Helping autism live in Winnipeg

Rhetoric grad helping autistic children through new business

Kristian Hooker knows first-hand how difficult it can be for people with autism to negotiate social situations. The University of Winnipeg (U of W) alumnus is on the autism spectrum himself.

In 2013, Hooker began Help Autism Live Everywhere (HALE) - a business providing skill-building sessions to children on the autism spectrum and addresses issues such as social interaction and team building. HALE was started in Selkirk, Hooker’s home town, and expanded into Winnipeg last month. 

“So far, we’re getting a lot of interested people,” Hooker says.

Because Hooker has autism, he says he is able to relate to and understand the children he works with, and then design sessions accordingly. 

“We deal with a lot of issues that someone on the autism spectrum may not comprehend as easily as others, like conversation cues, personal space awareness, dealing with bullying and confidence-building,” Hooker says. 

“I started the actual running of social skills groups in the middle of my university … and then two years after that we decided to make a business out of what we do because we
were expanding.” 

Hooker also says his background at the UW has been a major component of the work he’s done at HALE. 

“I was a major in Rhetoric and Communications, and that was a course all about how society and community makes meaning out of symbols and everyday communication,” Hooker says, “and I think that really helps me.

“If a young child is bombarded by so many messages at once, they might get flustered … rhetoric has helped me make meaning of all the messages out there, which has helped me relate to the kids,” Hooker says.  

Besides social skills groups, HALE also offers Lego sessions, which provide an interactive way for children to practice team work, turn-taking and communication indirectly. And of course, it’s also fun.

“It builds bonds and friendships with these kids,” Hooker says.

Children who attend sessions range in age from 5 to 16, and Hooker, along with his mother Lynn, hope to begin sessions for adults on the spectrum in the near future. 

Lynn Hooker says adult sessions will be aimed at learning “unwritten social rules” that can be hard to decipher for those on the spectrum.

“The needs are going to be different [for adults] - however young people have hobbies, so this would be a way to interact with the individuals. It may not just be Lego, we’ve talked about technology … stop motion movies, something that’s more sophisticated,” she says. 

Mother and son agree the biggest challenge for them has been networking and establishing a name in Winnipeg. They encourage those who know children on the spectrum to bring them to a session. 

Check out HALE on its Facebook page - facebook.com/groups/hale.autism/ - for more info. Costs vary per class.

Published in Volume 69, Number 6 of The Uniter (October 8, 2014)

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