Mother hugging her son outside, as they both smile at camera.It dawned on me, not in a gradual way as in the way the sun gently rises at day break, but in the kind of way as if being hit by a freight train. My heavy thought: my nine year old son has never had a real friend. My heart ached under the weight of my realization and I felt sick with devastation. I was sitting in my “Person-Centred Thinking and Planning” course at Douglas College and I remembered leaving that day paralyzed with anguish and hurt for my son, frustration and guilt towards myself and a deep sense of helplessness and isolation, crying the whole way home.

Rewinding to one year earlier, I was just entering a two-year full time diploma program in Classroom and Community Support at Douglas College, hopeful and optimistic that educating myself in philosophies and best practices in human service would best make a difference in the quality of my son’s life, our family’s life and to understand firsthand, the frustrations and grief that we face in our lives as we are confronted with multiple challenges; be it political, social, economic or systemic barriers.

After our son was diagnosed with autism and ADHD, our life got both easier, in the sense that we finally felt somewhat of relief to have a better understanding to the puzzling complexities rearing our son presented. It also made life hard because we learned quickly that having a “label” of autism is false security and can in no way, truly prepare a family for the reality of supporting the unique and ever changing needs of an individual with an exceptionality and interfacing with a society that, in large, views “disabilities” for its deficits and stereotypes and not for people as people; with the same rights and freedoms as anyone.

In fall 2012, despite our best efforts to create quality of life, I felt we as a family, were at rock bottom. We had no connections – no presence, belonging, or participation in community life and I realized that no book, journal article or Individualized Education Plan can substitute for creating a good, meaningful life. I struggled against my own insecurities that our family was a burden; that I was asking for too much when I reached out to our family’s social worker and service providers looking for help.

The turning point for our family came after attending a Values, Vision and Action workshop hosted in partnership by CACL and Inclusion BC. Surrounded by families – mothers, fathers, and siblings who like us, expressed the challenges and isolation they have felt in their lives, assured my husband and I that we are not alone in battle, but that there are many families now, and many who have come before us, that have been fighting for the rights of loved ones living with diverse abilities.

This workshop was life-changing because we met leaders in community living who are passionate and dedicated to educating and strengthening family capacity to care and support their family member by connecting families together, acknowledging and validating each other’s stories and collectively envisioning a better way forward. My husband and I are no longer afraid to speak up and enter community life confidently, knowing that it is each of our family member’s rightful place and that without each of us there, our community is less than whole.

The Litschel-Simpson family live in beautiful Maple Ridge, BC. Whether playing a game of cards in their home or out enjoying their scenic community, this family works hard to live a life of true citizenship and inclusion.