Service to help families cope with autism

Heather Latter

Joe Kneisz might have retired, but that’s not stopping him from opening a new business here that aims to help local families cope with having an autistic child.
Having worked in the Autism Service at the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg for nearly 30 years, Kneisz has a passion for working with children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) using developmental play-based intervention, as well as offering support to the parents.
“My philosophy is that it is a family deal,” he stressed. “I want to teach parents to look at their child’s behaviour different—to look at what he’s trying to tell you.”
He explained once a child is diagnosed with ASD, the parents’ dreams and aspirations for that child change and they often need help and support during that time to understand what the future holds.
“It’s like raising three children at once,” noted Kneisz, adding he will be offering parent support sessions.
“We’ll try to open the lines of communication between the parents and the child, and do some problem-solving and trouble-shooting together in a naturalistic way.”
For example, Kneisz said some autistic children flap their hands. Instead of stopping the odd behaviour, he wants to discover why the child is flapping their hands.
Are they doing it at certain times for certain reasons?
“Perhaps they are nervous, bored, angry, or anxious,” he remarked. “And I want to teach the moms and dads how to read their child more effectively.
“My focus is home and family, so I want them to be able to fit it into what’s going on in their lives, like in the car or while they’re having a bath—use natural things to strengthen their child’s skills on the fly,” he stressed.
When Kneisz retired from his career in autism last year, he moved to Fort Frances to be closer to his partner, Donna Anderson, and for the walleye fishing.
“I bumped into families who had children with ASD and met some new ones, and they all said the same thing—how could you retire with the expertise you’ve built up?” he noted, saying some asked if he’d consider providing such a service in the area.
“The more I got to thinking about it, the more I thought why not at least see what’s being offered in the region,” he reasoned.
And Kneisz said he discovered several things—that the waiting lists for a diagnosis are growing, there are huge waiting lists for services, and there is a shortage in the kinds of services available.
“I wanted to offer something unique,” he said. “I didn’t want to duplicate any services or compete with them.”
So The Attention Joint—ASD Consultation Service opened its doors here Nov. 2.
Located at 335 Scott St., the new business has an office, meeting room, and play room, complete with a special observation window and plenty of toys.
“There is an ever-increasing number of children being diagnosed [with autism],” Kneisz noted. “They don’t know what’s causing it. . . .
“But there is a growing number in relation to the services available.”
Due to the long waiting lists in order to be diagnosed with ASD, Kneisz said he will see children who are strongly suspected to have ASD, as well as those who already are diagnosed.
“Time is of the essence,” he stressed. “The sooner they start to get help, the better the outcome.”
He indicated children most often are diagnosed with ASD between 18-24 months, but he has worked with children as young as 12 months old.
“They’re endearing,” he said of children with ASD. “They make you think in ways you could never imagine.
“They come at things in a more literal way . . . and often help ground us,” he explained.
Kneisz noted ASD can be a very complex condition and plays out differently in differently kids.
“But they are always a child first and the condition second,” he remarked, adding he is fascinated by the development of children.
“I want these children to be strong socially and I love seeing them grow,” he enthused. “It’s neat to see the people they develop into.”
The Attention Joint—ASD Consultation Service is a private, fee-for-service business, but Kneisz indicated he strives to ensure it is a service affordable for all families.
“Parents need a variety of services to help with ASD and I think I am offering a valuable piece of the puzzle,” he said. “My goal is to work collaboratively with anyone already working with the child.”
He already has received a few inquiries about his services, and understands it takes time to get established.
“What matters when a family comes here is that there is mutual fun and enjoyment,” he said, citing some of the more favourite toys used are flashlights, blankets, and bean bag chairs.
“We want to foster connectivity and build a solid foundation for the child,” he stressed. “And anything I know, I’m willing to share.
“I’m here for the best interest of the child,” he vowed.
For more information, contact Kneisz at 276-0418 or via e-mail at