‘Safe, inclusive and judgement free’: How a Thunder Bay group is making space for adults with autism


Excitement fills the room on the Rowan Tree Collective as a small group of younger adults scan the Bingo playing cards in entrance of them, looking out for the newest quantity referred to as. 

Someone leaps from their seat and frantically shouts “Bingo.” Friends and household cheer them on as they rush over to assert their prize. 

This space is one thing that was lacking from Thunder Bay simply a few months in the past. 

The Rowan Tree Collective is a new programming hub for adults with autism and different neurodiversities. It was began this 12 months by native dad and mom who noticed a lack of exercise choices for their very own grownup kids. 

“Families are type of left to cobble collectively their very own alternatives for their grownup kids,” stated Michelle Murdoch-Gibson, the communications director and co-founder of the group. 

“Plenty of these people are turning 21 and will spend the remainder of their grownup lives at house … So we’re looking for one thing to satisfy the wants of a numerous inhabitants. Individuals who do not match regular employment and post-secondary training requirements, however nonetheless have some abilities,” she stated. 

“We wanted to search out a place that was protected, inclusive and judgment free.”

Finding a place to thrive

A standard theme for younger adults with autism and different exceptionalities who’re leaving secondary college is the battle to search out areas for development, social communication and studying that aren’t in the usual post-secondary or job settings.

Participants begin their day on the collective with some yoga. (Sara Kae/ CBC)

This was the case for Murdoch-Gibson’s personal son, Rowan, who has autism, she stated, including that even earlier than he aged out of college, discovering the fitting place for him to thrive had been a battle.

She and her husband took Rowan out of public highschool as a result of they felt their son’s wants weren’t being met, she stated. 

“He’s a nice child. He has many nice presents and abilities,” Murdoch-Gibson stated. “We discovered that the college system didn’t actually go well with him properly. They attempt to match a lot of sq. pegs into spherical holes in techniques like that.”

Michelle Murdoch-Gibson,proper, the communications director and co-founder of the Rowan Tree Collective, alongside with her son Rowan, who impressed her and her husband to open the collective. (Sara Kae/ CBC)

She and her husband discovered methods to offer Rowan alternatives to achieve life abilities and communication whereas studying at house, she stated. As Rowan headed into his grownup years, they had been impressed to attempt to create a place the place he and others might really feel like they belonged. 

This summer season, Murdoch-Gibson and her husband, Paul Gibson, piloted this system, alongside with Renée Fortin, whose son Noah additionally takes half in this system. 

Every day is a little completely different at Rowan Tree. They give attention to 5 branches of programming” Recreation and leisure, well being and wellness, energetic citizenship, life abilities, and employment and volunteerism. 

From ‘act of citizenship’ to ‘nice life talent’

On today, after a morning yoga class wraps up, collective members collect round tables to make sandwiches to convey to St. Andrew’s Dew Drop Inn, a soup kitchen in Thunder Bay’s north core. 

Everyone works collectively on the sandwiches and then walks them over to the Dew Drop Inn, the place they go to with soup kitchen volunteers who present simply over 300 meals a day to anybody who wants one. 

Everyone works collectively to make sandwiches to convey to St. Andrew’s Dew Drop Inn. (Sara Kae/CBC)

Everyone leaves the Dew Drop Inn with smiles, a rewarding alternate for each these from the Rowan Tree Collective and the Dew Drop Inn. 

“So since we began doing this for the Dew Drop Inn, everybody is pro-level sandwich makers,” stated Murdoch-Gibson. 

“We determined to take the abilities they had been studying throughout that volunteer alternative and now, each Tuesday, we’ve got everybody make their very own lunch right here on web site … It began out as an act of citizenship and advanced into this nice life talent the place we’ve got everybody making their very own lunch as soon as a week.”

The Rowan Tree Collective is a group for not solely the individuals, however for the dad and mom and relations of these with kids with developmental disabilities. 

Tereza Biloski and her son Ethan have been with this system from the start. They benefit from the partaking social features of the collective. 

Tereza Biloski and her son Ethan each love spending time on the Rowan Tree Collective. (Sara Kae/ CBC)

“There is nothing after highschool … This is giving him a function, a routine, construction, and studying …. fixed studying, abilities, friendships. It’s actually rewarding,” Biloski stated. 

Founders of the collective stated they count on to hit most capability for this system within the close to future, and the demand reveals how tremendously it was wanted. 

They stated they’re going to work arduous to accommodate everybody who must be included of their programming, however additionally they hope it is going to encourage others to create much more alternatives for adults who’re neurodiverse in Thunder Bay. 


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