Stephen Vance, Staff
Meaford resident Kay O’Neil has written a book that tells the story of a special piece of local history, and she will be hosting a special book launch event being held in Clarksburg on May 7.
In The Birth of Kerry’s Place, O’Neil provides an intimate glimpse into the beginnings of what would become Canada’s largest providers of services and support to people with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Named after O’Neil’s sister, Kerry’s Place was born in the early 1970s in Clarksburg, when the community, in partnership with the Ministry of Health, “rallied in support of the O’Neil family when they courageously opened their door to a handful of teenagers living within the spectrum of Autism.” The original vision was to bring about change in the way people with Autism were supported in the community, and the result was a “powerful movement that became the catalyst for change in how we understand and support individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder.”
“The whole story was never put together in the form of a book and much of the history would soon be lost as some of the founding members have now passed away and their stories went with them,” O’Neil told The Independent. “This is a true, human interest story that may inspire others who feel strongly about an issue to realize that by working hard and by taking the right steps change may be made.”
As a result of the movement, the Ontario Society for Autistic Children was formed out of concern that the needs of young people with autism who were approaching adolescence and adulthood were not being met in the educational or residential systems established for the mentally handicapped.
O’Neil says that Kerry’s Place was incorporated in 1984 as a non-profit organization. Three decades later the organization has grown to the point that it serves not just the immediate area, but also the regions of Peel and Halton, Dufferin, Durham, York-Simcoe, Toronto, and Hastings.
O’Neil said that more than 6,000 individuals and their families have been supported through Kerry’s Place. It has grown to become Canada’s largest ASD support and services provider to individuals of all ages with ASD and their families.
“Kerry’s Place made a huge positive impact on society in general. It has and continues to improve the lives of many families in Ontario,” said O’Neil, who said that she wrote the book “to record the history of Kerry’s Place, to honour the founding members, to recognize the importance of the original staff and the role that the community members played in the early years of the development of Kerry’s Place.”
Copies of the book can be obtained from O’Neil at an Open House and book signing event to be held at the original Kerry’s Place, located at 788277 Grey Rd 13, south of Clarksburg on Saturday, May 7 from noon-6pm, or by emailing the author at koneil2010 @hotmail.com.