Hands on

Danette Dooley
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Centre helps family deal with autism; benefit concert at Arts and Culture Centre Saturday

Douglas Dunne cannot tell his parents that he loves them. Nor can the 22-year-old tell his only sibling, Danielle, how much he appreciates the things she's done for him through the years.

However, while Douglas cannot speak, he has learned to express his feelings in other ways.

"On our way home from the (Elaine Dobbin Centre for Autism) we'll go to my mother's and Douglas won't leave Mom's until he kisses her," says Douglas's mom, Clara Dunne.

Trish Williams, Director of the Elaine Dobbin Centre for Autism and Douglas Dunne. Photo by Danette Dooley/Special to The Telegram

Douglas Dunne cannot tell his parents that he loves them. Nor can the 22-year-old tell his only sibling, Danielle, how much he appreciates the things she's done for him through the years.

However, while Douglas cannot speak, he has learned to express his feelings in other ways.

"On our way home from the (Elaine Dobbin Centre for Autism) we'll go to my mother's and Douglas won't leave Mom's until he kisses her," says Douglas's mom, Clara Dunne.

Clara and her husband (also named Douglas) were devastated but not surprised when Douglas was diagnosed with autism before reaching his third birthday.

She had known there was something different about her baby since he was about 10 months old, she says.

"I was taking him back and forth to the hospital for hearing tests because I thought he was deaf. But they just kept sending us back home," Dunne recalls.

When Dunne's mother saw a television story about autism, she knew what was wrong with her grandson.

"After Mom told me about that story, I took Douglas to the developmental unit at the Janeway." That's where he was eventually diagnosed with autism, Dunne says.

Through the years, she says, Douglas has had many stumbling blocks to conquer.

Each September, for example, he'd have to get used to a new student assistant. "That caused a lot of problems," Dunne says. On top of that, she estimates the family has had over 14 home-care workers to help care for her son.

"It's a difficult disability and some people can't cope with it. But Douglas is a very gentle, loving man. I get too emotional when I talk about him," she says, taking a deep breath to control her emotions.

At 24, Danielle is Douglas's sister and best friend.

"She's had her struggles growing up with autism. But she never resented Douglas in any way. She's always been there to support him and has been there for us," Clara says.

What Douglas lacks in verbal skills he makes up for in other ways.

He's a whiz at the computer, loves playing Nintendo and helps his sister understand the special features on her cellphone. He can mow the lawn, with assistance, load the dishwater and fold and put away his clothes.

Dunne says her entire family is proud of the way Douglas handles his disability.

"Because Douglas doesn't talk, a lot of people think he doesn't understand. And there are things said that can be upsetting to him. But he's like me or you, only he's trapped within his own body," she says.

Because of his disability, Douglas was permitted to stay in school until age 21. When that door closed, another one opened, one much more suited to his needs.

Centre a haven

Nestled on eight acres of land behind the Janeway in St. John's, the Elaine Dobbin Centre for Autism on Shamrock Farm provides life-long support for individuals living with the neurological disorder which causes deficiencies in verbal and non-verbal communication and social interaction.

Over 137 individuals access programs at the centre each week. Douglas attends the centre three days a week.

He is learning vocational and life skills and really enjoys the music therapy, his mother says. The Dunnes live in Renews.

Communities along the Southern Shore have always been supportive of Douglas's disability, Dunne says.

Douglas also attends the Brain Spa to help control his autism symptoms.

As well, Dunne says, her son's social worker, Mary Rossiter, is an excellent support for the family.

Autism Society of Newfoundland and Labrador executive director Trish Williams estimates that about 3,000 people in Newfoundland and Labrador live with autism, 700 of whom use the centre's services.

Williams says there is a waitlist of adults to access programs. Dunne knows first-hand what attending the centre can mean to an adult. It's been a haven for Douglas, she says; a place where he feels valued.

It frustrates her to know there are others adults who could benefit from the programs if more funding was available.

"I know how much Douglas likes this place and for people not to be able to get that chance, it's terrible," she says.

Dunne has known for many years that her son will never live independently. Both she and her husband worry about what will happen to Douglas when they grow old and can no longer care for him.

"Danielle would certainly look after him but that's not fair to her," Dunne says. "She has her own life to live."

Dunne's fondest wish is that the province would establish a residential facility for people living with autism.

"I'd love to see Douglas learn to be more independent and to be out into the community more. But my biggest hope for him in future is that he be contended and happy," she says.

danette@nl.rogers.com




Events

October is Autism Awareness Month
The Autism Society's Ladies of Country Music takes place at the Arts and Culture Centre on Saturday, Oct. 11. Pete Soucy, better known as Snook, will host the event which will see some of the province's most gifted female singers take to the stage. Concert tickets can be purchased by calling the Arts and Culture Centre box office at 739-3900.
The Autism Society's Active for Autism Walk takes place on Sunday, Oct. 26. Pledge forms are available by visiting www.autism.nf.net or by calling 722-2803. Last year's walk drew more than 300 people and raised more than $37,000.

Organizations: Elaine Dobbin Centre for Autism, Nintendo, Autism Society Society of Newfoundland and Labrador

Geographic location: St. John's, Renews, Southern Shore Newfoundland and Labrador Country Music

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Recent comments

  • Geoffrey
    July 02, 2010 - 13:30

    I am so pleased to see this story. It warms my heart to see so much time and effort being put in by the community, families, friends and other for people living with Autism. Over the past years there has been much awareness and understanding. Lets not stop here and thankfully because of people like Doug and Clara and the Center for Autism this condition will hopefully be fully understood someday. Love you all and good luck.

    Geoffrey

  • Bernadette
    July 02, 2010 - 13:21

    Congratulations Douglas on all your achievments ! You are an inspiration for others and grown to be a fine young man.
    I know your family has been a wonderful support for you over the years, and continue to be.
    The article in The Telegram mentions that you have had to conquer many stumbling blocks. I know that you must be quite a dude to have done so well because I know that Autism throws so many blocks at those that suffer from ASD.
    You and your family have so much to be proud of for your accomplishments because of all the hard work ,strength, and love that has surrounded you.
    Although you may not say verbally how you feel I know that your mom ,dad,and sister are shown in many ways how much you love and appreciate them.
    I know what you go through and I know you will continue to do well !
    Your Cousin,
    Bernadette

  • jim
    July 02, 2010 - 13:19

    Yes a nice story indeed that leaves the families of these individuals living with ASD with a lifetime of worry. Worry about what will happen to these people when the family is either no longer able to physically provide the care or mom and dad ultimately pass on. The Autism Centre is a wonderful start however it boggles me how such a facility needs to spend countless hours fundraising to ensure that it remains open and can continue to provide the services required. Why is funding and a waiting list for such important intervention and treatment an issue? I do not agree with a residential facility however. We tried this with the Waterford and Exon House where the expertise may have been there but the shear numbers of individuals in care only permitted the staff to take care of the individuals basic needs. Individuals such as in this story should avail of the Autism Centre as a part of many outreach programs withen the community geared towards education, pre-vocational and social connections and residential housing of a long term nature where the support staff are trained in ASD and are fairly compensated for their employment.

  • Diane
    July 02, 2010 - 13:14

    Clara,
    Douglas has grown to be a remarkable, loving young man due to the ongoing love and support that he receives from you, Doug, Danielle and family.
    It is great that he enjoys going to the centre whether it be to learn or to interact with other people,it is obvious that it is an enviroment that he is comfortable in and has a feeling of belonging, isn't that what we all want out of life, to feel a sense of independence and to feel accepted.
    I was wondering how many of our politicians have visited the centre on their campaign trail, maybe it is time they got off the beaten path and met with some of these men and women at the centre, who knows they may learn something, or is it the old saying if there is nothing in it for me (votes) why waste my time. If this is the case hang your heads in shame.
    Clara, i hope the centre does well with the upcoming fundraisers.
    love your sis
    Diane

  • NewfieLady
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    This story is very touching as I myself have a cousin with Autism.
    I think it would be great if the province established a living facility for the people here with Autism. I have never thought about what would happen to my cousin after my aunt could no longer care for her, and now it worries me.
    It also worries me how under educated people of this province are towards knowing about Autism. These children,teens, adults and seniors are people too, they have feelings & yes, they do understand us, just in a much different way. I have learned so many things from my cousin. I look at life from a different perspective now on how we take so many things for granted.
    Hope to see many people at this year's walk !

  • Geoffrey
    July 01, 2010 - 20:17

    I am so pleased to see this story. It warms my heart to see so much time and effort being put in by the community, families, friends and other for people living with Autism. Over the past years there has been much awareness and understanding. Lets not stop here and thankfully because of people like Doug and Clara and the Center for Autism this condition will hopefully be fully understood someday. Love you all and good luck.

    Geoffrey

  • Bernadette
    July 01, 2010 - 20:05

    Congratulations Douglas on all your achievments ! You are an inspiration for others and grown to be a fine young man.
    I know your family has been a wonderful support for you over the years, and continue to be.
    The article in The Telegram mentions that you have had to conquer many stumbling blocks. I know that you must be quite a dude to have done so well because I know that Autism throws so many blocks at those that suffer from ASD.
    You and your family have so much to be proud of for your accomplishments because of all the hard work ,strength, and love that has surrounded you.
    Although you may not say verbally how you feel I know that your mom ,dad,and sister are shown in many ways how much you love and appreciate them.
    I know what you go through and I know you will continue to do well !
    Your Cousin,
    Bernadette

  • jim
    July 01, 2010 - 20:02

    Yes a nice story indeed that leaves the families of these individuals living with ASD with a lifetime of worry. Worry about what will happen to these people when the family is either no longer able to physically provide the care or mom and dad ultimately pass on. The Autism Centre is a wonderful start however it boggles me how such a facility needs to spend countless hours fundraising to ensure that it remains open and can continue to provide the services required. Why is funding and a waiting list for such important intervention and treatment an issue? I do not agree with a residential facility however. We tried this with the Waterford and Exon House where the expertise may have been there but the shear numbers of individuals in care only permitted the staff to take care of the individuals basic needs. Individuals such as in this story should avail of the Autism Centre as a part of many outreach programs withen the community geared towards education, pre-vocational and social connections and residential housing of a long term nature where the support staff are trained in ASD and are fairly compensated for their employment.

  • Diane
    July 01, 2010 - 19:54

    Clara,
    Douglas has grown to be a remarkable, loving young man due to the ongoing love and support that he receives from you, Doug, Danielle and family.
    It is great that he enjoys going to the centre whether it be to learn or to interact with other people,it is obvious that it is an enviroment that he is comfortable in and has a feeling of belonging, isn't that what we all want out of life, to feel a sense of independence and to feel accepted.
    I was wondering how many of our politicians have visited the centre on their campaign trail, maybe it is time they got off the beaten path and met with some of these men and women at the centre, who knows they may learn something, or is it the old saying if there is nothing in it for me (votes) why waste my time. If this is the case hang your heads in shame.
    Clara, i hope the centre does well with the upcoming fundraisers.
    love your sis
    Diane

  • NewfieLady
    July 01, 2010 - 19:45

    This story is very touching as I myself have a cousin with Autism.
    I think it would be great if the province established a living facility for the people here with Autism. I have never thought about what would happen to my cousin after my aunt could no longer care for her, and now it worries me.
    It also worries me how under educated people of this province are towards knowing about Autism. These children,teens, adults and seniors are people too, they have feelings & yes, they do understand us, just in a much different way. I have learned so many things from my cousin. I look at life from a different perspective now on how we take so many things for granted.
    Hope to see many people at this year's walk !