Dr. Gwynette and the Autism News Network crew were able to catch up with Becky Large, executive directory of the Champion Autism Network, while attending the Autism & You 2019 Seminar. Check out the video to see and hear about the exciting programming CAN is offering in the Myrtle Beach area.
Scott: I’m Scott.
C. Magnus: And I’m C. Magnus.
Scott: And we’re here at the 2019 Autism and You seminar.
C. Magnus: And hopefully we got some great stuff to show you inside.
Scott: It sounds like a fun time.
Dr. Gwynette: Hi, I’m Dr. Frampton Gwynette, from the Autism News Network, and I’m here today with Becky Large. She is the founder and CEO of Champion Austism Network, based out of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Thanks for being here, Becky.
Becky Large: Great to be here. Thank you so much.
Dr. Gwynette: We really appreciate it. We’re coming at you from the Autism and You seminar, which is in Pawleys Island, South Carolina, so how are you enjoying the conference?
Becky Large: Oh, it’s been wonderful so far. Everyone enjoyed your talk with C. Magnus and Scott, and with Kim Kuken, really delivered some interesting information, heartfelt, which was wonderful.
Dr. Gwynette: There was not a dry eye.
Becky Large: No. You just don’t hear those stories. A lot of times when the parents get together, we’re more focused on the kids and how to support them, and getting the parents’ perspective. We’re really not alone.
Dr. Gwynette: That’s right. If one parent, one family can do it, then we can do it too.
Becky Large: For sure.
Dr. Gwynette: Yeah, so I’ve been hearing a lot about the Champion Autism Network, and can you explain for our audience, what is CAN?
Becky Large: So CAN, Champion Autism Network, we provide traditional family experiences, modified for those with autism. We provide sensory-friendly events, movies, bowling, where the lights are up, the sound is down, and people are free to move around. We support the families. There’s a lot of organizations that serve and support the individuals with autism, but as we all know, do to some sensory issues and difficulties with transition and going out in public, it’s isolating for the person with autism as well as the family. So by creating these environments and curating these environments for the people with autism, the families can come out and play and the siblings can be supported. We have also developed a training program for hotels and restaurants and venues on the needs and accommodations of our people with autism, and we’ve had Surfside Beach, Myrtle Beach and Horry County declared autism friendly travel destinations.
Dr. Gwynette: So this is the CAN card.
Becky Large: And then the CAN card, the restaurants and venues that are participating provide a service or a discount. The Sky Wheel, if you show your CAN card, you can get to the front of the line. Ripley’s Aquarium has reduced rate tickets. Restaurants like Johnny D’s Waffles and Bakery. If there’s a wait, you can get to the head of the line, and they offer a 10% discount.
Dr. Gwynette: That’s great. Wow.
Becky Large: So we have a growing network of businesses in addition to the hotels that support our tourist families, so right now we support about a thousand families, about 500 locally in Horry and Georgetown county, and close to 500 tourist families from 27 different states and four countries.
Dr. Gwynette: That’s amazing. Wow.
Becky Large: And that was [inaudible].
Dr. Gwynette: As you can tell, Becky is not the type to sit back and watch somebody else do something that may or may not help. You actually take action. What inspired you, like “okay, I’m going to start CAN”? What was the moment where you said, “I’m going to do it”?
Becky Large: We relocated here from New Jersey Easter Sunday, 2012, and we consider that our family’s own little resurrection, and my oldest son is on the spectrum, and when we arrived, it just didn’t seem, coming from New Jersey, that there was a lot here for anybody, and certainly not for the families. I went to a conference, a Lowcountry Autism forum, and was from Myrtle Beach down to Charleston, blown away at the number of organizations that were supporting people with autism and formed a brief partnership with the Lowcountry Autism Foundation, and we started the first event that we had here was the sensory-friendly movies, ’cause we thought we really wanted to support the families.
Dr. Gwynette: So at that time, Myrtle Beach was just wide open, or there just wasn’t a lot?
Becky Large: There was nothing, which is similar to pretty much everywhere. There’s nowhere else doing what we’re doing here.
Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. It’s really a unique thing, isn’t it?
Becky Large: It is.
Dr. Gwynette: And you’ve had some interest in other towns, so you’re looking to kind of scale it at some point.
Becky Large: We are moving into Georgetown. We just started moving into Georgetown. We had our first sensory-friendly movie there on May 18. We have our first participating business, Pawleys Island Bakery, and we’ll be training the coastal Chevrolet Cadillac car group to be one of the first autism-friendly car dealerships. Streamline of process to get more people on board.
Dr. Gwynette: That’s amazing. So because of your efforts, and negotiating with all of these individual businesses and restaurants, hotels, it really makes families feel welcome.
Becky Large: For sure. Tourists come here. They want to take it home, so we do have plans for growth, we’re just trying to figure out how to do that.
Dr. Gwynette: I know that you will.
Becky Large: Oh yeah.
Dr. Gwynette: Okay, so I figure that you’re super busy, but what does your average day look like?
Becky Large: I also have a marketing and business consulting company that puts bread on the table, so my typical day, I’m usually up around 4:30 doing some emails and things like that, and then we have family time getting kids to school, meetings usually start around 8:00, whatever that is, just off and running and doing stuff and doing what we can to take a little mama break for dinner, but we have fun. I’m here today meeting with great people like you, and I get to help families and I plan events and I get to make people happy. Tomorrow’s one of our sensory friendly Easter egg hunts. I can’t wait for that. Ripley’s Aquarium, we’ve got a lot going on.
Dr. Gwynette: So it really is about those personal relationships, and I think a question came up in the audience today. A lot of individuals with autism are content to be in their room playing video games. I think to a certain extent, that’s okay, but then they may be missing out on those personal connections and personal growth that you’ve been able to accomplish on behalf of your loved one with autism.
Becky Large: That kind of is the driving force, and that was how do we, because we’ve been doing this for about six years now, and so everybody’s aging, and how do we engage and get them out to want to come and play and create an engagement? And just because somebody has autism doesn’t mean if you get them together that they’re going to connect. It’s like getting a bunch of blondes in a room. We’re not all going to connect. So how do we find common interests? And now what we like to do is kind of do preference surveys to try and maybe pick the top two or three things, activities that we can have them come and get together and create events around that.
Dr. Gwynette: Sure, customize it based on, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So you’re a transplant from the north.
Becky Large: Yes.
Dr. Gwynette: So you may not have an allegiance yet, but would you say Carolina or Clemson?
Becky Large: I can’t. I would probably lean more towards Carolina, only because it seems like I know more Carolina lovers.
Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. I think they need support, especially [inaudible 00:07:14] these days, but heavy Clemson so far.
Becky Large: Okay.
Dr. Gwynette: Okay, and then you talked some about long-term goals, but if you could flash forward like 10 years, where do you see you and CAN at that point?
Becky Large: That was an interesting, very thought-provoking question, because defining goals is really important, which I’ve learned in grant writing, but they’ve been more limited in like two and three years, so the 10-year thing, I was like, that’s a good one. I would like to see CAN, and I don’t think it’s out of the question, to be more national and international, have more support, but I think with the growing interest and population of autism, that there might be other organizations that do that work as well, which is great, because it’s all about supporting our people and our families.
Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. Maybe even like a CAN app, because then you could download it, and national participants, it’s like a chain and they could go to Cheesecake Factory here or Cheesecake Factory there.
Becky Large: That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to go, so now we just partnered with a chain that’s outside of Myrtle Beach. They go from Texas up to Virginia, so that’s the next step.
Dr. Gwynette: She’s got the business know-how. She’s got a lot of skills, very particular set of skills. So okay, well we’re going to wrap up, but what are some of the, let’s say I’m a family member, I have a loved one, and I want to get involved in something like CAN. How would you recommend going about doing that?
Becky Large: Getting involved with CAN?
Dr. Gwynette: Yes.
Becky Large: Contacting me, certainly. You can contact me at Becky@ChampionAutismNetwork.com. You can check us out on the internet at ChampionAutismNetwork.com, and we also have a pretty robust Facebook and Twitter following, Champion Autism Network. So check us out. All our events are there. Thank you so much for your support.
Dr. Gwynette: Yeah, they’re definitely worth a follow, and just one last question. In terms of obstacles, I would imagine when you started CAN, that you had some voice inside your head or somebody else telling you you can’t do this, it’s not possible, but you continued to persevere. What were the big obstacles and how did you overcome them?
Becky Large: I’m very hard to say no to. It’s not about me. It’s just not about me, so the minute it becomes about me, the focus is all wrong. It’s all on my families and making people happy and supported, and so I think that it’s a calling. If I hit a roadblock, there’s a way around it. I just had to wait calmly and figure it will happen in its own time, ’cause there’s so much more to do.
Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.
Becky Large: Can’t stop, won’t stop. And of course, our slogan is “Yes, we can.” It’s not “Yes, you can’t” or “No, you can’t.”
Dr. Gwynette: That’s right. Yes, you can. You and I have talked openly about faith and how prayer changes things.
Becky Large: Oh yeah.
Dr. Gwynette: I know that’s a big part of your mission.
Becky Large: Huge.
Dr. Gwynette: That’s great to see God blessing your ministry and mission.
Becky Large: Thank you.
Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. So nice of you to be here, Becky.
Becky Large: Blessed by you.
Dr. Gwynette: And we’re here at the Autism and You seminar, for the Autism News Network with Becky Large, CEO and founder of the CAN Champion Autism Network, and we thank you for watching.
Becky Large: Come play with us.
Dr. Gwynette: Yay!