Taking care of a child with autism spectrum disorder can be expensive because of the need for therapists, but not everyone can afford such a luxury.
This is where ASPEN Inc. offers their services.
Autism Service Provider for Education and kNowledge (ASPEN) was founded in 2013 by Kerrie Kirkwood, a Board Certified Assistant Behaviour Analyst (BCABA). She acts as a behavioural consult, which means she supervises programs for children with autism.
“I’ve been working with kids with autism for the last 14 years,” said Kirkwood. “It’s something that I am passionate about and I wanted to use my education to help families and my experience with it.”
Kirkwood is a graduate from the University of Ottawa with a B.A. in linguistics and psychology. She has also received certification from Algonquin College by taking its Autism and Behavioural Science program and required graduate certification in Applied Behaviour Analysis from Pennsylvania State University.
“I contract therapists,” says Kirkwood. “I’ll help families find therapists and then I’ll pay them as subcontractors.”
ASPEN’s services provide affordable, high-quality therapy services for autistic people ranging from children to young adults. Currently, they have 20 clients.
ASPEN’s services cost $35 per hour. That is the charge for the therapy services, so both Kirkwood and the therapist’s rate. Some families only approach Kirkwood for consultation services, which cost $60. She only does in-home services, which is why Kirkwood can offer a lower rate; so it is cost efficient.
“It’s a service that is needed because the kids on the spectrum learn differently and often come with behavioural problems and communication problems,” said Kirkwood. “It is a lot of stress on the family, but I am able to come up with programs and strategies for the families and help them help their child.”
Kirkwood says ASPEN’s goal is to work themselves out of a job. Their aim is to guide the children to a certain point where they can start learning in an environment with other kids and be able to interact with them.
“That is a benefit to families and alleviates stress,” said Kirkwood. “It also alleviates stress in schools.”
In the fall of 2013, Kirkwood and local youth pastor, Jeremy Sauvé, collaborated and started a group that meet on a regular basis at Sauvé’s church, St. Paul’s Presbyterian. The youth group already met on Friday nights, but some of Kirkwood’s clients began attending the gatherings. This gathering was called Youth Action Social Group, but was eventually changed to Koinonia, which is a Greek word meaning ‘community’ or ‘partnership’.
The youth and volunteers befriended the autistic teens and continue to learn about accepting differences in other people. Koinonia gives the kids with autism a chance to practice communication and relationship building, as well as mingle amongst people their own age and have fun with them.
Kirkwood oversees Koinonia to make sure the evenings run smoothly and assists if there are problems with any of the kids. Sauvé, a trained chef, plans and cooks a healthy meal for everyone to enjoy.
“Partnering with Kerrie for Koinonia has been a tremendous experience,” said Sauvé. “The way she interacts with clients, our own youth and other leaders creates the type of atmosphere that we seek to create at Koinonia, loving and welcoming”
Kirkwood has plans for ASPEN in the future, especially wanting to expand on her plans with Koinonia. She wants to plan more social groups for autistic kids to help them grow and experience things outside their routines.
“It’s a pretty rewarding job,” said Kirkwood. “It’s something I’m passionate about. I’m lucky to have something that I really love as a career.”