Chelsea Ganam

Forty Under 40 winner 2014: Clinical director, Monarch House Autism Centre, Age 39

Chelsea Ganam dreamed of becoming a doctor when she was young. That didn’t happen.

Instead, she became the clinical director of Monarch House Autism Centre, a private organization that assists and counsels families with children living with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

She said the role, which includes managing the centre’s Burnaby, Victoria and Abbotsford locations, has given her the unique opportunity to blend the clinical work that she loves with running and expanding a business.

Before Monarch House, Ganam spent years working with a shoestring budget helping families living with autism. “We worked out of the trunks of our cars,” she said. “We went into these homes. It was not an ideal environment for these kids, for the programming or anything.”

Monarch House provides support from pre-diagnosis to adulthood, and about 300 families use the services of the three B.C. locations.

In the past, there was only a public route for families to have their children tested for ASD, and the public wait-list is now up to a year, said Ganam, who has spent 18 years working with autistic children.

But families don’t need to wait, she stressed. “The family can call us and within two weeks they can have the diagnosis and report in hand, completed, which allows them access to funding for up to a year, much sooner,” she said.

“The value of that is immeasurable,” she said, adding that the research shows the earlier a child is diagnosed, the better the outcome.

Her work can get emotional at times. “It’s really painful to hear the stories and to have to walk through what these parents are experiencing … bullying, the stigma, the un-acceptance in the community.”

The rewards outweigh the costs. Just this year, one of Monarch House’s adult clients with ASD enrolled in Douglas College to study history. “That is why I’m here,” she said. “To see the gains and the impact on improving the lives of these families and these kids.

“This position has been a dream come true.”