About Us: Autism/PDD Family Alliance

Autism/PDD Family Alliance began serving the needs of teenagers and adults with Aspergers and other forms of autism through innovative services in 2001 – offering specially designed programs for these individuals and their unique learning styles.

As a registered charity, AFA operates through a dedicated group of volunteers, who pride themselves on the fact that all of the charity’s funds go directly to services, not to overhead or administration.

AFA’s Directors and Officers are:

Penny Gill, President

Since the mid-1980’s Penny has devoted her life to working with her son, who has autism, and with several committees and organizations dedicated to serving those with special needs. She has presented at numerous workshops, legislative hearings, and conferences, including as a key-note speaker. Penny has published articles on educating those with autism and, more recently, on autism and nutrition.

During the 1990’s Penny was President of the Hamilton Chapter of Autism Ontario, when it was regarded as one of the most active chapters in the history of that organization. Penny also served as parent representative on the Autism Team, led by Dr. Peter Szatmari and Dr. Bill Mahoney, at Chedoke Hospital, part of the Hamilton Health Sciences organization.

In an extensive needs survey of adults with autism in the Hamilton region, parents repeatedly expressed the wish to keep their adult offspring with autism at home for as long as possible, but wanted support services to enable them to do that. To address this need, Penny created and incorporated the Autism/PDD Family Alliance, which has been providing educational services and resources to adults and adolescents with autism since 2001. Its flagship program is the cooking school. Penny oversees the day-to-day operations of the charity on a strictly volunteer basis.

Penny holds a law degree from the University of Toronto and graduate degrees from the University of Toronto and McMaster University. She graduated with an Honours B.A. from McGill University, as the Prince of Wales Gold Medallist.

Chris Pibus, Secretary

Chris Pibus has supported the AFA since its inception, and has served as Secretary since 2003. A parent of a young adult with autism, Chris has been active for many years as a volunteer assisting families through advocacy in the school systems. Chris served on the Executive of the Hamilton Chapter of the Autism Society and spent 5 years representing the group on the Special Education Advisory Committee for the local school board. A graduate of McGill University and University of Toronto Law School, Chris practices as a lawyer specializing in Intellectual Property Litigation and Portfolio Management. He has been a partner at Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP since 1990 and has been recognized for his expertise in Chambers Global, Lexpert, and Best Lawyers in Canada.

Rachel Barber, Treasurer

Rachel is a Behaviour Therapist with Child and Community Resources in Sudbury, Ontario. She has been actively involved in the autism community since high school, when she established a social support group for a classmate with autism, which endures to this day. She has worked as Research Assistant at the Autism Research Unit at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, and as Research Coordinator at Bloorview Kids Rehab in the Research Institute. For many years Rachel coached in our cooking school, where she developed innovative teaching strategies, such as the Conversation Menu—which remains a key social/communication learning tool for our group.

Dianne Hickey, Director

Dianne Hickey is the mother of three daughters, the eldest of whom has a diagnosis of ASD.  For many years, Dianne has been active in the autism community, serving on the Parents Council at Woodview Manor, and co-founding the AIM social skills group for teenage girls in Grimsby, Ontario.  Dianne was employed at Choices, a not-for-profit organization that supports adults with developmental disabilities, before moving to her current position in administration at the Department of Family Medicine at McMaster University, where she supports the Chair and Associate Chair.

Dr. Jessica Brian, Director

Dr. Brian is a Clinician-Investigator, and co-Lead of the Autism Research Centre at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital in Toronto, and has co-directed the Autism Research Unit at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto since 2000.  She also holds an appointment as an Assistant Professor with the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Toronto.  Widely published in her field, Dr. Brian is actively engaged in a number of research areas, including child development, behavioural paediatrics and genetic studies relating to ASD.  She is particularly active in the field of infants at risk, studying early markers, developmental trajectories, and very early intervention.