CARHA Hockey and the CARHA Hockey World Cup stand united with the people of Ukraine

Talking with CAN

We sat down with Ryan Yao, Director of Development at Canucks Autism Network to learn a little bit more about what CAN does to help children with autism in the community. Canuck Autism Network is a proud partner of the 2022 CARHA Hockey World Cup and we are so excited to have the opportunity to share their story!

Hi Ryan, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. First off, can you explain a little bit about what CAN is to some of our viewers who are unaware of the organization?
Hi Jordan, Canucks Autism Network (CAN) provides programs for individuals on the autism spectrum and their families, while promoting acceptance and inclusion through community engagement and training initiatives across BC and beyond.

Can you explain the origins of CAN and how it ties in with the Vancouver Canucks? How did this initiative to help children with autism and to spread autism awareness come to be?
We were founded in 2008 by Vancouver Canucks Co-owners, Paolo and Clara Aquilini, whose son has autism. They saw a gap in sports & rec opportunities for kids and youth on the spectrum in the Vancouver community.

Wanting to make a positive impact, they founded CAN and launched a single soccer program at Rogers Arena (then-GM Place) for a handful of families. Thirteen years later, the cause has grown to impact over 6,000 members on the autism spectrum, offering over 450+ programs annually. Beyond sports & rec, these opportunities include arts & tech, social & life skills and rapidly growing employment services.

In addition to the direct impact of our programs, we offer autism training to community groups, like first responders, educators, parents and businesses. We believe every community should take action to support individuals on the autism spectrum. It has been so wonderful to see how many organizations are committed to inclusion and acceptance across BC!

This past year with COVID-19 had been tough for everyone but especially children. Was CAN able to run any kids programs throughout this difficult time?
When the pandemic began in March, we were forced to suspend all in-person programs. Thousands of CAN members who relied on our programming for physical activity, social connections and support were suddenly left isolated. It was heartbreaking.

In response, our team rapidly developed virtual programming over Zoom to continue reaching our members at home. Within a month, we had weekly virtual programs up and running. Today, we offer 16 different virtual opportunities for participants of all ages across BC with NEW Northern BC impact in Prince Rupert, Kitimat & Prince George.

Despite the success of virtual programming, our members were still sorely missing our in-person programming for face-to-face interactions with our staff and volunteers. Our team worked to institute new safety policies that either met or exceeded provincial health recommendations. We began slowly reintroducing in-person programming and have already safely impacted hundreds of families across BC.

I’m proud to say we were still able to offer nearly 8,000 in-person & virtual program spots in 2020 – in line with our usual annual impact, despite COVID!

How many staff do you have working at CAN? Can you describe a typical day for one of your hard working program leaders?
Our office consists of just over 30 employees – though these days the majority of our staff are working remotely. In our programs, we benefit from over 500 support workers, coaches and volunteers on an annual basis.

We rely on our program staff and volunteers to bring their energy, empathy and passion in their support to our participants every day. We often hear from program partners and parents that we have “the best staff and volunteers out there.”

Despite the challenges of COVID, our staff and volunteers remain committed to impacting our participants – whether it’s face to face or online via Zoom. You can see first-hand some of the things our team does to keep the energy levels high in online programs on YouTube!

Even before the participants arrive, they are hard at work creating and modifying lesson plans to meet the needs of each participant. Staff members greet the participants with loads of energy and focus on building rapport with the participant right from the get go.

Each of their days will look different depending on the needs of the participants. One might be dedicated to encouraging a participant to just step through the doors and try something new, while another might be giving detailed instruction on how to improve a participant’s slap shot!

No matter what it is, our team meets each participant on their level – regardless of their needs.

We understand that community events have taken a back seat this past year due to COVID. But can you give us an example of some of the events that CAN does in the community to raise awareness?
We love seeing our participants succeed every day in our programs. But our vision is for every individual on the autism spectrum to be understood, accepted and supported in ALL community spaces. That means that we want to see what we do extend well beyond our walls.

It starts with awareness. But in order for true inclusion to take place, we need to promote autism acceptance so that autistic kids, youth and adults are understood and welcomed in every aspect of day to day life.

In 2020, our training team provided live autism workshops to over 1,100 community mebmers across BC, Canada and beyond. They accomplished this by shifting to in-person workshops to Zoom seminars during COVID. Our training has impacted national organizations like Jays Care Foundation, Canadian Tire Jumpstart, provincial groups like Tennis BC, BCRPA and regional groups like Translink, local school districts and minor hockey associations.

We believe that people on the spectrum have the right to an active voice: to be heard, valued and seen. Our participants are capable of so much in our programs and in their community at large! This April, we launched a campaign to highlight their voices and success stories.

Check out the video on
- Instagram
- Twitter
- Facebook

Thanks to our community supporters at EY, $2 is being donated to CAN for every video share or comment!

We know that CAN hosts fundraisers throughout the year. Are there any fundraisers planned for this year and are there any ways that the community can get involved and help out?
We hope to run in-person fundraising again when the time is right and it is safe to do so. In the meantime, the community can support the work we do by entering our Jersey Raffle!

Throughout the course of their careers, the Sedins have always been vital supporters of CAN. Now, Elias Pettersson is carrying on that tradition of support in the Vancouver community.

Canucks fans and CAN supporters are invited to enter to win a trio of signed Canucks jerseys from all three superstars past and present!

Tickets start at just $5. On now through May 1! Visit canucksautism.ca/raffle to enter!

𝘔𝘶𝘴𝘵 𝘣𝘦 19+ 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘢 𝘉𝘊 𝘳𝘦𝘴𝘪𝘥𝘦𝘯𝘵.


Thank you for your time Ryan, It was great talking with you. We hope to see you and the CAN family at our games during the 2022 CARHA Hockey World Cup!