Canucks Autism Network

It was recently our pleasure to speak with Jodi Simkin, Executive Director of the Canucks Autism Network (CAN).  Canucks Autism Network’s mission is to provide year round, innovative, high quality sports, recreational, social and vocational programs for individuals and families living with autism, and to build awareness and capacity through community networks across British Columbia.  Jodi took on her job in 2008.

But what a track record!  In just 2 years, CAN has grown from a relatively small, locally-focused charity, primarily backed with Canucks resources, to a major force in the autism community in western Canada.  Since 2008, Jodi has overseen the planning and implementation of a variety of grassroots-driven programs and services that now span the entire province.  Exciting examples include Understanding Minds, a high school social network program, and Soup from the Soul, a pre-vocational/vocational training program for young adults.  Congratulations Jodi and everyone involved in the Canucks Autism Network.  We hope to find ways to collaborate with you.  For more information, visit:

Join Kelly Lebrock, the Woman In Red, Honorary Host, Autism Vancouver

Karen Simmons and her daughter Kimberly (pictured here) met Kelly Lebrock at a hyperbaric conference.  She’s been an inspiration ever since, and we are thrilled she has accepted our invitation to serve as honorary host at our 3rd Annual Autism Today Biomedical and Behavioral Congress in Vancouver, a.k.a., Autism Vancouver.  Kelly lost her brother, Harold, in 2008, and the experience spurred her to dedicate her time to improving the lives of the terminally ill. She is currently the celebrity spokesperson for “Club Carson”, whose members are children suffering from cancer. In the late 1980s, LeBrock was one of the first private U.S. citizens to own her own hyperbaric chamber, and eventually started her own brand of homeopathic remedies. LeBrock testified to Congress in 1995 to the House Enquiry on Insurance and Medicare Access for alternative treatments. She is on various scientific advisory boards and regularly lectures on this subject.

LeBrock began her career as a model at the age of sixteen. She went on to appear on magazine covers and in fashion spreads, including an exclusive Christian Dior campaign, and became one of Eileen Ford’s most sought-after models. She also gained notoriety as the Pantene shampoo commercial spokeswoman whose line “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful” became a pop-culture catchphrase.  Later, LeBrock was cast as the “perfect” or “fantasy” woman in several 1980s comedies, perhaps most notably The Woman in Red (1984).  Our conference is a tribute to all “women in red,” the mothers of children born on the spectrum, whose passion and devotion helps these children live full and productive lives.

Join Kelly Lebrock at the 3rd Autism Biennial Congress 2011


Doreen Granpeesheh, PhD, BCBA – Founder and Executive Director for C.A.R.D.

Dr. Granpeesheh is a must see! She will be speaking at the 3rd Autism Vancouver Biennial Congress 2011, in Vancouver, BC April 8 – 9, 2011.

Doreen Granpeesheh, PhD, BCBA is the Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Autism and Related Disorders, Inc. (CARD) and President of the Board of Autism Care and Treatment Today (ACT Today!). Dr. Granpeesheh received her Ph.D. in Psychology from UCLA and is licensed by the Medical Board of California, the Texas State Board of Psychologists and the Arizona State Board of Psychologist Examiners.
Dr. Granpeesheh holds a Certificate of Professional Qualification in Psychology from the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards, is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and has been providing behavioral therapy since 1979. In 1990, Dr. Granpeesheh founded the Center for Autism and Related Disorders, Inc. (CARD) and through its 20 offices world wide, she has provided diagnosis, assessment and behavioral treatment for thousands of children with autism and related disorders.
In 2005, Dr. Granpeesheh founded ACT Today!, a non-profit organization that provides support and funding to families of children with Autism. In addition, Dr. Granpeesheh is also a principle member of the Thoughtful House Center for Children, a charity organization that provides behavioral services in collaboration with medical treatment and research.
Dr. Granpeesheh is member of the Defeat Autism Now Executive Council, on the Scientific Advisory Board of the US Autism and Asperger’s Association and First Vice Chair of the National Board of Directors of the Autism Society of America. Dr. Granpeesheh is also the executive director and co-producer of the award-winning documentary, RECOVERED: Journeys Through the Autism Spectrum and Back.

Register today! Don’t miss Dr. Doreen Granpeesheh, along with over 18 more autism experts at the Autism Vancouver Biennial Congress 2011,

Presence: The Best Holiday Present!

I don’t know if you’re like me but the magic of the holiday season seemed to pulling a “disappearing act “ lately.  This year I haven’t been feeling the spirit.

It’s a combination of things.  I lost my mother Mitzi in August; and my beloved step-dad, Bunny, last year.  It also has something to do with the kids.  I have six beautiful kids and am so proud of them.  But they are all busily growing up, several of them now launched into their adult lives.  It’s a bittersweet feeling to watch them take flight – joyously strong, but – sadly for me – quite able to do without me.

Christmas intensifies both the joy of love and family, and the wrench of separation.  Miraculous and terrible things happen during this season.  Famously, suicide rates spike during the holidays.  But between these extremes, I wonder if the process of the holiday – the planes, trains and automobiles, the shopping, the petty fears and anxieties we feel about seeing relatives, friends and loved ones with whom we have unresolved issues – actually disrupts their fundamental power to redeem and refresh us.

Sometimes, the holiday routine just takes over, like an unwelcome guest in our home, disrupting the family bond with those we love.

I’m not the only one at my home feeling this way.  Getting ready for the holidays, one of my kids told me NOT to buy her a present this year.  She said gifts don’t mean anything to her.  I nearly burst into tears!  How could they not want a Christmas gift from their mom?  Then one of the younger boys perfunctorily gave me a list, as if I were running out to go grocery shopping.  Ironically, at first, my boy’s brazenly materialistic attitude – pretty normal for a boy in his early teens – reassured me.  “At least one of the kids still needs me!” a little voice said.

Upon reflection, my thoughts and heart settled on one idea.  Each of us, if we are lucky, struggles at holiday time between presents and “presence.”  Especially if you are in North America, we sometimes get lost in our weird obsession with material expressions of love, and the increasingly more elusive prize of being “present” – mindfully, compassionately, and spiritually giving of ourselves to others, whether they be loved ones or complete strangers.

My conclusion: Whatever object we give each other during the holidays, it will fail as a present if given without our presence.  Indeed, the most miraculous thing of all that I see is the love that sometimes flows between utter solitudes – people who have no other reason to give to each other but the impulse of goodwill that flows at holiday time.

Imagine if we were better able, throughout the year, to give our hearts to each other, with no expectation of return.  Able to give our most jealously guarded interior gift – the gift of being present to, mindful of and lovingly disposed towards others.

I am not advocating we abandon holiday gift-giving outright.  Indeed, taking a moment to reflect on the occasional contest of material vs. intangible giving, made the gift hunt much more fun.  Who cares what I buy the kids?  It makes me feel good to buy them stuff; and if they are in the spirit, even a lousy gift is fun to receive.  So today, I joined countless of other souls at the mall and put my heart and soul into getting things I thought my family would enjoy!  I hope if your experiencing anything similar you reach into your own heart and capture the magic of gift giving.  It’s a wonderful magic to find it again.

In this spirit, I realized this week I have a gift for all of you, who have enriched my life more than I can say.  As many of you know,  winter holiday and other parties are a very challenging for people on the autism spectrum, especially little ones.  Several years ago, I wrote, How to Plan the Perfect Party, a little book for my little boy and his friends, and their families, so people would understand how to include him in the fun.  I hope you will enjoy this book and put it to use to help your child or friend with autism to fully participate in holiday festivities.  I hope it will help you create wonderful, unforgettable memories.

Much love and joy and MAGIC for the holiday season.


Karen Simmons

Founder & CEO Autism Today

Chicken Soup for the Soul, Children with Special Needs

Lost My Best Cheerleader!

You may be aware that I’ve been distracted and less responsive this fall and especially since Christmas is around the corner I want to tell you why.  It’s because I lost the best cheerleader I`ve ever had in my entire life, my mom!

I found out about my mom’s passing at the exact moment that the movie “Temple Grandin, based on the life of Dr. Temple Grandin received the Emmys for the acting of Claire Dane and others and Temple grabbed the microphone on stage to ask her lovely mother, Eustacia, to stand up and be recognized.

My sister Susan was the one who called me to tell me that my mother had suddenly passed away from a stroke and I do believe I was in shock!  At that moment I realized that I will never have my moment of asking my mom to stand up and be recognized like Temple did, so maybe we can all ask Eustacia to be `the mom“ that stands up for the other moms that can’t be there.

The phone which was glued to my head went completely dead during this time of the Emmy’s and I completely forgot it was there as I was numb from the news.  It was almost like Mom was saying from Heaven, I want you to enjoy your friend, Temple Grandin`s fine moment in the spotlight as she hugged Claire Danes! Hugs are unusual for Temple. I also reflected that as an individual, the reason I do what I do is due to moms passion.

Mom would always tell me “Karen, you can do whatever you want to do as long as you set your mind to it”. It’s because of her that I pursue my work with relentless persistence never giving up no matter what gets in the way.  It was also very coincidental that this Emmy celebration was all about `What did your mother want you to be when you grew up’.  They would ask the stars that question and show the stories in little vignettes.

I still can`t believe she`s gone.  Mom was in everything that I do, she even drew some of the pictures in my first book, Little Rainman: Autism Through The Eyes of a Child.  She was truly my biggest cheerleader and fan and I feel her presence still there shining down from above as I write this blog.  To get a sense of my mom (and maybe even yours) I will share the poem I wrote for her…


She never knew a stranger, she always knew a friend

Her heart of gold she shared with you and presents she would send!

Every moment a story shared with love and passion true

By my side when I almost died, only to start my life anew

When mother said “now girls”, we knew we were in trouble

She’d holler out, “you kids clean up right now and on the double!”

She traveled the world from Hong Kong to Beirut, and with Bunny painted the town red

Operas, musicals, shopping, fancy clothes, always tasteful in what she did and said!

When she tried something really good, it was simply “the best she’d ever tasted”

And boy was she frugal you could always count on her for not a penny wasted!

An artist to her core, she’d say “oh, look at the trees and flowers”

She’d talk about her times and memories and we’d listen for many hours

She never knew a stranger, she always knew a friend

Her water colors are still filled with every color in the wind

Everything always had a place she’d say Karen “put it back where you found it”

Of course as kids when she said clean up, we’d say when we get around to it

She had a saying for everything like “I feel more like I do than I did”

If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all,   I hear her recite now in my head!

She always had her “face on” and was impeccably dressed

Perfection was her middle name and she always looked her best.

She was lovingness, please and thank you’s and her home was someplace special

Like a dream-world keeping things clean, “don’t put it down, put it up” all very beneficial

Somehow I never thought she’d leave us, and we’ll cherish her forever

She taught us all how to love and feel and was a mother like no other

Remembering her with wonderment like a connoisseur of dark chocolate

A real lady with all the class in the world, she’d want to be remembered like that!

She never knew a stranger, she always knew a friend

Her memory will live on in our souls, and over time our hearts will mend

Your essence will live on in our being and you will leave us…… never

We will all remember you Mitzi, love and butterfly kisses….. forever!

Before all this happened I had asked our Autism Today friends to submit articles to share with our readers.  We received an overwhelming amount of articles.  Then I had to fly to Alabama to tend to my mother’s affairs.  I don’t want anyone to think I dropped the ball or forgot about them as we still have all the articles ready to post to my site waiting on my computer and they are deeply appreciated so I want to thank each and every one of you that sent me articles for sending them.  Because of all that’s happened, we’ve decided to put them into the new website we are launching in November – December this year.  If you were one of the folks that submitted an article please watch for it on the new “launch” of Autism Today

Since I know so many of us are baby boomers and you may have lost someone very special in your heart recently as well.  To you I send my condolences.  Moms are everything, aren’t they?  They nurture us when we are sick, they love us and care for us unconditionally.  Temple’s birthday was on August 29th and my mother passed away on that very same day.   I will continue to do whatever it takes to bring her loving passion through me to the cause of autism related disorders.

Much love and warm wishes!  Have a happy holiday season.  Your loved ones would want it to be that way.


Karen Simmons

Great Minds, Universities, and Asperger’s

I  made many new friends recently at the November conference in Calgary. One, in particular inspired me to write this blog. Her remarkable brilliance shone like a beacon! Even as busy as it was, her drive to approach me was centered around her desire to see how she could help the cause of autism and advocate for others like herself. This was very unusual indeed, I thought, for a person with Asperger’s – to reach out and extend her own advocacy. It is usually the other way around. As many of us know, tenacity is quite a prominent trait for people with Asperger’s. Once they get an idea, they stay on it come rain, shine, hale, sleet, snow and even adversity – sometimes even at the expense of not being ‘cool’, like so many ‘normies’. As a result, not only do they accomplish their goal, but they also master it with excellence!

There she stood, patiently waiting until there was a spot to slip in and ask me how she could help out in her home town 7 hours away.

Her coy, shy demeanor was a giveaway. Knowing instantly that she was a person with Asperger’s, I was beyond elated to connect with her and talk about ideas. Through the course of the two days, I learned so much about her. Her passion for animals took her on a path to seek a career as a veterinarian.

So, there are her qualities – tenacity, brilliance, and mastery. Combine those with her ‘skill set’, compassion for animals, patience, love, empathy, math, intelligence and desire to accomplish something.

But even with the right recipe, many brilliant people get overlooked, out-numbered, neglected, rejected, or even ejected!
After 3 years actively into a university veterinary program, she was told to leave because the headmaster felt she wasn’t “normal enough” to be there. When she was told she wasn’t going to back out, she was forced out of the program.
Since then, she has started her University studies, aspiring for a science degree in immunology and microbiology. At this time, she is not certain she will pursue a career in veterinary medicine, but leaves the option open.

Devastation is not an option, even for this young lady. Her mother was quite disappointed about her not being accepted to the university, but has remained extremely supportive of her daughter and what she always chose to do. ‘Mom’ is always there to bat when she needs her, even through tough times. She admires her mother on several levels, and has a strong family support system in place as well. Without the love and support of her parents and brother, she would not be where she is today.

She is out there in full swing now, sharing her passions for those like her on a mission for advocacy to make changes. This type of rejection happens all too many times for this modern day and age. It’s time to turn the tables. I’m sure Dr. Temple Grandin would agree with her.

I hope and pray that some day, the colleges and universities will not only accept students with Asperger’s, but actually seek them out! I think you, the reader, might also agree. It’s time to turn off the walls and open the doors, folks! Let’s help the universities and workplaces realize what a wealth of minds they have right at their fingertips!

Autism Today; Calgary friends in the News – Dr. Stephen Shore on PBS science series, NOVA

Watch the full episode. See more NOVA scienceNOW.

Autism Today is many things to many people, but above all it is a community, characterized by a high degree of interaction, accessibility and love, shared by every one of us with one another.  Over more than a decade, we have been blessed by the friendship, support and participation of some of the top experts, leaders and innovators in the autism community.  We make every effort to create grassroots-level opportunities for children and parents to interact with them.

Dr. Stephen Shore is a dear friend to us and a continuing source of inspiration.  A person with autism, Stephen’s own life story began, as have so many, with a diagnosis and a professional recommendation that he be institutionalized.

Today, he bridges the knowledge gap between neurotypicals and their children, students, relatives or employees.  This week, as he so often does, Stephen’s story captured the attention of the producers of the PBS series NOVA, in connection with their feature about magic acts, and how they offer an interesting technique for teaching children on the autism spectrum about social cues and communication.  Here’s the link: xxx.  Enjoy!

Attending an Autism Conference – Going the Extra Mile

Sometimes going the extra mile, no pun intended, brings so much enrichment to so many. Those of you that were at the Keys to the Treasure Chest autism conference in Calgary last month know just what I’m talking about. Those of you that traveled “Over the River and Through the Woods…”  kudos!

There was a certain quality in the room, with the collaborative energy of the people and the speakers. It was like a web work of neurons, just sparking off each other! The knowledge shared by the speakers was very powerful , and many of you raised such inspirational questions. I met so many of you in person, and wish there had been more time to talk to each and every one of you more extensively those two days.

My heart is truly with you, as I have been where you are right now. My book “Little Rain Man” was the beginning of my journey for help with my son Johnny. I cannot overemphasize the importance of intervention – early intervention, if possible. It was truly a magnificent experience and I always love the conferences and personal contact!

An autism conference is for you and really about YOU! – we could have the greatest speakers in the world – (and I believe we do have the greatest speakers) – but there would be no conference without you. I know you were all there because you believe in yourselves and you believe in your child! So, kudos to you and your family for their support –  for going the extra mile to be at the conference.”

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