Celebrating the Community

About the program

In 2018 Louise Tardif and Kayla Wilcox launched a wonderful initiative entitled "Celebrating the Community" for Autism Awareness and Acceptance month, where they gathered community profiles of numerous individuals on the Autism Spectrum as well as those that, love, support and appreciate them.

The initiative was dedicated to our local community to recognize all that they do and featured profiles from autistic individuals, families service providers, professionals, educators and ACF’s board members and staff.  Now in 2021 and in recognition of this very challenging time we thought it would be appropriate to “Celebrate the Community” once again.

During the months of February through April 2021 we will be featuring Community Profiles of interesting individuals once again.  We are asking for you to participate in this exciting initiative.  There is no set way to write your story but we do request a maximum length of one full page. As well, we request a picture (portrait preferred) that can be included.

So, tell us about yourself, about your experiences and how you became connected to ACF.   Stories will then be posted to Facebook and then archived on the website, eventually being published in booklet format in May 2021.

If you would like to share your story, please send to thuha.autismconnections@gmail.com.

Rick Hutchins

Executive Director of Autism Connections Fredericton

I have been Executive Director of Autism Connections Fredericton for over four years. It has been a rewarding experience and I have learned a tremendous amount about ASD. My vision for the Centre is for it to become the go to place for programs serving youth and adults that respond to their specific needs and desires. 

I see the Centre growing in its vitality and capacity to engage more volunteers and supporters in sustaining the vision while building a stronger connectivity for all. This can be accomplished in partnership with individuals and families and through support from the greater community. Our need for resources and expertise will increase as we develop more capacity. 

I see the Centre also becoming more vital for the surrounding area and for the creation of inclusive programs engaging both our member families and the greater community at large. One of the greatest needs for the centre is to support and increase awareness of ASD and to develop knowledge that helps that message be heard.

Over the next few years ACF will be adding new and innovative programming, building a new and interactive website and improving upon our resource guide. Although it has been challenging times during the pandemic we are resilient and remain committed to being the best we can be. I will be retiring in the Fall of 2021 and look forward to continuing my involvement with ACF as a volunteer.


Dr Paul M. McDonnell

Chair, Board of Directors at ACF

My interest in autism arose as part of my work as a child psychologist. Because I had a specialty in infant development, I tended to see very young children for assessment and interventions. This led me to become more aware of the extensive research in the field of applied behaviour analysis and its benefits for helping infants and young children with ASD to learn skills in areas that were especially challenging for them, such as communication and social interaction.

In the late 1990s, parents were becoming aware of this research and putting pressure on the government to provide early intervention programmes. I had the privilege to be able to help out in that effort. In 2004 the Government of New Brunswick began funding 20 hours per week of early intervention for preschoolers on the spectrum and, simultaneously, we began our first” Autism Intervention Training Programme” at the University of New Brunswick (College of Extended Learning) for clinical supervisors and front line therapists (called “autism support workers”).

Since then, I have been involved with the training programme at UNB and also the more recent online training programme developed by the Department of Education. My commitment to evidence-based practice motivated me to join several colleagues in starting the Atlantic Provinces Association for Behaviour Analysis in 2012. My inspiration in all these endeavors has always been the parents, the children, and my professional colleagues. Over time my professional practice in psychology became heavily focused on assessments and intervention issues for children of all ages on the spectrum.

I saw Autism Connections Fredericton as a logical extension of my work as I was very aware of the need of families for resources of all kinds - just exactly what ACF provides. It is my hope that Autism Connections Fredericton will become a dynamic, vibrant, centre offering information, activities, courses and support for persons on the spectrum and their families. I want to see greater involvement of our membership in the future and I also want to connect the general public with our activities and our centre.


Liz McDonnell

Board of Directors at ACF

My career as a pediatric occupational therapist introduced me to children with a wide variety of developmental issues and in a number of working environments including the IWK Hospital for Children, a home visiting service in Vancouver, UNB’s Bio-Engineering Institute, the Stan Cassidy Centre’s Paediatric Team and Autism Intervention Services.   While working at the Stan Cassidy Centre in the 1980’s, I realized that some of the children referred to us because of delayed language and play skills had something very complex and interesting going on.  Many of them had unique strengths in other areas.  Luckily I could discuss this with my husband, Paul McDonnell, a child psychologist, who provided me with reading material about autism.  Together we started going to international conferences on Autism and Applied Behaviour Analysis and I passed on what I learned to my colleagues.  We all began attending conferences, and eventually, SCCR developed a specialized Autism Team that still travels around New Brunswick, helping other pediatric therapists, teachers and parents apply the principles of ABA.  

As an occupational therapist, I specialized in helping children learn the skills they needed to participate in daily activities such as eating the same meals as their family, falling asleep, using the toilet, dressing themselves, playing with other children and skills related to success at school. 

I have also had the pleasure of going to Belize and Haiti several times with teams of pediatric specialists, to help educators and parents learn optimal teaching techniques for their children with autism and other developmental issues. I became one of the instructors in the Autism Training Program at the University of New Brunswick and in 2006 joined Autism Intervention Services as a Clinical Supervisor.  In 2011, I was invited to join the Board of Directors at Autism Connections Fredericton, where a major objective is to connect children and adults with autism to the community resources that meet their needs.  I hope that we can provide a meeting place, where the autistic community can come together to share experiences, develop skills and have fun.


Ginette Hannan

Board of Directors at ACF

I’m the proud mother and grandmother of a son and a grandson on the Autism spectrum.

When my son, Michel, was born in 1987, autism was not an everyday word. Information was difficult to find and local services, to my knowledge, were non-existent.

After graduating from High School, Michel went to work at Giant Tiger. After working there for over 9 years, he seriously started thinking about changing careers. He knew he didn’t want to work in retail anymore, and in his words, “he wanted to do something with his life”. We looked for jobs but the only things he was qualified for was working in fast-food restaurants or in retail. 

He knew he wanted an office job, but for that, he needed to go to college. Because his courses had been modified in high school, he didn’t qualify for regular admission. He felt very defeated until he spoke with someone at Ready, Willing and Able who made us aware of a program called Special Admissions.  With their help and with the help of the New Brunswick Association for Community Living (NBACL) and Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour (PETL), he was able to qualify for the Special Admission program and was able to get extra help in the form of grants for specific accommodations and tutoring. And for that, we are extremely grateful. With a lot of hard work and dedication, he graduated from the two-year course in 2020, during the pandemic, and is now working in an office for the Department Of Education and Early Childhood Development.

While helping Michel look for a new job, before deciding to go to college, I realized how much the community needed more services for adults on the spectrum. We have come a long way from when Michel was diagnosed in the late eighties, but there is still a lot more to do. 

In 2018, I became a Board Member of Autism Connections Fredericton so that I can help in any way I can to bring awareness, but also to help increase services to the autism community of Fredericton and New Brunswick, for all ages.

Since joining the Board, I have come to realize just how active Autism Connections Fredericton is and how much it has grown in the last few years. I’m proud to see new programming added all the time like the Parent Support Group, Chat ‘n’ Chill, the one-on-one summer camp, No Limits Soccer to name a few. And their ever-growing lending library is a great resource for parents, teachers, or anyone wanting to learn more about autism. There are books for all ages on a wide variety of topics. 


Trisha Fournier-Hoyt

Treasurer, Board of Directors at ACF

My interest in Autism started with my role in program and curriculum delivery at UNB. I quickly came to recognize that working in this sector, with such a vulnerable population, your perspective changes and you move beyond just having a job to a calling where you have a personal interest in the well-being of your clients. I am very appreciative of the relationships I have formed with the front line support workers and others there to support the interests of so many families in our communities that live with Autism every day. I joined the Board several years ago to share my knowledge and skills to help Autism Connections achieve its mandate and to support the local needs of our Autism community. Although I no longer work directly in the sector. I believe passionately in protecting the interests of our most vulnerable citizens, and providing them with opportunities to improve and enhance their quality of life through advocacy, learning, and support provided by our centre. It is truly fulfilling non-profit work.


Katie LaCosta

Board of Directors

I am a teacher in Anglophone School District West and mother to two children, one of whom has autism. I became involved in Autism Connections Fredericton in 2017 when my son was first diagnosed. He was two years old at the time, and upon receiving his diagnosis I sought as much information as I could gain to best support my young son. I found several helpful books at the lending library, and more importantly I was welcomed into a community that had many families in a similar circumstance to my own. I began attending a toddler drop-in morning group and met some wonderful families that I am still close with today. As the years went on, I attended many other events that made us feel welcome, supported, and we learned a lot from them. ACF is a safe place we could come without fear of judgement. There is also a wealth of resources that you can use or borrow. For example, upon teaching my son about what to expect at his first dentist visit, there was a helpful kit with a puppet and giant teeth to explain and practice what he could expect. My son has been involved in several of the programs offered here like No Limits Soccer and he has made a few friends here as well.

I joined the board in 2019 and have since helped run programs such as the Parent/Caregiver Support group and the One-on-One Tutoring Program for Autistic Students. I’m proud to be involved with Autism Connections Fredericton and wish to help any families that may be seeking information, encouragement, or support. The Parent/Caregiver Support group is a safe space for family members to chat and share the wins and challenges that their loved ones may face. We also invite speakers and some professionals and autistic individuals themselves to share their knowledge and expertise on topics related to autism.


Greg Forsythe

Board of Directors at ACF

As a retired teacher who had some experience working with Autistic students, I had suggested to a friend who was serving on the ACF Board that I should get involved. I have attended a Board meeting and soon realized the profound dedication all Board members showed. I look forward to setting some goals to reach for ACF. Although retired, I see Autistic students performing their interests very capably.


Monique Lavigne

Board of Directors at ACF

No Limits Soccer is Fredericton’s first and only soccer team for children on the Autism Spectrum. It was inspired by my then 6-year-old son, Joshua, who wanted to play soccer but who struggled to keep up in a traditional soccer setting. I saw a gap in inclusive programming in our city and found a group of like-minded parents who also wanted to see their Autistic child play a sport and succeed. Using all the knowledge that I had at that time, I created No Limits Soccer, a team free of competition, where each activity could be tailored to suit an individual child’s needs and where children were encouraged to go at their own pace without ever being judged. It has been 7 years since our first practice and No Limits Soccer is bigger and better than ever!

Being an Autism mom has influenced my life in other ways. As I prepared to send my son off to kindergarten, I had many questions and concerns about the kind of support that he would receive and what kinds of struggles he might face. It inspired me to become an educational assistant which has allowed me the privilege of working in the schools, supporting kids like my son. As Josh gets older and prepares to enter High School, I think about the kinds of support and programs that he might need as he makes his way through his teenage years and transitions into adulthood. This is one of the reasons that I decided to become a board member at Autism Connections Fredericton. I’m proud to be part of a team that makes sure that there are accessible programs and supports people of all ages.


Samantha Landry

Board of Directors at ACF

I started with Autism Connections Fredericton when I was still in my undergraduate degree at UNB. I was studying psychology at the time and looking for some experience in the field. I approached the centre to volunteer where needed and was given carte blanche to create a new program for the members. That year, I created the Parents and Tots program which ran for almost 3 years. Through this program I met the most amazing moms with the most amazing kids. I learned so much from them over that time and it truly helped start me on my current journey.

Over the summer of 2018 I was able to be a part of planning the Superhero walk/run, which raised about $17,000 for the centre, along with an amazing group of co-workers. That same summer, I also was able to work on the very first summer camp that Autism Connection ran. I had a hand in almost every aspect of that year. From the original intake interviews with families to working one on one with the campers. That summer I once again had the pleasure of meeting some of the most incredible kids and gaining knowledge from experiences that I still use in my career to this day. 

I became a Registered Social Worker this past year and began working with the Fredericton Police Force as one of two Victim Witness Coordinator. We recently became the Integrated Community Services along with 2 other Social Worker and four officers. This group focuses on working on files with particular vulnerabilities. At the same time, I began my work on the Board of Directors. My favourite part of being on the board is being able to merge it with my everyday job at the Police Station to create stronger connections with community partners that may not have been there before. 

My time at Autism Connections from the very beginning has been marked with only positive experiences and amazing learning opportunities. Over the time I have been with the centre, I have only seen it become more and more dynamic and vibrant. The people who work at the centre have a passion for what they do and it’s a privilege to be a part of it. I cannot wait to see where the centre goes from here and the amount of good it will be able to do for our families and larger communities.


Kimberly MacKeigan

Board of Directors at ACF

My first experience working with children with autism came while I was in university, doing a placement at a preschool centre for children with disabilities. The idea of using behavioural intervention (ABA) with children on the autism spectrum was new back then and seemed somewhat at odds with what I was learning in my Child Studies program and later on, when I studied to become a speech-language pathologist. I encountered a few more children with autism during my first few years as an S-LP but it wasn’t until I began working at the Stan Cassidy Centre for Rehabilitation that they became the focus of my practice. I loved working with this population from the beginning because although they have much in common with one another, they each have unique gifts, challenges and personalities. As an S-LP, my job is to support my clients in learning to better understand language, to communicate more often and more effectively, to be more successful with their schoolwork, to develop social skills and to eat a wider variety of foods. Being part of an interdisciplinary team allows me to collaborate with my teammates on goals related to other areas of development too and the ability to come together as a group to consider the whole child is one of the things I love best about my job. Collaborating with families, school teams and other therapists to develop intervention goals and strategies is also incredibly fulfilling. 

There is always something new to learn in the field of autism and over the course of my career, there have been many learning opportunities including attending conferences on autism and ABA, instructing with the Autism Training Program at the University of New Brunswick, and acting as a member of the Curriculum Advisory Committee for the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development’s online training program. I’ve also traveled to Belize, where I worked with a group of paediatric specialists to help parents and educators learn strategies for teaching their children with autism and other developmental disabilities. Through all of these experiences, I’ve come to understand that although behavioural intervention and traditional speech-language pathology may seem like very different approaches, they actually compliment each other perfectly, and when blended in just the right way, can lead to the development of many functional communication skills. 

It’s been my pleasure to serve on the Board of Directors of Autism Connections Fredericton since 2011. It’s been exciting to watch this organization grow from its humble beginnings to a vibrant and dynamic space where individuals with autism, their families and community members can find resources and support, learn new skills and make connections.


Michael Elliott

Board of Directors at ACF

Good day everyone! Thank you for your continuous support to Autism Connections Fredericton. As part of the Defence Advisory Group within CFB Gagetown, I’m honoured to be the Canadian Armed Forces child & youth advocate for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Additionally and proudly, a board member for ACF. 

My interest arose with ASD when I learned of my son’s non-verbal diagnoses in early 2017. I promised my young son that I would do everything possible to see he lives a meaningful life- one that offers inclusiveness and life-free of discrimination. 

Desiring to offer support to the community in any way possible, I have found my roots within the greater Fredericton community. My directive as a board member is to support ACF initiatives, strategic planning and deliver additional special needs support networks for Canadian Armed Forces families within Atlantic Canada. A personal reward, helping children & youths overcome their anxieties and focusing on the best outcome rather than the process.

In a world geared towards neurotypical persons, there’s no denying that working with autistic individuals can present a diverse set of challenges. Perspectives that can be difficult to understand with behaviours that aren’t always easy to manage. However, it also includes remarkable benefits- the enriching rewards of seeing positive change, while viewing the optics of autism through a much different lens. I quickly realised that persons with autism have such a welcoming ability, which is most authentic, displaying such honesty and without necessarily expecting all the social rules that can hinder just being themselves.  As a father to an amazing boy with Autism Spectrum Disorder, all of these challenges are worth the effort.

Autism is a journey I never planned for, but I sure do love my tour guide!