by Melissa LaScaleia
Champion Autism Network (CAN) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that provides traditional family experiences modified for those who have autism. It was founded in Surfside Beach in 2013 by local resident Becky Large.
“At the time that I started it, there were a lot of organizations that supported the person with autism, but there didn’t seem to be any that supported the family,” Becky says. “Autism impacts the entire family. When you go to leave the house, the person with autism might experience stress and anxiety and throw a temper tantrum. That can lead to a lot of judgement amongst friends, family and strangers. Your social circle gets smaller, and a lot of times you choose not to go out.”
With CAN, Becky and her team create and promote a variety of monthly events that are sensory-friendly, so that the entire family can come out and play. They also spread autism awareness to reduce judgement and support autistic families when out in public.
She has made community movie viewing experiences in which the lights are up, the sound is down, and people can move around freely.
“Lights, crowds, smells, and loud noises or music can cause stress and overload people with autism,” Becky says. “They are highly susceptible to what’s going on in their environment. Our movies are a different viewing experience, but one in which the entire family can participate. It has a much more balanced effect on the person with autism.”
At the monthly birthday bowling bash at the Myrtle Beach Bowl, the house lights are up, the music is off, and it’s a great opportunity for families to have a joyful experience and celebrate everybody’s birthday.
“There’s a lot of challenges to being autistic,” Becky says. “It’s not just sensory overload. Many have to learn how to socialize, some are even non-verbal and have to learn how to speak. It’s a tough life. And that trickles down to affect the entire family. Many people are so grateful for the outings we do, because we make it possible for parents and families to socialize and make memories.”
To facilitate the memory-making, families with autism can join the CAN Card program, and download a list of local area businesses that participate in the CAN network. Every business in the network offers either a service or a discount to autistic families as a way to show support.