A Can-Do Attitude: Canucks Autism Network Scores On Empowerment And Inclusion

Canucks' mascot Fin with a friend. Hockey is just one way that Canucks Autism Network is helping empower kids, youth, and adults on the spectrum.

By Spencer van Vloten

BC Disability

Although Canucks Autism Network (CAN) bears the name of the popular Vancouver hockey team, CAN's work goes far beyond the rink. With a wide and growing array of programs, CAN is helping create communities in which more persons on the autism spectrum are included and equipped with the skills and confidence to thrive.

Spencer van Vloten talked with CAN's Harold Cecchetti about how the organization is evolving, and why the need to support persons on the spectrum is greater than ever.


Spencer: How did CAN get started?

Harold: We were founded in 2008 by Vancouver Canucks Co-owner Paolo Aquilini and his wife Clara. Together, they have a son on the autism spectrum, Christian.

Growing up, Christian loved all things sports, but Paolo and Clara quickly realized there were very limited programs that cater to the unique needs of autistic individuals.

With the goal of offering programs that positively impact individuals on the spectrum and their families, CAN started with one soccer program. It was held in the summer at Rogers Arena (then GM Place) to a small handful of families in Vancouver.

Fast forward 13 years later and we have a membership base of 5,000+ individuals on the spectrum. We fill over 7,000 program spaces per year and have extended our impact beyond programming by offering autism training and employment services as well.

Founders Paolo and Clara Aquilini, with son Christian

Spencer: What programs does CAN offer?

Harold: Canucks Autism Network offers a range of in-person and virtual programs for individuals on the spectrum of all ages.

For our “Early Years” participants aged 3-6, we provide weekly programs that seek to develop basic physical literacy skills, like jumping, running and balancing. For our older kids ages 7-12, we continue to focus on weekly sports and rec programs with an increased emphasis on social opportunities.

For both of these age groups, the goal is to provide a positive first experience in sports and rec – developing the skills and confidence necessary to transition to community-based programs outside of CAN.

As our participants enter their teenage and adult years (13+), sports and rec opportunities remain, but we shift our focus to opportunities that support successful transitions to adulthood and independent living. These include programs that focus on arts and technology, social and life skills, physical and mental health