Resource Spotlight – SAR Autism Canada

Hyun Ho Cho is part of a team of CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers producing content and compiling resources on themes such as inclusion, ecosocial justice, partnerships, conservation, organizational sustainability, climate change and biodiversity, connection to nature, conservation financing, and ecotourism, to support effective and equitable leadership and inclusion in parks and protected areas across Canada. These positions are funded by Canada’s Green Jobs Program and supported by Project Learning Tree.

Search and Rescue (SAR) situations are ones that no one wants to experience, yet these services are welcomed by those who find themselves in these unfortunate situations. But for some, SAR can add an additional level of distress that pushes them further from safety.

Recently I had the opportunity of interviewing Shanyn Silinski, the director of Search and Rescue Autism in Canada. SAR Autism is a program that plans and prepares resources for responders when it comes to people with autism in the context of search and rescue operations. According to Silinski, people with autism can present particular behaviours that may make search and rescue efforts uniquely challenging. Most agencies and organizations both in the private and public sectors may not consider neurodiverse people when it comes to planning infrastructure and services.

Having guided caving and backpacking trips in the mountain parks, I have experienced this capability gap firsthand. Neurodiverse people and how we respond to them is a perspective that I myself had never considered in regards to contingency planning and public safety. In order to make Parks more accessible and inclusive, it is important to have the necessary services and background resources to make the experience of these places safe for all. This means training public safety teams and responders on how to respond to members of our community who are neurodiverse and providing access to preventative education for people who are neurodiverse.

Normal Doesn't Exist

Going into the interview, I will admit my previous background knowledge on autism was somewhat limited. Unfortunately, this is quite common. The large majority of Canadians have a general idea of what autism is, without any actual knowledge of how autistic people perceive the world or how this might affect the way they respond to their environments. As a result, services that cater to neurodiverse people are less available across the board. Oftentimes in the context of parks, neurodiverse individuals and other minority groups are overlooked when it comes to policies and services. This includes public safety. However innocent this oversight may be, this affects many Canadians. When we look at the numbers this excludes quite a large segment of our population. According to Public Health Canada, an estimated 1 in 66 Canadian children have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and that’s just the kids. That means approximately 540,000 Canadian citizens may not have access to the services they need in our parks.

Neurodiversity: How Does it Work? Why Does it Matter?

Before my conversation with Shanyn, I didn’t really understand what the word “neurodiversity” meant. In preparation for the interview, like any good millennial, I googled it. Let’s start with a definition. Merriam Webster’s dictionary has 3 definitions of the term neurodiversity. They are as follows:

  1. Individual differences in brain functioning regarded as normal variations within the human population.
  2. The concept that differences in brain functioning within the human population are normal and that brain functioning that is not neurotypical should not be stigmatized.
  3. The inclusion in a group, organization, etc. of people with different types of brain functioning.

Because neurodiversity refers to the variations in brain functioning across the human population as a whole, it refers to a broad range of behaviours and responses that apply to us all at varying degrees – not just people with autism, or other behavioural conditions. Neurodiversity, then, is just as much a part of someone’s identity as their skin colour, gender identity, sexual orientation, and physical ability.

If we are to make Canadian parks a more inclusive environment for all, it is imperative then that we make an effort to include individuals who are more neurodiverse, just as we would someone with a physical disability or a minority group. Individuals who are more neurodiverse should have services and amenities available to them on par with the rest of park users; parks leaders should not expect individuals who are more neurodiverse to adapt to our current park’s infrastructure. That may not always be possible. It means our parks or parts of them must change to accept and welcome these individuals.

What About Autism?
Autism Spectrum Disorder, or autism, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts brain development.  The result is that most individuals experience communication problems, difficulty with social interactions and a tendency to repeat specific patterns of behaviour. They may also have a markedly restricted range of activities and interests.
Autism Canada

In our interview, Silinski spoke to how people with autism may perceive the world differently from those of us who are more neurotypical. Specifically, she spoke to how people with autism may require extremely detailed descriptions and instructions in order to complete a task or recognize a situation. For example, individuals with autism may not recognize what being lost looks like without being told specific characteristics of what being lost feels like. Consequently, they may wander even further from where they were last seen. 

Photo courtesy of C Valdez / Unsplash.com

Another example Silinski used was that of the “Hug a Tree” program for children, where individuals were instructed to hug a tree if they got lost. Where a neurotypical person might be able to read into the implied context of an instruction, an autistic person may not. Take, for example, the instruction “hug a tree if you’re lost.” Even without any further context, most people would be able to gather that the reason for this is so that they don’t wander, which makes it easier for responders to locate them. An autistic person, on the other hand, might instead fixate on what constitutes a huggable tree. In most situations, the implied meaning must be explicitly stated in order for them to fully understand the “why” of the instruction.

Additionally, individuals who have autism may bolt unexpectedly from unfamiliar situations or situations with too many stimuli. Oftentimes individuals with autism prefer familiar environments, objects, and people – in short, stimuli that they are accustomed to. This can be problematic in many rescue scenarios that have stimuli like flashing lights, bright colours, loud noises and hazards.

What Can Happen?

According to Silinski, because autistic individuals may respond differently to a crisis or an emergency situation, this can have a number of implications that responders may not be well trained to respond to. Oftentimes they retreat from rescuers or a safe location during a crisis, especially if it is unfamiliar or overstimulating. An example Silinski used was a building fire in the United States where everyone was evacuated safely from the building to a safe secondary holding area. However, one of the individuals who was rescued had autism. When transferred to the safe secondary holding area, they found it overwhelming and overstimulating and ran back to a familiar space, that space being the burning building.

Photo courtesy of Obi Onyeador / Unsplash.com.

Instances like these are called secondary incidents and are easily preventable with training on how to recognize and respond to signs of autism. Oftentimes people with autism will try to return to a place that makes them feel safe or that is familiar to them, even if that place is more dangerous than where they currently are. To an average responder, this may not be common knowledge and thus they may not be able to respond accordingly. Additionally, without understanding how an individual with autism perceives and recognizes safety we cannot make them feel safe in a crisis or emergency.

Inclusion As a Solution

That’s where SAR Autism comes in. SAR Autism aims to educate people with autism and give them back ownership of their own outdoor experiences so that they can recognize and prevent emergency situations. Additionally, they run courses for agencies, responders and volunteers on how to respond when an autistic person is lost or in an emergency situation. For example, having a “first aid kit” for neurodiverse individuals with items that they can stimulate themselves with to feel more at ease once they are found, or search methods that are less overwhelming for neurodiverse individuals and people with autism. By educating people with autism on how to be more proactive about their safety outside and teaching them how to recognize certain situations, like how to recognize when they are lost or what a rescue looks like, SAR Autism can help increase the chances of a successful recovery on both ends of the rescue.

By making spaces inclusive and safe for autistic people we can actually make parks a safer and more inclusive space for all. Silinski posits that by making spaces feel safe and inclusive for people with autism, we also make those spaces inclusive for a diverse range of individuals. Quiet safe spaces can help people healing from trauma, newcomers who want a more authentic experience of their surroundings, and Indigenous peoples who want to reconnect with their traditional lands. In sum, by making these spaces more accessible it does a service to all, with minimal impact to the existing visitor experience.  

What other safety resources do you know of that help achieve inclusivity in parks? Let us know in the comments below!

Webinar Summary – Parks Day: Past, Present, Future

Parks Day CPCIL Webinar

The first Parks day, back in 1990, was based on a paper commissioned by the Canadian Parks council which provided an opportunity for all public parks to participate in the celebration of parks and their role in natural and cultural heritage conservation in Canada, and to increase public awareness and support for parks. From here, Parks day emerged, and has changed throughout the years and looks different for different jurisdictions. This webinar explores these different contexts and perspectives of these jurisdictions.

Presenters

  • Nic DeGama-Blanchet, Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park, Alberta
  • Caroline Ipeelie-Qiatsuk, Nunavut Parks and Special Places, Qikiqtaaluk Region
  • Tobi Kiesewalter, Ontario Parks, Learning and Discovery Program
  • Michael Nadler, Parks Canada External Relations and Visitor Experience

5 Key Takeaways

  1. For Fish Creek Provincial Park, Parks Day is run by community volunteers so that it can involve a great number of people. Park isn’t merely a space, but rather becomes so because of the relationship people have with that place. 
  2. In Nunavut Parks, Parks Day is utilized as an opportunity to highlight the local cultures’ deep ties to the land and expand the outdoor classroom. For example, they showcase cultural activities like drum dancing, throat singing, tea and bannock, and fried fish.
  3. For Ontario Parks, the concept of Parks Day has melded with the Healthy Parks, Healthy People movement, however the spirit of Parks day is still present as a way to engage people with Parks who might have been otherwise uninterested
  4. Parks Days were collectively seen as an opportunity to host discussions about Reconciliation, equity, and how to keep these conversations and relationships going year round.
  5. All panelists connected with the element of human connection to the land. The future of Parks Day is seen as an opportunity for people to celebrate this connection and contribute to part of a broader national identity.

What I’ve Learned About Learning: University Degrees for Parks People

Close up of hands on laptop, woman sitting on park bench in nature.

By Karly Upshall

Karly Upshall is part of a team of CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers producing content and compiling resources on themes such as inclusion, ecosocial justice, partnerships, conservation, organizational sustainability, climate change and biodiversity, connection to nature, conservation financing, and ecotourism, to support effective and equitable leadership and inclusion in parks and protected areas across Canada.

There are a lot of ways to come to Parks. People from all backgrounds end up working in Parks. Some actively chose this route — they worked in parks as teenagers, picked a green degree, interned in conservation fields, anything that would lead to a career in parks. Others, like myself, kind of just fell into it somewhere along the way. As one of my university professors, Joe Pavelka, likes to say, “There are a lot of ways to live a life, and most of them are good.” I believe this applies to Parks as well — there are a lot of ways to come to Parks, and most of them are good. 

That being said, the more I get to know park leaders, the less clear I am about what that actually entails. These wonderful people have opened my eyes to a variety of backgrounds, interests and experiences, all of which make up the parks world beyond a singular definition. More and more, the parks field is becoming an interdisciplinary playground filled with jacks of all trades.

This fact is partially what made my task of curating a degree list so complicated. While I hope that this list is a meaningful resource for those looking to pursue or further a “green” type education specifically relating to Parks, this list was made through my own lens of what I’ve seen from current Park Leaders, what I understand to be the direction of Parks in general, and what I personally would like to see be a part of the future of Parks. 

Plenty of Paths in Parks Professions

Within that struggle to define a Park Professional also lies the question of the definition of Parks. There are National Parks, Provincial Parks, Municipal Parks, Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas, Marine Protected Areas, and hundreds of other protected land designations across Canada, and they all need a variety of people to run the show. The breadth of knowledge and experience required by parks is vast, however, a list that includes every area of expertise would not have been that helpful of a resource. Applicable programs such as Human Resources, Organizational Management, and even Environmental Engineering were mostly left off of this list due to their non-specificity to Parks or environmental protection in general. Geology and Anthropology are also rarely found on the list as Geology often focused on resource extraction rather than land protection and Anthropology often lacked an environmental element. Some green sounding degrees were also left out because their focus was in agriculture and crop production. I am not perfect, however, and I am certain that some things have snuck in that shouldn’t have, and other things were left out that should have been included. 

While I aimed to be as unbiased as possible in my creation of this list, it is never possible to be truly neutral. Being a part of something, creating something, means it was created through your worldview, and that’s okay. I come from a humanities background, so you’ll definitely see my bias show up in this list. Because of this, I tended to give a little more wiggle room to degrees that involved community development, leadership, Indigenous studies, and the kind of social equity programs you might not typically associate with parks. I believe that diversity includes a diversity of educational backgrounds. By no means am I trying to overshadow some much more abhorrent inclusion issues that parks across the nation are tackling such as gender, race, and LGBTQ+ inclusion, but some of these degrees reflect the knowledge and interests of the people often left out of the conversation.

I was also more likely to include the certificate or diploma in some topics rather than a full degree, as they made more sense as complementary knowledge rather than an educational focus for someone aiming to be a parks professional. Therefore, the following list will generally fall into one or more of these topics:

  • Environmental Sciences/Studies
  • Environmental Management
  • Earth Sciences
  • Forestry
  • Geography
  • Tourism/Ecotourism
  • Outdoor Guiding/Adventure Studies
  • Sustainability/Sustainable Development

If you are interested in a general cacophony of these niches, this list was made for you.

Canadian Parks Relevant Degrees List

British Columbia

Undergraduate:

Graduate Studies:

Undergraduate:

Graduate: 

Other: 

Undergraduate:

Graduate:

Other:



Alberta

Undergraduate:

Graduate:

Other:

Saskatchewan

*Included more agricultural programs given the location and focus on agriculture in the province

Undergraduate:

Graduate:

Other:

Manitoba

Quebec

Programmes de 1er Cycle: 

Études Supérieures:

Autre: 

Programmes de 1er cycle:

Etudes Supérieures:

Autre:

Ontario

Undergraduate:

Graduate:

Other: 



Undergraduate:

Graduate:

Undergraduate:

Graduate:

Other: 

Newfoundland and Labrador

Undergraduate:

Graduate:

Other:

 

Nova Scotia

New Brunswick

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Prince Edward Island

Method of auditing:

  • Degrees that resulted in careers linked to the Parks and Protected Areas field (environmental consultants, parks planners, etc) were normally included 
  • Reputable Indigenous Studies programs, particularly ones with environmental/planning links, were normally included
  • Programs with required courses that pertained to the interests of Parks and Protected areas were normally included
  • Major degree programs that are offered at most Universities such as Human Resources, Operations Management, Engineering, etc, were mostly excluded from this list as they are not directly linked to Parks and are readily available at many Universities. 
  • Specializations that were only offered as minors were also primarily excluded from this list. Exceptions were made in cases where outstanding or unique programs were found. 
  • Format for listing programs may vary slightly between schools depending on how the school presented information i.e some schools highlight exceptional minor programs and so more minors were included 

Which Universities made the list:

The list was determined using the Government of Canada’s List of Designated Educational Institutions and setting the filter to “University” for each province. An exception was made for Mount Royal University, which is designated as a Junior College on this list but has recently attained its University status. Vocational schools, technical colleges, and private institutions are not a part of this list.

Format:

Designation – Major: Specialization or Concentration

Examples:

Bachelor of Arts – Geography: Human Geography (All Three Components)

Bachelor of Science – Environmental Science (Designation and Major)

Bachelor of Resource Management (Specialized Designation, no listed Major or Concentration)

Do you know of a really great program related to parks? Leave us a comment below, we would love to see what you are all learning! 

Conservation Through Reconciliation Resources

Working Towards a Solutions Bundle

The Conservation through Reconciliation Partnership is working with its partners to create The Solutions Bundle, an interactive website designed in Ethical Space to help build knowledge, capacity, and relationships in support of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) and Indigenous conservation leadership. The Solutions Bundle will combine the concepts of a western toolkit and an Indigenous medicine bundle and will serve as an example of Two-Eyed Seeing where Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledge systems will be valued equally.  

The CRP is aiming to launch the Solutions Bundle in June 2021. In the meantime, we have created a temporary research engine to house resources and help share information.

Please visit https://conservation-reconciliation.ca/ipcaresources to learn more. To contribute resources or share ideas for improving the search function, please contact crpinfo@uoguelph.ca.

Launch of PanCanadian Parks and Protected Areas Research Network

In October, 2019, a diverse group of parks and protected areas researchers, practitioners, students, community partners, and knowledge holders held a full-day workshop to ask “how can we work together to improve parks and protected areas research, knowledge mobilization, & the development of advice for evidence-based decision-making.” 

Despite the disruptions of recent months, CPCIL has made progress behind the scenes with support from Parks Canada, the Canadian Parks Council, and our collaborating universities of Mount Royal University, York Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change, and Royal Roads University. We are pleased to announce the launch of the Pan-Canadian Parks and Protected Areas Research Network as part of the Canadian Parks Collective for Innovation and Leadership (CPCIL). 

This will be a new network for scientists, researchers, Indigenous knowledge holders, and students to connect and collaborate with parks and protected areas leaders, specialists, practitioners, and managers. Over the next three years, we will work with the parks and protected areas community to:

  1. Connect a network of researchers and practitioners, focusing on landscape-level networks and links to other existing networks.
  2. Share existing knowledge by curating and presenting transdisciplinary research in inclusive ways, highlighting practitioners and areas of expertise, and identifying mutually beneficial research ideas.
  3. Support academics, practitioners, journalists, elected officials, and decision makers in understanding and applying evidence in parks and protected areas.
  4. Build an intergenerational, interdisciplinary, inter-industry, and intercultural conversation about the value of parks and protected areas research.

The platform includes space to search profiles and connect with others, a tool to crowdsource research ideas, and space to share resources and highlight research and scholarship publications and events. We are also teaming up with Parks Canada to launch a Parks and Protected Areas Horizon Scan through the research network.

We invite you and your associates to join us on virtually on November 10th at 1pm Eastern Time to hear about the network, explore the platform, and engage in dialogue with others interested in parks and protected areas research and knowledge. A recording will be made available in the future.

Register for the November 10, 1pm Eastern, Launch and Dialogues

English Language Registration

French Language Simulcast Inscrivez-vous

Visit the Research Network: https://cpcil.ca/research-and-knowledge/