Whether you’re raising one child or 10, the task is both a great joy and a great challenge.
And when you have a child with special needs, the joy remains, but the challenges are definitely different. Such is the case with the Gibson/Allman family.
While parents Francesca Allman and Craig Gibson are no longer married, they work as a very amicable team raising their two sons, Evan and Joel.
Joel is a 16-year-old Grade 11 student at Leaside High who plays hockey and rugby and can’t wait to get back to playing his favourite sport of football. At 6’4”, he’s what his mom calls a “gentle giant.”
Evan, meanwhile, is 18, attends Don Mills Collegiate, and has Down syndrome and autism.
While he’s a sociable, passionate, and happy young man, he also has limitations which require someone to constantly be with him and assist him in everything from tying his shoes to attending online school.
Besides his Down syndrome and autism, Evan also deals with speech apraxia. While his brain knows what it wants to say, this neurological disorder results in Evan’s not being able to get all the words out.
He does have many activities that bring him pleasure, including skating, soccer, dances for kids with special needs, and his absolute favourite, swimming.
Francesca notes that Evan, along with the rest of the family, has a fantastic support group – the Down Syndrome Association of Toronto (DSAT), a wonderful nanny, the community, and an amazing extended family.
DSAT has provided the family with multiple resources including programming over the years for Evan.
The family has also had the same loving nanny since Evan was born, who has provided him with the routine and familiarity he requires.
In the community, Francesca believes Evan probably knows more people than she does. He says hi to everyone, whether he’s on walks, at the grocery store, or at his two favourite places, Baskin Robbins on Bayview and the Leaside Arena.
The hockey community has been “wonderful to Evan,” says Francesca. The arena is a familiar place for him where he greets everyone from the employees at the pro shop to the families in the stands.
It’s Evan’s extended family, though, who have given him the greatest support. Francesca’s brother and his family live just around the corner, while her parents live in North York.
Her parents, Kathy and Gordon, are heavily involved in the boys’ lives. It’s been Gordon, though, who has been Evan’s “#1 activity” during the pandemic, as well as a constant support throughout his life. GG (Grandpa Gordon) takes Evan for walks, plays with him inside and out, reads to him, and helps him with his school work.
It’s the matter of school, and what comes after it, which concerns Evan’s family. The school system allows him to remain until he’s 21, after which his family will need to chart a course for his next stage of life.
With the aid of DSAT, the support of their nanny, the community, and above all, their family, the future looks brighter for Evan as he navigates his new chapter with as few challenges as possible.