It has been a very busy month for the Autism Society of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, and we have had great success with all our events since our last update.

We had a great turnout to our movie night! A lot of parents thanked us and asked that we try to put on more of these events, and we are now looking hosting an adult/teen movie night in the new year.

We have also been getting amazing feedback on our visit from Dr. Anthony Bailey, Dr. David Nicolas, Dr. Deborah Barrett and Nancy Gale. Our community is grateful to them for taking the time to come all the way up here to give us some wonderful information and advice.

Our fundraising efforts have been going well, but raising funds is challenging in a community that is still recovering from the events of the summer. A lot of our businesses are still struggling, but we were amazed that we managed to sell twice as many poinsettias as our initial target!

Our Christmas party was a hit, too! We had almost double the kids from last year – almost 70 children had a wonderful time visiting with Santa and enjoying the bouncy castles. They all loved their gifts from Santa, too! Even the parents told us what a great time they had, and that they’re already looking forward to next year’s celebration.

We are all excited for the New Year and all the great things we have planned for 2017. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from the Autism Society of the R.M.W.B.!


Autism Society of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo
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Fort McMurray Autism Non-Profit Opens with Hopes for Future Centre

‘It made me want to do more in Fort McMurray, but because we were so well set up, it was hard to come back’
By Travis McEwan, CBC News

Kirsti Mardell, and her 6-year-old son, Quentin who has a non-verbal form of autism.

Kirsti Mardell, and her 6-year-old son, Quentin who has a non-verbal form of autism.

Kristi Mardell got the keys this week for an office where Fort McMurray’s autism society will soon set up shop, good news that came five months after she and other members fled the wildfire with their children.

Many society members went to Red Deer or Edmonton in the days after the wildfire. The forced evacuation was especially stressful for autistic children, who need specific help and programs most children don’t require.

A handful of society members haven’t returned since the city reopened in June, because the supports and classes for their children were better than those provided in Fort McMurray.

“We evacuated to Red Deer and we were well setup there, and the services we got kicked in right away,” said Mardell, president of autism society in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. “Our kids had support in school right way. It was amazing how fast and supportive the other communities were compared to Fort McMurray.

“It made me want to do more in Fort McMurray. But because we were so well set up, it was hard to come back.”

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Jeff’s Marathon Journey – October Update

Click here to support Jeff's Marathon Journey with an online donation!

Hi All,

So this is it, my final update before the New York City Marathon. As I write this, I’m nine days away from the big day in the big apple.

All is well on the home front since my last writing. Ben is settled back into his school routine, and seems to be genuinely enjoying it. He has continued to build his vocabulary and is increasingly using verbalizations to make requests. Yeunsuk and I were discussing this a couple of days ago, thinking back to as early as six months ago when we were having conversations questioning if we would ever hear him speak. I have to admit, there were times when I was doubtful it would ever happen, and now that it has it feels kind of surreal. It’s different than I thought it would be – I had heard stories of other kids on the spectrum who went from completely non-verbal to suddenly blurting out entire sentences in a matter of days. Other stories were more akin to typical learning: complete words here and there, with babbling added, then more words, and so on. With Ben, the best way I can describe it is a “slow bubbling” of conversation to the surface. He isn’t really saying any words perfectly and consistently yet, but he is trying to say every word with vicious intent. He will vocalize the first syllable of any word with prompting (word approximations, I think they call it?), and will do the same for anything he desires without prompting. Probably the most surprising aspect of all this is his reading skills (yes, he can almost read). We’ve long known that Ben learned and recognized all letters (both English and Korean alphabets) and every number from 1 to 100 long before his second birthday. A game that we’ve played with him for a long time is to point to random letters or numbers and call them something they are not just to get his reaction. It’s surreal to now hear him verbalize each letter and number without hesitation, and giggle uncontrollably while shaking his head “no” when we try and trick him. “Look, Ben,” we'd say, while pointing at the number 47. “It’s the number 27!” Ben would throw his head back and laugh. “Silly Dad!”

We hope to see these improvements continue. So far we’ve seen no signs of regression, and the build has been long and slow, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed.

As for the marathon training, it’s now all but done, and to steal a clichéd expression from the running world, “the hay is in the barn”. I peaked in my training program last week, running 35km on Saturday morning at a pace that was slightly faster than my goal marathon pace (5:57/km as opposed to the 6:00 that I hope to run). It felt good to get that one done for a few different reasons. First, it felt great knowing that the next three weeks would bring shorter distances as I worked through the taper portion of the program – I never thought I would think of a 21km run as a “shorter” run, but that was all I had to do the following week and it felt great! Secondly, I was forced to run the 35km on the 200m indoor track at the local fitness center, as we had received a huge dump of snow during the previous week. As I posted on my Facebook page following the run, I really felt that 35km on an indoor track presented a much greater mental challenge than anything that will be thrown my way in NYC.

I will be sure to write back after the big day with a detailed account of how everything went. I want to once again thank everybody who has donated. We’re currently at $3307, which is more money than I had hoped to raise when we started out. I can say that I speak on behalf of all families affected by life on the spectrum in Fort McMurray when I say “Thanks!”

Until next time,


There is still time to donate before Jeff's big's day – click here to help! All funds raised will go to the Fort McMurray Autism Support Group.

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Local Autism Societies

Fort McMurray Autism Support Group

fort_mcmurrayThe Fort McMurray Autism Support Group is comprised of parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other developmental disorders. This group aspires toward several goals. We work to provide a place for parents to come together and find support, both emotionally and by providing information. We desire to provide activities for our children that suit their needs and enable them to participate in the community. Finally, we endeavor to increase awareness of ASD in Fort McMurray. This group is open to all families impacted by ASD and other developmental disorders of all ages and abilities.
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