Retired educator receives Order of B.C. for work on autism

Chris Rose had a nice surprise waiting at home following a trip to the Sunshine Coast. The retired educator who pioneered the work for autism in Kamloops was one of 15 individuals chosen to receive the prestigious Order of B.C.

“I came back from having had a very nice time to receive that information which was, as you can imagine, extremely exciting,” said Rose.

“There isn’t a man who deserves it more,” said Wanda Carisse, Chris Rose Therapy Centre for Autism’s executive director. “He has a heart like you wouldn’t believe.” Carisse, who described Rose as her mentor, credits him for saving the autism centre. Formerly known as the Giant Steps West, it was slated to close permanently in 1996 due to lack of funding.

“Everything was in boxes and packed away. All the staff had been laid off,” said Wanda Carisse, the Centre’s executive director.
“If it wasn’t for Chris Rose, the centre wouldn’t have been rebuilt,” said Carisse. “The doors were closed, it was packed up, the centre was done. He saw value in the centre.”

Now, the Chris Rose Therapy Centre for Autism has grown into one of the best programs for autistic children in the province, imparting skills to autistic children to improve their quality of life. Rose served as the centre’s past executive director, founded and chairs the centre’s foundation and serves as a board member of the society that runs the centre. He’s also the chair of the annual International Conference on Autism.

Autism is a neuro-developmental disorder that affects communication and social interaction and is characterized by repetitive behaviour.

Meeting a boy with a speech disorder started Rose’s journey into helping handicapped children.

“That absolutely fascinated me,” said Rose leading him to train as a teacher of the deaf and work in a rehab centre for deaf children early in his career.

Since moving to Canada from England, he continued working with deaf children at the Jericho Hill School for the Deaf in Vancouver and mentally challenged students in Kamloops. He was also a member of the Mayor’s Task Force for People with Disabilities and helped create a curriculum for special needs children under UNESCO that was later translated into 28 languages.

Rose’s many awards include a Rotary International Scholarship for Teachers of Handicapped Children and a Doctors of Letters from Thompson Rivers University.

Although awareness on autism has increased, Rose said families dealing with autism still have several pressing needs. One is the lack of special curriculum for secondary and postsecondary students and few employment opportunities. Rose said lack of funding closed down workshops that successfully addressed these issues in the past.

Respite for parents is another huge concern. “Many parents don’t have an opportunity to get away from their kids for a weekend or for a few weeks of respite and I think that’s something that we really need to work on,” said Rose, adding that many of these marriages end in divorce.

Still, Rose is happy with the progress made over the years.

“I’ve been blessed with an opportunity to initiate,” he said. “When I first started here in B.C. in the early ‘60s, anyone who had any significant condition was institutionalized or kept out of the public school system,” said Rose. “Today, they’re part and parcel of the school system. Kids grow up knowing about some severely handicapped children and recognizing their worth.”

“I feel that I’ve had a part to play in that.”

Rose will be honoured at the Government House in Victoria on Oct. 21.

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