to board the bus and find a spot for their donation.

If you can’t make the event, food can be donated throughout the year at The Salvation Army Khi Community, 3-100 Nipissing Rd., or at the fire stations on Steeles Avenue and Derry Road, as well as at donation pantries located at Metro, Real Canadian Superstore,  Longos and Walmart.

As well as non-perishable food, donations of household cleaning products, toiletries and baby items (especially size 5 and 6 diapers) are appreciated.

Come on Miltonians, stuff that bus.

St Patricks Day Weekend

Yes, its St Patricks Day Weekend.  Blarney stones, green beer and jigs will be the order of the day this coming Sunday.  Lots of fun to be had by all but we should also remember to enjoy the celebration and party responsibly.

Here is an article from the Milton Canadian Champion about Halton Police’s plans this weekend.

http://www.insidehalton.com/community/milton/article/1593505

Halton police watching on St. Pat’s weekend

Halton police announced Friday they will be out in force on the lookout for impaired drivers during the St. Patrick’s Day weekend to ensure it is remembered for its festivities and nothing else.

Police are reminding residents to plan ahead if their evening is going to involve any amount of drinking.

Such planning can include assigning a designated driver, calling a cab or using public transportation.

Police said being prepared ahead of time is key to avoiding the temptation to get behind the wheel while intoxicated.

The consequences of impaired driving are severe and can result in licence suspensions, vehicle impoundments, fines and even jail.

Police said those who drink and drive not only put themselves in danger, but their passengers and other motorists as well.

Residents who suspect a person is driving while impaired are asked to call 9-1-1 immediately.

The Halton Regional Police Service has stated it is committed to combating drinking and driving and keeping Halton’s roads safe.

Keep Taxes Low

Its a message we hear from many Milton residents throughout the year and especially around election time.  The next municipal election is to be held on October 27, 2014 in case you are wondering.

In a recent letter to the editor, one of my council colleagues brought up some concerns about spending at the local level of government.  You can find his letter here.

In a recent edition of the Milton Canadian Champion another resident expressed their views in agreement with council working towards keeping taxes as low as possible.  Milton does have the lowest tax rate in the GTA but over the last many years, the current and previous councils has been unable to keep the rate of increase in spending at or below the rate of inflation.

I’ve long been a supporter of the concept in keeping any increases at that level.  Long before I became a town councillor, I have talked about responsible tax increases if needed and made it part of my election campaign to vote against any increases in spending over the rate of inflation.  Sadly, I have not been able to support any budget since being elected.  It will continue to be my focus in the coming years & elections to keep the increases manageable.  To me its about affordability of living in Milton.  We continue to grow our residential tax base but still seem to dip into the pockets of taxpayers each year.

I don’t want to re-hash the budget debate of 2013, which saw our council approve an increase of 3.04% and as some saw on my Twitter feed, I posted my tax bill that has increased close to $100 for 2013.  Yes, property values did increase through MPAC assessments and those increases will be phased in over a few years, but to me $100 is a big hit to the household budget.

There are perceptions that Milton is a “rich” town.  While the average household income of Milton families does increase, so do their expenses and the cost of living.  Gas prices, water rates, and the cost of food hit us all.

But getting back to this past budget, we had an opportunity to have our increase roughly around 2.0-2.25% but there were 3 additions to the budget that pushed it to the 3.0% level.  The first one was to introduce Saturday transit service.  While many of my regular readers know I do support having a transit system in town as we continue to grow in population and with the hopeful addition of a Laurier University campus at the Milton Education Village, the need for transit will grow.

I outlined in a previous post that the numbers do not support the addition of Saturday service…yet. We will be receiving the 2013 Milton Transit Master Plan later this month at a council meeting that will provide details and projected growth in our transit system for the next 5 years.  However, at the time we were discussing the budget, we didn’t have this information.  Despite objections of a few council members including Councillor Malboeuf and myself, council approved the Saturday service (cost of approximately $80,000 for September to December 2013) which means roughly $240,000 per year starting in 2014.  This didn’t need to be approved as of yet and could have saved Milton taxpayers money.

Another item that was included in the budget was a change in parking bylaw times from 3 hours to 5 hours.  Every poll that was completed online and speaking with residents themselves during this discussion, I found that it was almost a 50/50 split on whether we stick with 3 hr limits or go to 5hr.  Of those that approved of the change to 5 hr’s many of you said it yes as long as it didn’t increase costs.  Well it did increase costs to roughly $65,000 per year for these changes.  Scheduling had to be changed to incorporate the shifts of the workers and extra signage as well.  Another cost that didn’t have to be implemented in 2013 or even ever.  Staff reports clearly said this would cost money and didn’t keep with the rest of the GTA municipalities that currently have 3 hr parking limits and are making it work.

Finally as Clr Malbouef outlined in the letter there was the $100,000 infrastructure renewal fund that was approved on the day of the budget meeting.  Combining these three initiatives pushed the increase to 3.04% and to a point where I couldn’t support the budget.  I did find it interesting however, that Clr Lambert, who voted in favour of two of the three ventures during budget discussions and when it came time to approve the the full budget, voted against it saying the rate of increase was too high.  If he didn’t support those two items, the rate of increase would have been lower and possibly more acceptable to taxpayers.  To me, it is a bit hypocritical to say one thing and do another to appease taxpayers come election time.

I’ve already stated my intentions to seek the position of regional councillor for wards 1, 6, 7 & 8 in the next election.  I find that there is a lack of leadership at both the local level and at the Region of Halton in these wards and with the many changes Milton will be facing in the coming years, we need to ensure there is a strong, effective voice at both the Town of Milton and the Region of Halton to fill this void.  Milton only has 3 voices around the Region table and as we continue to grow in size we need to maximize the quality of those voices when it comes to the needs of Milton taxpayers.

That being said I would encourage the taxpayers of Milton to contact the members of council who supported the increase in taxes over the last 2 budgets and hopefully as we move closer to election time in 2014 the message will be loud and clear….keep taxes low.

Town of Milton Population Hits Six Digits

Town’s population hits six digits

From Julia Le, Milton Canadian Champion

Milton is ending the year with a bang.  With the population hitting the 100,000 mark by year’s end, according to Town planning estimates, the town is staying true to its ranking as Canada’s fastest growing community.

Milton Acting CAO Bill Mann said the Town is excited about seeing its vision for the community come to fruition.

He said Milton truly embodies a place where you can live, work and play.

Over the last 15 years, the Town has made a considerable effort to attract people through affordable housing and businesses that will in turn create employment opportunities, according to Mann.

He added the Town has also been creating more neighbourhood parks and building a complete community that has recreational facilities, an arts centre and other amenities, while ensuring residents have the required essential services.

Mann cited that Milton is home to large distribution centres for Target and Lowe’s. The Target distribution centre set to open in May 2013 will be a 1.3 million-sq.-ft. facility and will employ hundreds of people, while the Lowe’s distribution centre, which broke ground last August, will be a 626,000-sq.-ft. facility also expected to employ hundreds of people.

Mann said the Town is guided by the principles of growth engrained in its strategic plan.

He said in 1997, the Town’s official plan anticipated Halton Region’s delivery in 2000 of ‘The Big Pipe’ carrying Lake Ontario water up from Oakville to Milton, and a population that would grow to about 165,000 people by 2021.

Mann said the Town is keeping pace and may exceed that estimate, considering the population grew from 31,471 residents in 2001 to 53,889 in 2006 and 84,362 in 2011, according to census data.

“If we’re able to generate intensification, our population may be 185,000 in 2021 and then by 2031 we’re looking at a minimum of 236,000 people,” he said, adding that Milton has the potential to grow out to 300,000 to 350,000 people. “(If so) Milton will ultimately be larger than Burlington and Oakville.”

But developing and shaping Milton hasn’t come without a price.

“As you can appreciate in any community that is growing as fast as we are, we are experiencing growing pains,” said Mann.

The Town is doing everything in its power to ensure schools, transportation and transit and the hospital keeps up with the population boom.

He said Craig Kielburger Secondary School opened this year and a new catholic high school will open the following year.

Mann added the Town is working with the Region to widen Regional Road 25 and Tremaine Road. Tremaine Road has already been widened between Main Street and Derry Road and next spring there are plans to widen it from Derry to Britannia roads and then from Main Street to Steeles Avenue.

There’s also a long-term plan to expand transit service, have two more GO stops within Milton and encourage the community to get out of cars and walk, cycle or use public transit.

The hospital will also be expanded, with the first patient likely to be seen in December 2017 or January 2018.

“If you look at the last census, the average age dropped down to 34. That’s the youngest age in any community,” he said. “And when you look at the birth rate, we have the highest birthrate at 1,500 births a year, which is phenomenal, hence our need to expand the hospital.”

He said the Town is taking on the challenges head-on and planning for the future.

Other major projects down the line include seeing the Milton Education Village come to fruition and encouraging the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) to work with Mohawk Racetracks to have a full casino and entertainment complex built. He said it would include a hotel and golf course.

Mann said Milton may be expanding, but it hasn’t lost its roots.

“We’re still maintaining that small town atmosphere,” he said, adding that the town has a tremendous historical fabric. “One of the most beautiful things about Milton is people are on a first-name basis.”

He said with the Niagara Escarpment as its backdrop, Milton is really the place to be.

“There is tremendous opportunity within Milton,” he said. “Growing pains will always be there, but they’re manageable and will diminish as we move forward to ultimate state of Milton.”

Council Approves Another Tax Increase 3.04%

Here is an article from the Milton Canadian Champion with a very brief summation of the budget committee meeting this past Monday at Milton Town Hall.  The meeting went on for over 4 hours and our initial goal was to be at 2.95% increase or lower but it went in the other direction.

There were three main items that council approved that helped send this increase in the budget over the rate of inflation (which is the number I normally support).  The items include an increase increase for parking control because of the change in policy from 3 hour parking to 5 on Milton streets ($55,000), Saturday transit service starting in September 2013 (4 months $76,000) and finally an infrastructure reserve “levy” so to speak ($100,000 every year).

During the budget debate I opposed these three measures (Saturday transit service you can find in another blog entry) and the other two items listed I didn’t support and were subject to a recorded vote.  I did find it interesting that a councillor who voted in support of the transit & parking control measures (which amounted to $133,000 or just over 1.0% of the budget) ended up voting against the budget as a whole.  If they had NOT supported this measure I can understand voting against it.  Isnt that like having your cake and eating it too?

I’ll be posting more on this and other issues as we get closer to Monday night’s council meeting (my birthday by the way :) ) and no doubt these and other items will be discussed over the next year.

Proposed Town budget to go to council next week

After spending hours debating what to include in the Town’s 2013 budget, members of the budget committee Monday night approved a 3 per cent tax hike for urban residents and a 3.05 per cent tax hike for rural residents.

If the budget passes next week, the average rural resident and urban resident will pay an extra $23.17 and $26.46 respectively on a home assessed at $350,000.

The budget committee voted 6-5 in favour of the proposed budget. Councillors and staff spent the night crunching the numbers in an attempt to meet or lower the staff’s recommended hike of 2.95 per cent.

Voting in favour of approving the budget were councillors Colin Best, Sharon Barkley, Cindy Lunau, Arnold Huffman, Rick Di Lorenzo and Zeeshan Hamid.

Voting against it were Mayor Gord Krantz, councillors Rick Malboeuf, Tony Lambert, Greg Nelson and Mike Cluett.

Hamid said it was a complicated budget to work with.

“I don’t think any one of us are happy with what we have, but it’s a compromise,” he said.

“I’m hoping that we recognize that we all came up with this document collectively.”

Krantz said he had hoped for the increase to be closer to the inflation rate of about 2 per cent.

An infrastructure renewal reserve fund was added to the budget Monday night to address future needs. An initial $100,000 to establish the fund increased the proposed tax hike from 2.75 per cent to about 3 per cent.

Barkley argued that the difference Milton residents would be paying next year is a few dollars extra.

Other amendments, additions and deletions to the budget include:

• Allowing the library to open a half hour earlier at a cost of $16,448.

• Permitting the main library to be open on Mondays at a cost of $69,702.

• Discontinuing the Talk of the Town publication, which will save the Town $12,000

• Reducing the budget for catch basin cleaning, which will save the Town $20,000

• Cutting the number of councillors who attend the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference to the mayor and three other councillors, which will save the Town $8,000.

The capital portion of the budget projects a $65.4 million investment in about 100 projects related to new infrastructure and the rehabilitation of existing assets like facilities, roads, bridges, parks and equipment. About 82 per cent of the investment would go to projects to address the current and future needs of the community while 18 per cent of the investment would go to the renewal and rehabilitation of existing infrastructure.

The operating part of the budget, which looks after the delivery of services required to meet the needs arising from growth in the community and to support the quality of life that residents expect, is projected at around $94.4 million. It’s divided among the Town’s departments, with engineering services, community services and planning and fire departments providing the most direct services to the community.

Enhancements include hiring five additional fulltime firefighters at the new James Snow Parkway station, improved economic development resources to develop an innovation centre, extended transit services to include Saturdays, and parking enforcement to accommodate a proposed five-hour parking regulation.

Town staff said Milton continues to have one of the lowest tax rate in Halton and Peel regions.

The Town’s portion of the overall property tax bill is now estimated at 31 per cent. The regional and education taxes are proposed to make up 43 per cent and 26 per cent respectively.

That means Miltonians could see an overall tax increase of 1.61 per cent in the urban area and 1.57 per cent in the rural area on their 2013 property tax bills.

Regional Chair Gary Carr – Advocating for Halton

From time to time the Regional Chair Gary Carr outlines a report on what the Region of Halton is doing in our area to help assist all levels of government provide the services we need and enhancing the environment for creating much needed jobs and assisting in bringing businesses to our area.  Here are some highlights in is his most recent column as printed in the Milton Canadian Champion.

Advocating for Halton

Advocating for the residents of Halton is one of the priorities of the Citizens’ Priorities Action Plan.

Ensuring that growth pays for itself is of critical importance to Halton Regional council and we will continue to advocate for long-term predictable funding to ensure that taxpayers do not bear the burden of growth.

Regional council recognizes even though there are many of levels of government, there is only one taxpayer.

Halton Region has one of the best records in all of Canada for keeping taxes low — 2013 will make the seventh consecutive year in which we have had an average of a 0 per cent tax increase for regional programs and services.

The future that Halton Regional council envisions includes important partnerships with both the provincial and federal governments. The support of both levels of government in the form of long-term predicable funding is essential to ensuring Halton remains a great place to live, work, raise a family and retire.

On behalf of the residents of Halton, I will continue to meet with Halton’s MPs, MPPs and elected officials of all political stripes to bring Halton’s issues to the forefront.

***

Regional council has also urged the Ontario government to make appropriate decisions to prevent the collapse of the horse racing industry. At council’s Oct. 3 meeting, councillors unanimously supported a motion to endorse an interim report that identifies the benefits of a strong equine sector and horse racing industry and the need to make immediate decisions to ensure its long-term viability.

Recently, Regional council also supported a motion in support of the Town of Milton’s efforts to build more schools to house its growing population. Investing in Halton’s future is important to ensure our region will continue to prosper for generations to come and remain a location of choice for new businesses.

If you have any Regional concerns or comments you would like to share, please feel free to e-mail me at gary.carr@halton.ca. You can also find me on Twitter @garycarrhalton or on Facebook.

Riding Commission Public Meeting

Here is the story by Julia Le from the Milton Canadian Champion about the public meeting on Wednesday in Oakville.  Again there were some delegates who registered to speak in favour of the changes.  I would say that 70% of those in attendance and who spoke are against the new boundaries.  NOW what happens you ask?

According to the website now that the public hearings are complete, the commission for each province has to finish the report and its recommendations by December 21st of 2012 (Isn’t that the end of the earth as we know it? *snicker*)  After that it goes to the House of Commons for review and that is slated to be finished around March of 2013 hearing objections from MP’s.  Long story short, the final decision is slated to be around September 2013 for the new ridings.  Its not over yet.

Residents can still email the commission their thoughts on the new proposal if they are in support or opposition to it.  Many of you have sent me emails / tweets / comments about your thoughts and those are greatly appreciated.

If you would like to put forward your views on this, please email the commission directly at the following:

Mailing Address:  130 King Street West, 36th Floor, Suite 3670, P.O. Box 368 Toronto, Ontario M5X 2A2

Telephone (toll-free):  1-855-747-7224 Fax (toll-free) 1-855-747-7225 TTY (toll-free) 1-800-361-8935

#KeepMiltonAsOne

Fellow councillor Zeeshan Hamid posted a few days ago some disturbing information about possible changes to the electoral riding boundaries in our area.  From time to time Elections Canada undergoes a review of electoral districts when new census data comes in.  Given the fact that Milton is Canada’s fastest growing municipality, there were talks that Milton would become its own self sustaining riding.

THAT was the plan.  But things changed quickly a week or so ago.

The most disturbing part of this whole thing is that the commission had originally put Milton in as its own riding with a small portion of Burlington to be included.  As the commission headed to a close there were some last minute changes requested at a public meeting on the matter.  What the last minute changes?  Sources say that a former failed Liberal candidate was behind the request for the changes.

Instead of having one Milton riding, the suggestion was made to divide our town in two…essentially between “old” and “new” Milton.  Some have wondered about the strategy behind such a move.  Its due to a belief that a majority of “new” Miltonians are liberal supporters and by having “new” Milton separated from what has shown to be traditionally strong for the conservatives, it would help the chances for the liberals to have a winning seat in the next elections.

After these “suggestions” were made for the riding boundaries, the commission changed the original plans and essentially split up Milton into two riding’s.  One with Halton Hills and the “northern” part of Milton essentially north of Derry Road and the other with Burlington and the southern portion of Milton.

You can read Zeeshans detailed post here as he sums it up nicely.

Just this past Monday, the Administration & Planning Committee unanimously passed a Notice of Motion saying in no uncertain terms “leave Milton alone.”

Here is a story by Julia Le from the Champion about that.

“Ward 6 Councillor Mike Cluett noted that the original proposal — which left Milton intact but included a significant rural portion and two urban residential neighbourhoods in Burlington in the district proposed to be called Milton — was generally accepted by all the political parties in the area.

He said no one, across all parties, likes the new boundaries proposed.

“It is a mess the way it is. I think Milton should remain as one,” said Cluett. “ We already have issues of old and new Milton, we shouldn’t be dividing it up.”

Needless to say this is important from a town point of view that Milton remains in one riding.  By the time the next federal election is to take place, Miltons population will be roughly 120,000 people which is MORE than enough for a riding on its own.  The commission didn’t seem to take into consideration Miltons continued growth.

Yesterday at the public meeting in Oakville, 7 of the 11 Milton councillors including myself, Mayor Gord Krantz, Zeeshan Hamid, Rick Di Lorenzo among others attended and listened carefully to the submissions made my delegates.  Roughly 70% of those in attendance who spoke were against these new riding boundaries and called for the commission to go back to the original ones that had Milton as a whole.

We shall see what happens in the coming weeks as the commission deliberates this riding among other ones to bring forward their changes to the federal government.  The commission is continuing to receive email submissions from residents until November 30th so please, if you do feel strongly about this, send an email to ontario@rfed-rcf.ca and let them know you want to Keep Milton As One.

You can follow developments with this on Twitter with the hashtag #KeepMiltonAsOne and let us know what you think.

These new changes aren’t good for Milton at all and we hope the commission goes back to the original boundaries for our riding so that Milton will have one voice as we continue to grow the “G.M.A. – Greater Milton Area (TM pending :) )

I’ll see you at the doors.

Navigating Through The Fog – Part 4 of 4

Lack of autism support frustrates families

Final installment in the four-part Metroland series, Navigating Through the Fog

“It doesn’t have to be the worst diagnosis in the world when your child has autism; it can be that your child has unique needs and perhaps unique abilities that other children don’t have.” – Lizanne Rowe

Resources are available to help families, individuals with ASD

The following is a list of some of the resources, which may help families navigate through the fog of autism.

Erin Oak Kids Centre for Treatment and Development, Regional autism intervention program services provider for the central west region, including Halton Tel: 905-855-3557 • Toll free: 1-877-374-6625 • www.erinoakkids.ca

Hamilton Health Sciences, Regional autism intervention program service provider for the Hamilton and Niagara regions, located at the Chedoke site of McMaster Children’s Hospital Tel: 905-2100, ext. 77315 • Toll free: 1-800-890-2782 • www.mcmasterchildrenshospital.ca

Ministry of Children and Youth Services’, central west regional office, servicing Halton, 6733 Mississauga Rd., Suite 200, Mississauga • Tel: 905-567-7177 • Toll free: 1-877-832-2818

Ministry of Children and Youth Services’, western regional office, servicing Hamilton 119 King St. West, Hamilton • Tel: 905-521-7280 • Toll free: 1-866-221-2229

Autism Ontario Halton Chapter, 4361 Harvester Rd., Unit 9, Burlington • Tel: 905-631-1233 • E-mail: halton@autismontario.comwww.autismhalton.com

Autism Ontario Hamilton-Wentworth Chapter, 533 Main St. East, Hamilton • Tel: 905-528-8476 • E-mail: hamilton@autismontario.comwww.autismontario.com

Autism Speaks Canada, a registered Canadian charity, North America’s largest autism science and advocacy organization Tel: 416-362-6227 • Toll free: 1-888-362-6227 • E-mail: autismspeakscanada@autismspeaks.orgwww.autismspeaks.ca

Missing Links: Filling the Gaps to Autism, 2317 Fairview St., Burlington • Tel: 905-637-0090 • E-mail: info@missinglinks.cawww.missinglinks.ca

blueballoon – Health Services, 3305 Harvester Rd., Unit 6, Burlington • Tel: 905-333-9730 • www.blue-balloon.com

Oakville Success Centre, 1545 Cornwall Rd., Unit 38, Oakville • Tel: 905-844-4144 • Toll free: 1-888-569-1113 • E-mail: cathy@oakvillesuccesscentre.cawww.oakvillesuccesscentre.ca

Woodview Learning Centre, 69 Flatt Rd., Burlington • Tel: 905-689-4727 • E-mail: wcc@woodview.cawww.woodview.ca

The Natural Care Clinic, 460 Brant St., Unit 16, Burlington • Tel: 905-631-0880 • E-mail: info@naturalcareclinic.cawww.naturalcareclinic.ca

Treat Autism and ADHD – Emerging Trend Conference, info@treatautism.cawww.treatautism.ca

Asperger’s Society of Ontario, Tel: 416-651-4037 • E-mail: info@aspergers.cawww.aspergers.ca

Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides, 152 Wilson St., Oakville • Tel: 905-842-2891 • www.dogguides.com

Autism Blogs: Blog Nation’s comprehensive network of blog posts on autism, www.autismblogs.com

Katrina Carefoot’s blogs on autism and life, www.asdmom.comwww.ficklefeline.ca@FickleFeline

Somewhere in Ontario, a child would rather line up his toy cars than navigate them through an invisible maze.

Somewhere in Ontario, a mother looks at her child and instinctively wonders. A doctor tells a father they should wait and see.

Somewhere in Ontario, the diagnosis is confirmed — autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Approximately one in every 100 children lives with autism, a neuro-developmental spectrum disorder that impedes a person’s ability to communicate and make friends.

Statistics indicate up to one per cent of the population is on the spectrum.

The cause of the disorder remains unknown, but researchers believe the secret is in the genes.

With no cure for autism, families affected by the disorder have turned to a variety of therapies that have proven successful in alleviating its wide-ranging symptoms.

But accessing help is easier said than done.

This is the final installment of a four-part Metroland series, Navigating Through the Fog, that attempts to piece together the puzzle of autism.

• • •

“When you get this diagnosis, not only does it rattle your world, but you are given absolutely no direction as to what you can do to help your child.”

Burlington mom, Lizanne Rowe, didn’t know where to turn when her son, Jack, was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). And she’s not alone.

Many families interviewed for Navigating Through the Fog, a four-part Metroland West Media Group series on autism, spoke of the lack of support they received from medical professionals after their child — or children — were determined to be on the spectrum. One Waterdown mom, who requested anonymity for fear her daughter with Asperger’s syndrome would be labelled as special needs and treated differently by her teachers and peers, was at a loss.

Asperger’s syndrome is an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) that differs from typical ASDs in that those who have Asperger’s are generally high functioning.

They can usually speak, and cognitive development is also intact.

Faced with a lengthy wait for treatment, the nine-year-old girl’s blended family would welcome the opportunity to access services tailored for individuals living with autism spectrum disorder, but finding those resources were next to impossible.

“The support for families is non-existent,” said the Waterdown mom. “If there was help, we could have been at a different level right now, where we are coping and happy, and she’s happy.”

Burlington’s Christine Poe had to secure $45,000 to ensure her son, Dorian, would get the last spot available at Burlington’s Woodview Learning Centre. She was left to her own devices to learn of the Flatt Road facility and other supports to help the family.

However, there are numerous organizations throughout the region dedicated to offering supports and therapies to those affected by ASD.

Autism Ontario, which operates a chapter in both Hamilton and Halton, focuses on education, supporting research and advocating for programs and services for the autism community. From one-on-one support to information on different programs, therapies and government funding, Autism Ontario is a vital resource.

“Our coordinators will help them find the best path for their family,” said Trish Simons, president of the organization’s Hamilton-Wentworth chapter and mom of three boys on the spectrum.

While facts on the neuro-developmental disorder are available at the chapter, so too is access to other families that are experiencing a similar journey. Events, including monthly meetings featuring guest speakers, as well as social gatherings, help families get out into the community and enjoy fun activities, such as swimming, bowling or movies.

“We’re a place where families can find a little community of people who are going through the same thing you are,” said Simons. “With us, you are safe.”

Many of the Autism Ontario programs are offered at no charge or can be accessed for a nominal fee.

“We really just want to give the families an opportunity to experience a typical life, typical community life with their child with autism without feeling pressured or scared or uncomfortable,” said Simons.

Rowe, Jack’s mom, gained valuable insight from attending an annual conference on autism, hosted by a naturopathic doctor Sonya Doherty, of the Natural Care Clinic in Burlington.

The third annual Emerging Trends conference is designed to educate parents, caregivers, teachers and members of the health and medical community on new biomedical strategies in treating symptoms associated with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, pervasive developmental disorder and Tourette syndrome.

“It’s very educational,” said Rowe of the Emerging Trends event, which she helps coordinate. “It’s definitely a learning experience.”

The day-long Burlington event, attended by some 125 guests, features guest speakers, exhibitors and lots of information to help families navigate through the fog of autism.

“There is hope,” assured Rowe, who has spoken at the conference about her family’s experience. “It doesn’t have to be the worst diagnosis in the world when your child has autism; it can be that your child has unique needs and perhaps unique abilities that other children don’t have.”

Autism spectrum disorder falls under the Ministry of Children and Youth Services’ umbrella. The provincial ministry offers resources to families, depending on how severe their child’s autism symptoms are. They include support services, such as advice, information, material, consultation and training to get children ready for Intensive Behavioural Intervention (IBI).

Technology, too, has proven to be a reliable and effective tool for children and adults with autism spectrum disorders, says a pair of experts from Peel Region. By using the iPad and other devices, families can now communicate with their children and help them develop cognitive, motor and speech skills, said Jahmeelah Gamble, a developmental services worker.

Milton’s Alicia Cockhill, 5, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at age two. She doesn’t talk and communicates only by pointing at various objects. For her mom, Angela Oversby, the iPad and its various apps have had a huge impact on making life simpler. The device and its programs help entertain and brings her happy, playful side out from the fog of autism.

Communication aids (devices or improvements made to the wheelchair or installed in desktops) have to be specially ordered and are not cheap, Gamble said. Typically, they range from two to tens of thousands of dollars. On the other hand, she noted, iPads are easily available and can be brought from the store. “The beauty of it is there are apps that cost just $4.99. Some are even free,” she said.

Traditionally, some parents of autistic children use a book with a clip art of pictures known as Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) to understand their child’s needs, said Gamble. Often these would be in bulky folders that had to be lugged around.

In Oversby’s case, finding the right gift for Alicia is never an issue; Apple iTunes gift cards are all she needs to download the latest autism educational application. The iPad not only stores a digital version of PECS, it can help create custom-made ones, said Gamble.

Clinicians working at ErinoakKids Centre for Treatment and Development’s autistic services were initially skeptical about touting the iPads, but a few years ago they decided to test and see the results first hand.

One child who was considered ready for technology was able to proceed with labels and identification faster than what the clinicians anticipated and within a matter of six to nine months had a good receptive vocabulary, said Anita Ramani, associate clinical director of autism services at ErinoakKids, which has its offices in Mississauga.

Ramani cautions not all children take to technology. What works for one child may not necessarily appeal to another. She found while some children took to technology easily, others were put off by it.

Being a mom to an autistic son is no easy feat, something Katrina Carefoot, of Oakville, knows all too well.

To help her cope with challenges, she takes to the Internet, where she maintains a popular blog. It’s on that online site that she shares personal experiences and celebrates her son, Max’s successes.

“It was really important for me to share with family and friends, now it has become a bigger thing,” said Carefoot. “I think a lot of people in the autism community draw a lot of inspiration and hope from Max’s story.”

Blogging, she said, is therapeutic and offers an opportunity to “celebrate a little boy.”