Autism Aspergers Friendship Society of Calgary
Our Story Why We Exist
The Autism Aspergers Friendship Society (AAFS) was founded in 2004 when a group of families’ saw a gap in service; their kids with Autism (ASD) were enduring stressful days; nothing but school and therapy. They were told by doctors their kids needed Recreation and Social time but these services didn't exist.
We asked a simple question: when did these kids get a chance to just BE Kids! Let me tell you about one of our members…Anton.
He was 13 when we met and was a “high needs” individual with Autism. Anton had little awareness of safety, limited communication, and many sensory issues which made the world a scary place; For Anton and thousands of others with Autism…the community is a place of unknown and unpredictable obstacles.
There is a misconception that individuals with Autism can’t have or don’t want friends and relationships...that is dead wrong! They want friendships, they want experience…they just need support in making these things possible; what’s missing for them? Opportunity...and that’s where AAFS come in.
Over the years, through experiential learning…places that once invoked fear and anxiety in Anton…became places of triumph. Environments once thought impossible; like the Saddledome; became places Anton could not imagine his life without.
Our mission and vision are simple…Community, Acceptance, Respect, Experience and Social Dynamics…if we provide these things, our members will be as happy as anyone, anywhere, anytime.
When we were founded in 2004…we supported 7 families …today…over 600.
Through a feasibility study conducted by Social Venture Partners, we have identified there are nearly 50,000 individuals with Autism living in the Alberta, a number that is rising all the time.
In November 2011, 14 year old boy with Autism won 2 tickets to a Flames game. When asked who he would like as his aide for the game…he asked if Anton could take him. That night was Anton’s first night of many as a mentor in our Community. Anton is now 22 and is a leader and a role model in our community. He has won an Autism Community Award for leadership and is currently in the Broadcasting program at Mount Royal.
We have hundreds of story like Anton’s and with your support…we will have thousands.
Our Impact What We Do
When we started in 2004, we provided 2 simple activities per week; one weeknight and one on weekends. On the weeknights, we would meet at the Autism Calgary office and rotate nights between Video Game, Board and Card Games and Art nights. On the weekends, we would do things like swimming, bowling and movies...our focus was on getting kids out together with like minded people and having some fun.
Over the years, we have significantly increased the scope and reach of our activities because our members would say things like; "I want to make a movie", "I want to learn how to design Video Games" , "I want to go to a Monster Truck Show" , "I want to go on a real camping trip."
So we began to do what ever it was our members asked for. It was important to us that anything we started to do was because a member of ours asked for it and that nobody else was doing it.
We have always operated from a very simple base; bring youth together, empower them, accept them, allow them to take risks and learn naturally whenever possible. As much as the adult world wants to 'structure' how young people learn certain things, EVERYONE learns how they learn.
Our Programs How We Do It
When AAFS began, one of our main goals was to immerse our kids in the community around us. Over the years, AAFS members have had a chance to do everything there is to do recreation wise in the Calgary area. The Community is the largest classroom in the world and AAFS takes full advantage.
A Community Outing can be anything out in the community: swimming, bowling, Flames/Hitmen/Stamps games, Laser Quest, Paintball, Sledding, Skating…. anything!
Club nights are evenings at the AAFS office. On Club Nights, many important lessons are learned. Turn Taking, Sportsmanship, Sharing, Hanging Out (yes we were told by one of our youth that how to just "hang out" was definitely a skill he needed to learn). These nights are on a more 'drop in' basis and rotate through our schedule according to requests from our members.
Here are some examples of popular club night activities;
- Video Games
- Board Games
- Art Club
- Cooking Club
- Music Club
- You Tube Club (making YouTube Videos!)
- Anime Club
- Comic Book Night
- Movie Night (watching Movies!)
AAFS Specialized Programs are programs that take place over 8- 14 weeks with a specific focus. These programs are an opportunity to engage our youth in their special interests and present an opportunity for possible future vocations.
Some examples of our specialized programs are:
12-18 youth with ASD collaborate on the writing, filming, editing, acting and everything else to do with movie making. We are just beginning AAFS Movie Project V. Over the past 4 years, our youth have taken us into a world of vampires with Amulet of Dracul, been sucked inside a Video Game world with "6- The Movie", watched a group of misfits save the world from a Supersonic Fart in "2012- A Fart Odyssey" and watched a group of students become Super Heroes in "The Hero Initiative: Unexpected Heroes"
Art in Action
Arts based self-advocacy. An amazing program in which youth with ASD come together and identify various challenges they face as a community and then use the Arts to express and advocate for themselves. Art in Action is in its 8th year.
Each year (April thru October) - we take groups of 25 youth on a number of camping trips in traditional camping style. They set up the tents, cook their own food, go fishing and hiking, light fires and do everything on must do when camping. One of our youth when asked why he enjoyed our camping trips so much said, “Because I get to go camping. I am not going to a camp.”
Buddy Club Intentional Mentorship Program
An avenue for our members (youth with ASD) to start volunteering once they become comfortable enough with their social world and during this volunteer time, mentor them on what it takes to become a staff member at AAFS and eventually move them to staff. We just recently hired our 8th former ‘member to come on staff. We are extremely proud of this because as much of the ASD community is trying to find ways to find people with ASD employment, very few (if any) are actually employing anyone with ASD.
The Buddy Club is a volunteer program that allows youth and young adults the opportunity to volunteer their time and help assist the Autism Aspergers Friendship Society of Calgary (AAFS) in respite activities in the community, the clubhouse, and around the office. The program receives its title from one of our oldest members who has basically grown up in AAFS and lovingly refers to staff as his buddies. The idea of being a “buddy” or friend to children, youth, and young adults within the autism spectrum is at the core of the volunteer program.
A purely recreation/social program for adults who do not qualify for PDD funding. Once a week, participants meet up and decide on a group activity to do in the community. We run GO Group in partnership with CASS and Autism Calgary.
The Social Dynamics program is a partnership between Sociallogic and the Autism Aspergers Friendship Society.
The Social Dynamics Discovery Program is designed for individuals, ages 10 – 30 years, who may be struggling with or are looking to improve their social awareness. The Program builds upon a foundation of forming and maintaining relationships with others, fostering personal development, improving self-esteem, networking, and interacting with the world around us.
The Program will create an immersive environment, activating the 5 senses to explore the concept that the expression of human life falls along many spectrums, and that all humans are different from one another. Solidarity in uniqueness can dissolve the barriers of social inhibition, promote positive outlets for creative self-expression, and enhance the sense of community and wellbeing we feel within our everyday circles and in new social situations.
The AAFS Film Club
The AAFS Movie Project has been running for 5 years and a number of our members have become talented storytellers, camera operators, film editors and producers. The Film Club will give experienced members of the Movie Project the opportunity to use those skills and gain valuable work experience. The Film Club will be an avenue for them to market themselves and learn about the industry.
The AAFS Film Club can be hired out for your event, documentary or any film project.
Video Game Design
The course is taught and developed by a young lady with Aspergers and Tourette’s who works in the Game Design field. Youth in the program learn the basics of Video Game Design and also have the opportunity to learn about marketing, collaborating to build a game and eventually how to sell their games.
AAFS Photography Program
Join AAFS at the Ability Hub to meet new people, have some fun, and learn all about the basics of photography and beyond! This specialized program is action packed with a ton of tips and tools to help you to develop your photographic eye.
At the end of the eight week course you will be asked to choose your favorite photos taken throughout the program. The group will work together to create a photo album for everyone keep and share with their family and friends.
Extreme Sports- Skateboarding, Parkour, Rock Climbing…
If you are a bit of an extremist when it comes to sports, then you will love these programs! Join AAFS and some amazing guests to learn extraordinary new skills. We offer an amazing skateboarding program, paired with our friends from Calgary Association of Skateboard Enthusiasts, to teach you some skateboarding basics, and for those more advanced some fancy tricks!
We also have a new Parkour program; which is the art of movement involving running, jumping, climbing, vaulting, rolling, flipping and much much more! The Parkour program will be facilitated through Calgary's own Breathe Parkour.
Rhythm and Movement
Life doesn't provide us a lot of opportunity to get in touch with our bodies through movement. So often, in school or at work we are trained to sit all day and do the same motions.
Now it is time to get out of this cycle! Come to Rhythm and Movement! A program that allows you to explore the way your body moves and find rhythm through dance, movement, yoga, meditation and music.
Earn a Bike (with 2 Wheel View)
Earn-A-Bike is open to bike enthusiasts ages 11 - 17 with all different backgrounds and abilities. Each week participants will come to the AAFS Clubhouse to work together to learn all about bike mechanics, teamwork and leadership. At the end of the eight week program each participant will go home having earned their very own bike lock, helmet and of course, bicycle! Yes... EVERYONE in the program gets a BIKE!
Everything Art is an 8 week long exploration of many artistic mediums including but not limited to: painting, sculpture, tie dye, collage and much more! Whether you're an expert in the world of visual art or just trying it out, there will surely be something that you will enjoy! If there is a particular type of art or craft that you would like to learn or try out please be sure to let us know on your registration form.
What’s So Funny?
An exploration into the world of humour! What is funny? Why is something funny some times and not funny other times?
We are constantly developing new Specialized Programs, the following are in development.
What is Autism? Who am I?
A program derived from Social Dynamics. Surprisingly, Individuals with ASD aren’t given much info about ASD. This program will explore the world of Autism and the individual’s relationship and understanding of the diagnosis.
Get Off the Couch/Let’s Get Physical
A program to explore the world of physical activity and how an individual can Get Off the Couch! The overall goal of the program is to find ways to motivate individuals to Get Active and live a healthy lifestyle.
Building on our introductory Video Game Design program, we are developing Tech Programs including everything for basic robotics to App development. We would love to host a “Geek Camp” in the summer of 2015 that would take advantage of dorms and students from a local trade school.
What is Urban Art? Anything you consider Art in a Urban environment. For our first run of Urban Arts, we will focus on the elements of Hip Hop: Breakdancing, Beat Production and MCing. Community Partner- Party Quest Crew, BeatDrop
Our Requests What You Can Do
How you can help!
AAFS is a very small charity (in capacity...not impact!). We have only 4 FT staff and as part of our culture, EVERYONE spends time working in Program Delivery. We do not have staff dedicated to Fund Development, Event planning or Financial Administration (although our recent growth has dictated that we hire a Full Time Manager of Finance in early in the new year.
As any charitable organization, we rely on a few prongs of funding so we can run our programs; donations, grants and fund development events.
There are a few ways you can help out!
1) Run a 3rd Party Event! Any 3rd party event can be run with a group of friends, in a workplace or within a family. Some example of 3rd party events are:
- Have a dress down day or a dress up day (ie- wear jeans on Fridays if you make a donation)
- take a % or $ amount from sales on a certain day. April 2 is Autism Awareness Day...donate a portion of sales on April 2!
- A family of ours just made a "Haunted Yard" over Halloween and asked neighbourhood kids to donate for entrance, they managed to raise over $500!
- Bake Sales, Yard sales and collecting empty cans and bottles can also raise a lot of money. An 8 year old from our program has been collecting cans and bottles and has raised over $2500 in just over a year!
- Suggest AAFS as beneficiary for your corporate Christmas party or Golf Tournament
2) Corporate Donations!
Many companies will match employee donations, does yours? Even some companies who do not have a donation match 'policy' will match when requested by employees.
3) Create a tail of giving in your community!
If you are willing to make a $25 donation...that is wonderful! What if your brothers and sisters matched your $25? What if your cousins, co-workers or neighbours matched your donation?
Challenge friends and family to give or to volunteer!
We have many volunteer opportunities for community members. Just get in touch with us to find out more!