Thorncliffe autism support group recognized as champions

A few years ago, ophthalmologist Shakhlo Sharipova realized something had to be done when people were afraid to get into the same apartment elevator with her autistic son.

Her landlord let her post signs in her building to explain her son’s condition. It wasn’t long before other residents told her their own children were autistic.

That was the starting point for the Thorncliffe Park Autism Support Network, which Sharipova founded and now heads up as executive director.

On March 21 the city announced TPASN as a recipient of the Toronto Community Champion Award for the work its small group of volunteers did throughout the pandemic to help parents cope with their autistic children.

“We were all very proud, especially our parents and our volunteers,” Sharipova said of the award.

Twenty-five organizations across the city received the recognition. Another 22 received honourable mention. A city statement cited their work as “stories of resilience, perseverance and strength.”

Sharipova had no one to teach her how to deal with autistic children, so when it came time to instruct her volunteers she went with what she knew — personal experience with her own son.

Shakhlo Sharipova receives Champion Award from Councillor Mike Colle
RECOGNITION: Shakhlo Sharipova, right, accepts the Champion Award from Councillor Mike Colle for TPASN’s work with parents of autistic children. (City of Toronto)

TPSAN’s 18 volunteers deal with clients one-on-one.

“We also teach our volunteers how to react to people’s reactions,” Sharipova said. “Sometimes people can be a bully. We teach our volunteers how to react in that kind of situation.”

Sharipova said the pandemic and its lockdowns made things worse for families already stretched trying to cope with their developmentally challenged children.

In one case an autistic child, angered by the lockdown, threw a tantrum. He smashed windows in his family’s apartment. The windows were boarded up but that made the apartment dark and infuriated the child even more.

“Being locked up can sometimes be very difficult for our kids and families. They all said their kids were regressing. Schools were closed so they couldn’t even go to school,” Sharipova said.

It’s not the only recognition to come Sharipova’s way recently.

Around the same time TPSAN received the Champion award, Sharipova was named the 2023 Agnes Macphail Award winner for her community work in East York.