Feature Story

Creating a supportive school environment in Sun Peaks

Support group started for parents of neurodivergent children
 | March 30, 2022
The Sun Peaks School portables in the summer. Photo SPIN.

Many children have learning disabilities, but it can cause a lot of isolation. This makes it important for strong school supports to be in place and to have a safe space to talk, both of which parent Afifa Eidher said are available in Sun Peaks.

Eidher’s son, Zak, was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. After moving from Vancouver to Sun Peaks this past December, Eidher said she’s pleased with the strong communication she is getting at Sun Peaks School. 

In fact, shortly after Zak started attending school in Sun Peaks, Eidher was informed of behaviours shown by her son that she was previously unaware of.

“Because he’s autistic, you’re focused on one designation,” Eidher said. “But I started realizing that he may be exhibiting symptoms of ADHD … Without really good communication with schools and professionals who see him out of the home setting, [I wouldn’t] know what’s happening.”

Now with Zak being diagnosed with both autism and ADHD, Eidher said the school has a great team to help support her son and the teachers are well versed in behavioural styles. She added they could use more support workers, but that it’s a common issue across the province.

Jennifer Boyle, the school principal, said celebrating diversity and inclusion is a priority for Sun Peaks School. Currently they have a learning assistance resource teacher and special educator.

Despite supports, neurodivergent students often feel isolated because of how other children perceive them.

“It creates issues among the kids at school and it’s very easy to be excluded,” Eidher said. “It’s not their fault, so it’s really trying as a parent. It can be really tough to watch your kids struggle.”

In order to provide a safe space to talk, Eidher recently began a group for parents of neurodivergent children. She also said any person is welcome to join to gain a better understanding of what these children are experiencing.

“It can be very isolating when you’re a parent of a child with any complexities that require a certain accommodation, and so I wanted to start the group just because I think that self advocacy is huge,” Eidher said. “I feel like when it comes to mental health, everybody’s kind of living it a little bit on their own.”

Eidher said she wants the group to be a place of empowerment, because the children and parents have nothing to be ashamed of.

The group had its first meeting a few weeks ago. They had several parents attend, as well as a young adult who is diagnosed with autism themselves who wanted to be a part of a group of people who would understand thier experiences. 

Afterwards, even Zak had a child write him a note saying he also has ADHD. She said she hopes that when members continue to talk about it openly, developmental disorders will become more normalized. She said she believes if parents can educate the public, it will trickle down to their kids, who’ll learn to be more kind and supportive of others.

“It’s always good to get some support from home saying, ‘be patient, they’re going through something hard,’” Eidher said. “Maybe that will create more empathy and patience with [my son] and understanding that he’s trying really hard.”

Moving forward, Eidher suggests Sun Peaks would highly benefit from a sensory room. Whether at the school, in a portable or in a hotel room, Eidher said many students would enjoy a space to calm down or get their energy out away from other students.

She said this could even be a benefit for the resort, allowing the sensory room to be used for students during school hours and visitors in the evenings or on the weekends.

“There’s a ton of visitors coming with special needs children,” Eidher said. “Honestly, [Sun Peaks] would be so ahead of the game in terms of a resort area … for any kids who need it.”

Eidher said the group is always looking for more people to join, and welcomes all. The group has a Facebook page called Sun Peaks Parent Support Group/Kids with Emotional/Learning Disabilities, which currently has over 20 members.

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