Ability Online – safe online community for children and young adults with autism

logoAbility Online – is a free, safe and fully monitored online community for children and young adults living with disability or long-term illness. They offer a variety of supports for parents, children, young people and educators.

The Mission statement taken from the website is:

‘To be a leading and trusted provider of networking opportunities and resources to ensure that children and youth with disabilities or chronic illnesses, parents and professionals, have a safe, nurturing and supportive online connection to the world around them in order to promote independence and an enhanced quality of life for our members.’

We wanted to learn more about this resource and how it can hep the autism community as well as children and young people on the spectrum, and so we contacted Michelle McClure who is the Executive Director of Ability Online, She created Ability Online together with Dr. Arlette Lefebvre and Brian Hillis.

Below is our interview with Michelle McClure.

MichelleWhen was Ability Online set up and what were the reasons behind doing so?

Doctor Froggie” is the nickname that young patients gave to Dr. Arlette Lefebvre, a visionary child psychiatrist at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, who founded Ability Online back in 1990. She saw the social isolation that her young patients faced as a result of chronic hospitalization and physical limitations, and she dreamed a dream of a different environment where they could just be themselves.

In her dream, she saw the potential of the Internet – just then emerging – as a force for good in the lives of those with disabilities. Dr. Froggie recognized that, truly, in the online world there are no disabilities. Everyone is equal. When you’re sitting at your computer, it’s a level playing field with anyone else sitting at theirs… and that can be a boost to one’s confidence.

What started as a primitive bulletin board system in the early days of the Web, is now a robust online community that reaches out to many thousands of young people with disabilities and illnesses. After more than 20 years, it has a proven record, and a treasure chest of stories about helping its members develop the communication skills and confidence they seek to manage all areas of their lives and integrate fully into their communities.

How did you become involved? Do you have personal experience of disability?

I became involved “day 2” when it was still a pilot project known as Midnite Express and I was working as a Recreation Therapist at what is now known as Holland Bloorview Children’s Rehabilitation Hospital. I began using Ability Online as a coping tool for the teens with head injuries that were part of my caseload. It was evident right from the beginning that the program had an impact on it’s members (increased confidence and self-esteem; a sense of belonging).

I myself have had 25 leg operations including both knees being replaced and a triple fusion of my left foot. All from a cast put on wrong after I broke my leg as a child. So I get what it is like to live with pain, to have numerous hospitalizations for surgery, and hours of rehab. My daughter also has Type 1 diabetes.

Can you tell me a little about the online community and how children and young people with autism can access it?

The current version of the site allows us to keeps kids and adults separate for more age appropriate interactions. We have a section for “Kids & Teens”, “Young Adults” , “Parents” and Professionals including health care and education. All sections have their own unique forums on a wide variety of topic areas for members to be able to connect with one another for friendship, support and/or information.

In the youth sections we have additional modules for skill development including Friendship
Builder, Transitions Plus, Bully Bouncers and Healthy Minds.

Each individual sets up their own unique account. It is free, but it will be reviewed before full access is granted to make sure we are letting in the right people for the right reasons. Our safety and security practices have kept us incident free for 25 years. We have zero tolerance for bullying, and such action will result in the termination of one’s membership.

Members simply go to www.abilityonline.org, click on Register, fill out the form using their real first and last name. They will be contacted shortly thereafter and then their account will be activated. All information is for security purposes and is kept completely confidential.

Can parents of autistic children join the online community too?

Continue here.