‘Everyone is gifted’: Mandarin-based facility in Markham empowers children with developmental disabilities

·4 min read

Dianna Jiang is the mother of a child with autism and the founder of Gifted People Services (GPS), which is Canada's first and currently only Mandarin-based agency with a main campus located in Markham, offering a full range of services to families with children with developmental disabilities.

Years ago, when her daughter Sophia Qian was diagnosed with severe autism and global development delay, Jiang didn't know what to do.

“I thought if I tried hard enough to give my daughter more love and 24-hour help and care, she might recover,” she said.

Jiang accumulated a lot of experience, with many detours along the way, over the years of her daughter's treatments.

In 2012, Jiang registered a non-profit organization with the intention of sharing her own experiences and helping children with autism and their parents, but the number of families signing up exceeded her imagination.

"I originally wanted to set up a support group for parents to get together and share their frustrations, but in just five months, more than 40 parents approached me with questions about where to go for treatment and how to apply for government funding."

Seeing so many Chinese parents looking for assistance has strengthened Jiang's resolve to do everything she can to help these parents get the maximum return with the least cost.

Sophia's developmental milestones didn't take a linear path; it took her one year to spoon-feed herself, two years to be toilet trained, and 10 years to say "Mama." Jiang is well aware of the emotional and financial pressures parents of children with autism experience. Therefore, GPS provides parents not only with stress reduction classes, but also training courses.

"Parent applied behaviour analysis (ABA) training sessions, for example — ABA is a therapy that based on the idea that reinforcing certain behaviours will lead kids to repeat those behaviours, which is fundamental and essential for a child with autism," she explains.

If caregivers can study ABA terminology for practical applications and be able to support learning and skill practice at home, Jiang continues, they won’t have to send their kids to a specific institution and pay by the hour, which can be very costly, especially for people with more limited means or income.

Jessica Wang's son has been enrolled with GPS for three years. She is very grateful to the staff for assisting her with applying for all the government grants. "Plus, their WeChat group shares a lot of useful information about autism and provides a platform for parents to communicate with each other," Wang said. The most important thing is that her son's behaviour and expression skills have improved a lot, she continued, and that GPS's teachers are continually communicating with her son's public school teachers to provide joint help.

GPS has helped more than 800 children with developmental disabilities, 90 per cent of whom come from Chinese families, since its establishment. Jiang believes that these children are all talented and highly capable, although they might behave differently with other children.

“We are committed to providing programs and services to more families with special needs for a better life by providing free consultation for parents, free assessment for child before therapy sessions, right guidance, reducing the stress from the diagnosis,” she added.

There are workshops to help Chinese-speaking parents overcome language barriers and apply for government benefits, as well as music social programs, adapted yoga classes and happy cooking classes, all of which are very popular.

In honour of International Autism Month, GPS in partnership with the Sophia Care Foundation, is launching Sophia's Fund in April. Each eligible family will have the opportunity to receive $300 in financial assistance for their child's needs. This funding is open to 100 families from until April 30.

In addition to providing regular Sophia grants, the foundation also has a program that provides free pianos for children with developmental disabilities. If your child is interested in music and has been diagnosed with a developmental disability, you can contact Gifted People Services.

For more information, please visit giftedpeople.ca/funding/sophiafund.

Scarlett Liu, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Economist & Sun

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