When she grows up, Océanne says she wants to sing in front of thousands of cheering fans. As a 16-year-old girl with autism, she says she knows there is a group that can not only help her fulfill her dreams of becoming a professional singer – but also build the connections, confidence and skills she needs, no matter where she ends up.
For the past four years, Regroupement Autisme Prescott-Russell has helped prepare Océanne and other teens with autism for their future through socialization and pre-employment programs.
“I appreciate them because they are able to give their time to help children with difficulties. They are very devoted,” Océanne says of the program’s employees.
The goal of Regroupement Autisme Prescott-Russell is to help children, youth and adolescents improve their communication and socialization through various therapeutic programs. Thanks to United Way East Ontario, people with autism in Prescott-Russell are able to access affordable services to help them on their path to independence, according to the organization’s president, Nathalie Lévesque.
Some of the programs Océanne has accessed over the past four years include zoo and music therapy, where she learned how to take care of animals and play musical instruments. As everyone plays and works together, these programs help with socialization.
Before attending Regroupement Autisme Prescott-Russell, Océanne had a difficult time making friends.
According to her mother, Josée, Océanne sometimes comes home upset because she says she doesn’t feel like she has friends at school.
But as soon as Océanne started attending Regroupement Autisme Prescott-Russell one Saturday each month, she would constantly ask when she could go back.
“Every time she’s alone, I just tell her, ‘what about the group? What about the family you’ve made there?’ and she says, ‘yeah, you’re right mom. I do have friends,’” says Josée.
Océanne is not alone in her experience. About 12-15 local youth are part of the group, and on similar journeys.
United Way East Ontario believes that everyone should have the resources needed to live a happy, healthy and successful life. By working with Regroupement Autisme Prescott-Russell, United Way ensures local teens with autism are able to have these opportunities.
So to prepare the teens for future employment, the program also pairs them with employment partners. Each teen then spends a portion of each Saturday working at a different local business.
Océanne has worked at Giant Tiger, Canadian Tire, Subway, Garage Laplante, Matériaux Pont-Masson, Jean Coutu, A&W, Tim Hortons, and No Frills where she’s learned various skills and gained valuable experience.
Though other services for people with autism are usually costly, Josée says that because of United Way’s help, Regroupement Autisme Prescott-Russell is very affordable and accessible for those who need it. She adds that the mood and atmosphere are also appealing aspects of the program.
“When she goes there, it’s not clinical at all,” Josée adds. “[Instead], it’s, ‘let’s have fun together and we will help and guide you.’ But their goal is not to be doing therapy, so I’m happy with that.”
With her newfound confidence, Océanne recently performed a song titled ‘Unique’ at We Day 2019 – a tune written by the youth at Regroupement Autisme Prescott-Russell with help from a professional composer.
With lyrics highlighting how people with autism bring sunshine into the world, Océanne had the opportunity to sing this song in front of thousands of cheering fans.
“With Regroupement Autisme Prescott-Russell, she has a chance to live that,” says Josée, “to live these beautiful experiences.”