Fighting for the Future: Honouring Women Advocating for Autism Rights in Ontario

On International Women’s Day we are inundated with a flood of corporate messaging and talk of “girl power.” While it’s always heartening to see women celebrated, it’s hard to ignore the nagging feeling that a lot of this fanfare rings hollow.

What really matters to me are the stories of everyday women who inspire us with their bravery and determination. When I feel like I’ve lost all my courage (and as the mom of a son with autism I feel that a lot) I think about a mom I met four years ago when I produced a segment for CTV Your Morning about families facing the loss of critical funding because of deep, devastating cuts proposed by Doug Ford’s government.

Jimi Yeo, a mother of three boys with autism, ages 5, 6, and 9, showed incredible bravery by going on live national television to advocate for her son Daniel’s right to receive government funding for full-time intensive behavioral therapy. Before Daniel started IBI therapy he couldn’t walk. He couldn’t eat by himself, he couldn’t speak and he was in a diaper. With IBI therapy, he was walking within two years, making requests with his communication tools, saying I love you to his parents, and had started toilet training. Under Doug Ford’s proposed cuts, Daniel’s funding was about to be completely gutted.

Jimi spoke very little English. She had no experience with the media and she had great trepidation about appearing live, but she was determined to use the opportunity to help her family, and the thousands of other autism families facing these brutal cuts. We planned, prepared, and practiced for her interview, and she was brilliant. Whenever I think I can’t do something, I think of Jimi and her fierceness and I get a surge of strength.

It takes a great deal of courage to stand up and speak out, especially when the stakes are so high. Jimi’s advocacy and the protests staged by other desperate parents made a difference. The Ontario government eventually backed off some of the proposed reforms. I will never forget the thousands of families with children with autism protesting at Queen’s Park and the shame of making families do that should hang over Doug Ford and Lisa MacLeod forever.

Jimi is someone that inspires me to be a better advocate for myself and others. She reminds me of the power of speaking up and fighting for what’s right. It’s a testament to the strength of mothers everywhere who will do anything to protect their children. Below is Jimi’s interview with the amazing Anne-Marie Mediwake on CTV Your Morning. In the interview she is accompanied by Suki Choi who is another incredibly inspiring woman. Suki founded Autism In Mind Children’s Charity (AIM) when she was 26 years old. It started with just one child. When Suki first started a daycare business in Markham, she was approached by a family whose son had been on the government waitlist for autism therapy for FOUR YEARS. Moved by their situation, Suki organized a fundraiser. The response from the community and the daycare parents was so generous Suki knew they could do even more. Suki and a team of volunteers began fundraising on behalf of other local families to help their children access professional therapy. They also began organizing free Social Saturdays for children with autism. The momentum of these small acts of kindness gathered and within just a few years AIM became a Canadian registered charity helping hundreds of children with autism, just like Daniel.

So today, let’s think about women like Jimi and Suki, and truly celebrate the spirit of feminism and honour those who have made a real difference in the world.

CTV Your Morning– Family Fears Loss of Autism Funding- March 29th, 2019

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