I have three kids age 21, 17 and 12. We first lived in Nova Scotia where our youngest son was diagnosed with autism at age 4. Because the lack of resources there, we moved to Ontario in 2015. We struggled with the public school system due to the lack of support. We found Giant Steps in 2016. As part of that community, we learned how autistic children should really be supported in a public school system with therapy at school. We fought hard to keep the school open when the board made the terrible decision to close it.
I have volunteered for Autism Ontario for past fours. I belong to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, one of the most organized and peaceful sects, and served in the department of education as General Secretary. I have also connected with Ismaili Muslims group in the Thorncliffe Park area to help them to duplicate their diagnosis model to help other communities get early diagnostic support. My professional work is running a medical practice with over ten medical doctors.
Jessica Ashton is a mom of two, who has owned and operated a hair salon for 17 years and is currently completing her Real Estate License. Jessica entered the world of activism at a young age. Born and raised in London by her father, a social activist fighting for women rights, poverty reduction, and work equality. By seven years old she had made her debut on the local news, protesting and marching against the likes of then-premier David Peterson, a local London MPP.
In July of 2017, Jessica began her own activism journey, when her then 2 1/2 year old son was diagnosed with Level 3 Autism. When she learned of the wait times for ABA therapy, she was in disbelief. She did all she knew—what her father taught her to do—she got loud. By November she acquired over 8,000 hand written signatures on a petition. She organized a local rally and protest march, and was asked to meet with the Minister of Children and Youth Services. She met with the Mayor of London regarding autism and police safety.
Jessica’s most recent project was pushing the city to install communication boards for all parks within London. She is happy to announce that the first of these will be installed in spring, 2022, at London’s largest park, Springbank. Most of Jessica’s activism roles have been solo journeys at the local level. She is honoured and excited to exhibit her passion as a part of the OAC Board.
Ryan Bowes (he/him/his) is a 23-year-old autism self-advocate in his second year at Osgoode Hall Law School. Ryan is currently completing a Disability Law Intensive at ARCH Disability Law Centre as part of his degree. Ryan spent his undergraduate studying Criminal Justice and Public Policy at the University of Guelph, where he sat as college representative on the Central Students Association Board of Directors during his final two years. At Osgoode, he is Vice-President, Treasurer of Access 2 Osgoode, a disability advocacy group on campus, and has organized initiatives such as alternative lecture recordings for 1L students and free drop-in ASL classes. He is also Vice-President, Social and Planning of OUTLaws, Osgoode’s on-campus LGBTQA+ student group. Ryan is excited to bring a creative and informed voice to the Ontario Autism Coalition, especially in regards to education accessibility and human rights issues concerning autistic adults in the province.
My name is Martin Buckingham and it is my honour to serve on the OAC Board of Directors. Since 2008, when my son was first diagnosed, I have been keenly involved in issues regarding education and parental challenges. As Board member and then President of Giant Steps Toronto, I have continued efforts to improve and enhance a school that believes in the coordinated approach of therapies, academics, and inclusion. My inspiration will always be my son and my late father, who drilled into my head at regular intervals that “can’t” means “don’t want to”. If my name slips your mind, feel free to call me Jack’s Dad, which I am more than fine with. I look forward to meeting and working with all of you!
Elisha Chesler is the owner and director of Sunshine Learning Centre. The centre is an ABA provider, serving families in Durham Region. Elisha and Sunshine are proud recipients of a Durham Region Accessibility Award, in recognition of their efforts to increase community access and participation for individuals with additional needs. Elisha is currently pursuing additional credentials towards a Masters degree and her BCBA certification.
Elisha began her advocacy work with the OAC in 2016 and has remained actively involved with efforts since. She has also been involved in activist efforts, including campaigns related to violence against women, racism, war actions, and poverty and homelessness. Elisha also volunteers with organizations working to address homelessness, poverty, and mental health/addiction issues within the city of Toronto.
Elisha is eager to use her advocacy experience, as well as her experience in the field of autism, to support the OAC’s efforts in ensuring fair and equitable support for children, youth, and adults on the spectrum.
Scott Corbett is an Ottawa-based parent-advocate of 2 boys on the autism spectrum, and as of 2019 he writes articles offering opinion and breaking down developments on the state of autism services in Ontario.
Scott knows firsthand how mentally draining the constant battle to obtain services your child needs is. He witnessed how hard his boy’s mother had to fight to get into first words programs, to get a diagnosis, and to finally obtain early intervention ABA. But just when his youngest son was making significant gains in the IBI program, the government introduced an age 5 cut-off for IBI. This lit a fire in Scott’s belly to advocate with the OAC as part of the 2016 #AutismDoesntEndAt5 campaign.
The government’s 2019 attempt to defund ABA by changing the Ontario Autism Program to an age-based financial supplement fueled Scott’s commitment to fight for needs based therapy. The OAC is an influential organization and Scott is pleased to bring his advocacy to its board of directors.
Kate is the busy mom to two amazing kids, both on the autism spectrum. Now based in Ottawa but originally from Toronto, Kate dedicates her free time to activism. In 2016, her daughter had only started IBI therapy the month before after waiting over 2.5 years, when the provincial government announced that kids over 5 would no longer be eligible. Her daughter was already seeing progress in her speech, regulation and self-help skills, so this was a devastating blow. It was the catalyst for Kate joining the OAC and thousands of parents across the province to advocate against the senseless age cut off. Her activism around the #AutismDoesntEndAt5 campaign gave her the resolve to then fight the gutting of the OAP in 2019.
Kate has volunteered significant time meeting with MPP’s, organizing protests, town halls and other actions, to ensure that all children with ASD can get the therapy and supports they need. Along with fellow Board Member Kerry Monaghan, she runs the local group, ASD Ottawa Unite. HJate works with unions, politicians and other social justice organizations, and advocate for other causes such as education, healthcare and climate change.
Kate is a member of the OAC’s Political Action Committee, OAP Working Group and an Admin on the Coalition’s Facebook group. She views her role on the OAC’s Board of Directors as an opportunity to deepen her advocacy work towards ensuring equity for all Autistics in Ontario.
Sara Kitlar-Pothier is a mom to two boys, one of whom is autistic. Her advocacy journey began in 2016 when she was trying to obtain a diagnosis for her son; an endeavour that would have her facing years-long waitlists. Her advocacy endeavours greatly increased in 2019 following the changes to the Ontario Autism Program.
Sara has planed and organized protests, rallies and town halls, and often engages MPPS and MCCSS Ministers and staff, championing the needs and helping to elevate the voices of northern, rural, remote, francophone, and indigenous communities. As the Chair of the Northern Capacity Building Advisory Committee through Child & Community Resource (CCR), Sara collaborates with other northern parents, advocates, and service providers to further develop ways to maintain and build capacity for autism services throughout Northern Ontario.
Sara is also the creator and organizer of Autism Friendly Sports Night (AFSN), a not-for-profit, grass roots program that provides an opportunity for autistic children and youth, as well as their neurotypical siblings to interact in an inclusive and non-judgmental environment. Within this program, autistic children are able to practice social skills, meet new friends and get active while learning different athletic skills. AFSN also offers peer mentoring opportunities between some of its teen participants and autistic adult volunteers. Sara has collaborated with the City of Greater Sudbury and spearheaded the creation of an age and ability inclusive park in Coniston, ON. The park focuses on accommodating and supporting the physical, emotional, cognitive, sensory, safety and social learning needs of that diverse community.
Sara is not afraid of hard work, especially in the name of equitable and accessible autism services for all.
Hey guys! My name is Philip Lerner, and I am 19 years old. I am so excited to be one of the new autism self-advocates on the Board of Directors!
I was diagnosed with autism at age 2. At that time, my parents put me on a waitlist for government-funded IBI therapy. However, it was taking a long time to get services, so they decided to go with private ABA therapy instead. The results were extremely positive, I learned how to adapt and conduct myself in the outside world.
Most of my life, I concealed the fact that I was autistic. I was in a community class in elementary school, but most of my integrated classmates did not know why. I told only those that I trusted, and usually in a 1 to 1 setting.
All that changed in 2016. When I found out that the age cap for the ABA waitlist was being reintroduced at the younger age of five, I decided that I couldn’t sit around and watch while tons of kids like me were being robbed of the services that changed my life. That is when I was slowly introduced to autism advocates who inspired me to go completely public about my diagnosis. Since then, I have really turned the corner. I was interviewed by both CTV and Toronto Star on autism issues and got involved in more OAC events. I am even starting a research project with Dr. Janet Mclaughlin on Ontario’s autism services and policies.
Outside of the autism world, I am in my second year at the University of Waterloo, currently studying statistics. My career aspiration is to become a data analyst or go into business intelligence. While on campus I am also involved with several Jewish organizations. Last but not least, I am a huge Toronto sports fan and a massive foodie!
I am so excited to get to know all of you at social events and rallies. Let’s work together to finally get Ontario to hear our message!
Bruce McIntosh has been an activist for people with disabilities for as long as he can remember. Both of his parents were victims of polio, and so Bruce learned about advocacy quite literally at his father’s knee. In an odd twist of fate, Bruce’s son was named for his father, Cliff. When the family learned that Cliff has autism, Bruce began focusing on autism service improvement, and has continued to do so for 18 years.
Bruce’s portfolio career has honed a range of skills that he has brought to bear in his advocacy work. He has worked in the fields of communication & desktop publishing, information technology, and has served as Chief of Staff for an Ontario cabinet minister. Bruce has spent his all of his adult life involved in politics, usually as a volunteer, occasionally as staff, and frequently as a campaign manager.
Bruce describes his level of commitment to the current campaign as being “stronger that it has ever been, when [he] didn’t think that was possible.” His goal is nothing short of getting clinically appropriate, sustainably funded services in place for people with autism of all ages. And he won’t stop until that goal is achieved.
Kerry is from Ottawa, at-home mum to Jack, 6 and Charlotte, 4, who are both on the autism spectrum. Her advocacy journey began after her son’s diagnosis in 2016. Kerry created ASD Ottawa Unite!; a cgroup that brings together like-minded advocates, and organizes protests, rallies, community events, and updates members about OAP policy changes. Kerry co-organized the 2019 Next Step Autism March which brought together more than 600 parents, allies, and advocates from across the province in a non-partisan rally for a National Autism Strategy. The walk covered 22km across Ottawa from the then-Minister of Children, Community and Social Services’ Constituency Office to the steps of Parliament Hill. Due to COVID, the march took a one-year hiatus in 2020, but will be an annual tradition in support of the federal government’s commitment to a National Strategy.
Kerry organizes social groups for autistic children and their families. and her program recently merged with Polaris, a local charity. Kerry serves as Community Director of Polaris PLAY. Kerry organizes two annual fundraisers. In the spring it’s Jack & Charlotte’s Walk Around the Block in support of Spectrum Intervention Group, a non-profit ABA centre, and in the fall it’s a 12-hour Christmas Crafting event, sale and auction for QuickStart Early Intervention for Autism.
Kerry is a writer, a diplomat, and an organizer. She works with her husband and advocacy partner, Patrick. Kerry is incredibly proud of what her group has accomplished for the local autism community, and looks forward to sharing her particular brand of advocacy with the Ontario Autism Coalition.
Gideon Sheps has been on the OAC board since 2016. He is a parent of a young adult on the spectrum, and has been active, in some form or another, in advocacy since going to talk with his MPP about the “the lawsuit and the letter” at the start of the McGuinty era. Gideon joined the Holland Bloorview Family Advisory in 2005, and continues to serve on it. At HB he has served on a wide range of committees and projects. In 2013 he was invited to become the founding chair of the Bloorview Research Institutes Family Engagement Committee. The model created by the committee for family engagement has been published and presented internationally. In 2016 Gideon was honoured with the Dr John Whittaker Memorial Award for his service to the hospital. In 2015 he was selected as one of the inaugural members of Health Quality Ontario’s Patient, Family & Public Advisor’s Council. Professionally Gideon is an I.T. Project Manager.
Tony Stravato, aka The Beard, is the proud father of twin boys both diagnosed with Autism at the age of two. He is co-founder of the Durham Crew and since the disastrous Childhood Budget announcement in 2019, has spent his time advocating with fellow members for Needs Based Therapy. Tony has vowed not to shave until the Ontario Autism Program delivers Needs-Based Therapy.
Tony’s hobbies include hockey, working on cars and protesting. For the past 15 years Tony has worked at Gerdau in Oshawa where he currently holds the position of Yard Operator. He’s a member of the Steelworkers Local 2784, and from 2008 – 2019 he was the Joint Health and Safety Co Chair. Since 2011 Tony has been elected Union Plant Chairperson.