If you live in the Bedford-Sackville area and have a child with autism, chances are that you know or have heard of Bobbie-Lynn Hall.
The local autism family support advocate was recognized for her hard work last week with the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.
Her journey with autism began in 2005. Hall (also a writer with The Weekly News) knew something wasn't quite right when her son Zackary was three years old.
"I brought him to see a pediatrician, who asked me what do you think is wrong. I answered that I thought he had autism. She said I think you're right," Hall recalled.
Shortly before Zackary's diagnosis Hall was spending a fair bit of time with her neighbour, Paulette Butz, whose son Camden was autistic.
Hall saw many similarities between the two boys, and was thrown into a tailspin when her hunch proved right.
"After the diagnosis you go through a mourning period and then realize you have to shape up," Hall said.
"Paulette and I supported each other, helped each other as we were going through the same experiences. Sitting at her kitchen table one day we said other people should have the same support we have."
In 2006 the women put an ad in The Weekly News and rented a room at the Sackville Heights Community Centre and waited.
That heralded the birth of the Bedford Sackville Autism Support Group. The group quickly grew, as did Hall's hopes for it.
"Once that piece is in place you start seeing other things that aren't there. There was nothing for families to do," she recalled.
Parents with autistic children are the frequent recipients of stares and whispers from people who don't realize the child having a meltdown at the grocery store isn't ‘badly behaved' or the product of irresponsible parenting.
"You are constantly explaining and dealing with it ... We wanted to have an experience where parents could exhale. So we go swimming and rent the whole pool," Hall explained.
"We rent a movie theatre to adjust the sound and lighting so it's comfortable for our kids, we rent halls for dances, we basically provide an opportunity for parents and children to feel comfortable, where no one is judging."
That still wasn't enough for Hall. She moved on to try and find a way to connect all the different autism-related groups and organizations. Her goal was to create a hub of sorts, an autism community web where people from across the province could share ideas and resources.
She met with Autism Nova Scotia's executive director Cynthia Carroll, and the Autism Council of Nova Scotia was born.
"The biggest thing the council initiated was Walk the Walk for Autism, an event that is raising thousands for autism awareness," Hall said. "With the help of so many others, on one level this all started from Paulette and I having coffee in her kitchen. That's pretty cool."
Hall isn't too keen to toot her own horn. Humbled by the honour, she said she still can't believe she was nominated.
Carroll from Autism Nova Scotia said Hall is an amazing advocate who has used her visionary skills to make life better not only for her own son Zackary, but for all children and families living with autism.
"She devoted full time hours to support families in addition to her own, and for us it was an easy decision to get her this recognition," Carroll said.
"We value the contributions that volunteers like Bobbie make to our organization and the autism community as a whole."
As honoured as she is by her medal, Hall said her biggest satisfaction comes from knowing she has helped people.
"The biggest thing that ever happened in all this was one day when I received a call from Caroline Gallop with Early Intervention in Sackville, and she said ‘Bobbie, I had a call from a parent and that parent told me you saved her life,'" Hall said.
"It was the most profound thing anyone has ever said to me ... This woman really thought that no one else was going through what she was going through, and the support group made all the difference."