Photo caption Branch Out Staff (L-R) Brad Brosnan, Cari Munro, Tabitha Simson, Simone Bourassa, Brenna Traverse, Heather Senior (missing Krista Barrault). Submitted

Program for autistic children survives thanks to dedicated staff

Fernie mother grateful that Branch Out Learning has filled the void

Ashley Kowalewski

Contributor, The Free Press

Branch Out Learning and Behaviour Therapy started up in June to fill the void in support for families with children with autism in the Elk Valley when the previous program funding was cut.

Look back: Fernie women step in to save autism program

The private centre replaced Community Connections and supports families and children with developmental disabilities, autism, or challenges in learning or behaviour.

They provide schooling, therapy and summer camps to help meet the wide ranging needs of families in this region.

Some of the team from Branch Out had worked with several of the long standing program participants of Community Connections, since they were toddlers.

Nicole Attalla, a mother of three, believes that the staff and the program have significantly enhanced her daughter Amber’s quality of life and have made a monumental difference in her child’s life.

Her daughter Amber attends Branch Out as a full-time student, where she also receives therapy. Nicole believes that her daughter’s world would have been very different without the program and the staff.

“She was affected in all ways when the hold happened; before the ladies filled the niche for support,” said Nicole.

At six years old, Nicole’s daughter could not learn her ABC’s. Her mother would wonder – how could she ever be in a normal class with a learning challenge like this.

“She learns only in ways that appeal to her,” explained Nicole.

“She has more behaviour challenges if there is too much stimulation for instance. The staff and school program helps to reduce her challenges and increase her comfort and interest. The program streamlined her back into life. The staff even Skype with her when she needs that support; they really care.

“One thing that has been consistent in having Branch Out staff in our lives is that Amber has amazing, positive, patient and caring individuals that know how to listen and pay attention to her needs. Because of this, she has had success,” continued Nicole.

“They help make her world attainable and accessible. Amber feels comfortable and confident. She takes risks because she is supported regardless of the outcome.”

Simone Bourassa and Tabitha Simpson, cofounders of Branch Out Learning, are happy that they can continue to provide support to Amber and her family.

They are experts in the fields of behavioral analysis and applied behavior analysis; combined they have over 20 years of professional experience.

The pair have recruited qualified staff with credentials such as; undergraduate degrees in education, child development, and psychology.

Staff receive ongoing training and are also registered as a behaviour technician, a designation through the behaviour analyst certification board (BACB).

“In cities you have choices as a parents; but here you are limited,” said Bourassa, adding that she’s extremely grateful for the level of qualifications of the staff.

“They are qualified and experts and they provide the community interaction and support we need here and now. They dive into our kids’ lives with smiles. Our kids love them. For us as parents, that means the most,” she said.

The Branch Out Team is grateful to the community for their support. “We could not have done it without the support of the community and the fundraising efforts,” said Bourassa.

The next fundraiser is a yoga fundraiser, “Conscious Exploration”, which will run from September 27 at 5:00 p.m. until September 29 at 4 p.m.

The event is open to all ability levels and all proceeds will be donated to Branch Out.

Visit to register or for more information.

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