Stephanie Jull, PhD’12, is the VP of Programs, Training & Community Engagement at the Canucks Autism Network (CAN), where she oversees a team of 1200 program staff and volunteers who offer more than 500 programs annually to children, youth and adults with autism and their families across the province. In addition to providing programming, the Canucks Autism Network aims to build capacity for inclusion through providing training and supporting community engagement. Last year CAN’s team of 25 Learning Facilitators (including members with lived experience) supported more than 200 events across BC and provided information to a wide range of community-based organizations to better understand, accept and support individuals with autism. Stephanie has an MA and a PhD in Special Education from UBC. Her PhD research focused on building community capacity by providing training to local swimming instructors in an effort to better include children with autism in community-based swimming programs.
What is your most memorable experience from your time in the Faculty of Education?
By far the most challenging, and the most meaningful, experience in the Faculty of Education at UBC was completing my PhD research. My research focussed on the impact of providing autism training to local swimming instructors and examining how this supported their ability to include children with autism in community-based swim programs. I am very passionate research that takes place in real-world settings, supports that are implemented by real-world providers, and results that demonstrate meaningful impact on the quality of life for individuals with autism and their families. Having said that, this type of research is scarce because conducting a controlled research study in an uncontrolled setting (i.e., the real world) presents many challenges. I am incredibly grateful for the support of the local recreation community, the families who participated in the research, as well as the amazing faculty at UBC who prepared me for this challenge and encouraged me to pursue this work. The pools where I conducted my research continue to offer lessons for children with autism. Although the work to support the successful inclusion of all individuals in all community spaces is not finished, I am continuously encouraged by the movement I see in the broader community, including the recreation community. My passion for building capacity to support inclusion in community spaces continues to be the focus of my professional career.
Where has your education from the Faculty of Education taken you in your career?
The research I conducted at UBC and the skills I learned in terms of supporting the inclusion of individuals with autism and other diversabilities in real-world contexts has directly translated into the work I do every day with the Canucks Autism Network (CAN). In our programs for children, youth and adults with autism, our staff and volunteers receive training on how to support a range of individuals with a variety of strengths and abilities to have success in our programs. Much of the content of this training is based on what I learned during my time at UBC in the Faculty of Education. Specifically, during my time at UBC I was taught to have a deep respect for the individuals we provide service to, their families, and the wide range of community members who support the success of inclusive spaces. I learned foundational skills about how to think about approaching the unique support needs of each individual and how to build upon each person’s strengths. Through the experiences I had as a research and teaching assistant, I was taught leadership, decision-making and communication skills that have supported my current work. Finally and perhaps most importantly, I was taught to have an open mind and to be open to continuous learning as the autism and research communities continue to teach us more every day about how we can all work together to support meaningful inclusion.
Where do issues of inclusion find a place in your life or at work?
At Canucks Autism Network, our vision is that individuals with autism are understood, accepted and supported in all community spaces. Our day-to-day work involves working with a wide network of community stakeholders, including the sport and recreation community, first responders, school districts and many community organizations to help a broad range of community members to learn more about neurodiversity and to teach skills to better support accessibility. Our program and training teams include members with lived experience who provide essential leadership for the organization and our work together amplifies the voices of autistic adults in the inclusion movement. I am proud to be able to contribute the skills I learned through my time at UBC to an organization that is so committed to building inclusive spaces in communities across our province.
Do you have any words of wisdom for current students? Newly graduated folks?
I deeply believe that a commitment to inclusion in the community starts with attitudinal change. I had no idea when I graduated how incredibly important communication skills and other ‘soft skills’ would be to help me, the organization I represent, and others who support the same vision to be successful in creating real change in the community. In my experience, rarely does change occur simply because we tell people it would be a good idea or the right thing to do. Instead, as change agents, we have to learn how to have meaningful dialogue with each of the wide range of community stakeholders that we are hoping to influence. We must meet community members where they’re at and celebrate every success in our communities that moves us in the right direction. It is essential that we include the many and varied voices of those with lived experiences in telling their stories about why change is necessary and the positive impact that is possible when we create inclusive spaces. These stories must lead this movement and drive our everyday work.
As this work can be difficult, I think that it is critical to surround yourself with like-minded people who are deeply passionate about creating the same type of positive change that you hope to achieve. It’s very important to have a deep understanding of the values that drive your work and to be sure to find a career opportunity that aligns with those values. And I think it’s important to understand early on that sometimes the most meaningful and important work is also the most challenging, so be prepared for both hard days as well as success and celebration.