Island group helps give Aundeck Omni Kaning boy a dream gift

Kaiden was beside himself with excitement as Valerie McIntyre offloaded his brand new wagon from her trailer. The five-year-old, who is on the autism spectrum, loves wagons and immediately began pulling it around under the watch of his father Oliver, standing behind, and little brother Roane, right. photo by Warren Schlote

AUNDECK OMNI KANING – An Aundeck Omni Kaning (AOK) boy is excited to be the proud owner of a shiny new wagon and a soon-to-come sandbox that entered his life through the kindness of a neighbour, the generosity of an online Island community and a nearby retailer who all helped to make a child’s dream come true.

“There’s nothing more beautiful than a smile on the face of an autistic child,” said Valerie McIntyre, the neighbour who organized the gifting of this wagon.

The lucky recipient was five-year-old Kaiden, who received an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis this past March near his birthday. His mother requested to not use the family’s last name.

Receiving an ASD diagnosis can be challenging for any family, even more so when it occurs during the global disruptions of a pandemic. There are several programs the family needs to access but all of those have been temporarily shut down.

“It wasn’t easy when Kaiden’s daycare closed. He has a hard time adjusting to new patterns, with the autism, and I think (the pandemic restrictions) are starting to get to him a little bit more. But I know he’ll love the wagon,” said mom Erin.

Hearing about the family’s experiences was moving for Ms. McIntyre, who lives just around the corner from Kaiden. Her son James, 21, is also on the autism spectrum and she has dedicated many years of her life advocating for families with children living with ASD.

As she has gotten to know the family better in the last couple of years, she has discovered Kaiden’s love for all things wagons (although he now dabbles in trains as well). Kaiden has often ventured over to her yard to play with the her son’s old wagons.

“It’s difficult enough when your child gets diagnosed with autism but then to have a screeching halt to his routine, the systems they have in place, I thought if I could do something, why not do something?” said Ms. McIntyre.

She put out a call on the online Resilient Manitoulin group asking if anyone might have an old wagon to donate. Although no such offers came forward, one person donated cash toward the purchase of a new wagon.

Ms. McIntyre contacted the RONA Little Current Building Centre to see what sort of wagon she could get within her budget. Instead, owner Aaron Farquhar offered to donate one.

“My heart went out for the kid,” said Mr. Farquhar. “It just seemed like a worthy cause and we were happy to support it.”

When the wagon rolled off Ms. McIntyre’s trailer into the family yard on a recent sunny afternoon, it was an instant hit. Kaiden dashed around the yard with wagon in tow, briefly hooking it up to his tricycle with the help of his dad Oliver.

“He just loves wagons. My grandma does a lot of gardening; when we lived with her two years ago Kaiden used to like to pull the wagon when she did her gardening,” said Erin.

The parents plan to use the wagon to help pull the kids when they go for walks. Having something to bring their children some extra joy is significant as they do not own a car and don’t have the same overflowing toy chests of some families.

Because of this, the family cannot easily drive to Sudbury to get support for Kaiden’s condition when those programs re-open. Oliver has to walk from AOK to Little Current every day for work at an aquaculture operation; he first met Ms. McIntyre when she saw him walking and offered him a ride. 

Despite some of the material challenges, the family is filled with joy—especially now that Kaiden has a perfect toy to enrich his life. He has also been taking good care of his little brother Roane and their yard is full with laughter.

The unused donated money has a new purpose. The family will soon be getting a sandbox and aggregate collection, just like Ms. McIntyre’s son once had when he operated ‘the quarry’ in his backyard.

“Kaiden’s just so happy,” said Erin.

Mom Erin and the rest of the family also received a care package from Copper Pot Oil Company. One of the items was an experimental new slime soap the company had created, something Ms. McIntyre said would be great for children on the autism spectrum like Kaiden who crave extra sensory stimulation.

“Each day we reflect on the things we are grateful for. When Valerie put a request to the Resilient Manitoulin community we knew we could contribute to this request,” said Copper Pot Oil Company owner Kerri Latimer, adding that the items would give the young boys some enjoyment and the gifts for Erin were a gesture of support in honour of Mother’s Day.