Contributed by Kelly Riccardi and Minette Julian

Edited by Gabriela Torres, Community Engagement Team


As we continue celebrating Autism Awareness Month in our communities, we highlight the wide range of individualized support Laurel Consultants across British Columbia offer. The many strategies and techniques consultants use, help make a difference in the lives of 600 children and adults living with autism and other intellectual disabilities.

The differences Laurel Consultants make in the lives of others is clearly seen in our second story submission by Metro Vancouver Laurel Consultant Kelly Riccardi and mother of two, Minette Julian. Minette is a single mother to 11-year-old Gian and 10-year-old Gio. Her youngest son Gio was diagnosed with autism when he was four years old. In her story, Minette highlights the struggles she and her family faced when moving to Canada from the Philippines and the new techniques she has learned to help her son Gio work through his behavioural challenges. To learn more about Minette and her family, read below!


Minette Julian has lived in Vancouver since 2005. For many years, she lived apart from her two sons who lived in the Philippines with their grandparents where they had more family to spend time with. While the two boys were in the Philippines, healthcare professionals diagnosed Gio with autism. During this difficult time, Minette’s mother was a huge help to the family and would often bring Gio to the doctor’s office for check-ups, helped enroll him into a private school, and made appointments for therapy sessions in order to get Gio all of the support he needed.

Overcoming a Sudden and Difficult Transition

In September of 2017, the two boys faced a difficult life change. They moved to Canada and started attending school that same month. The sudden unfamiliarity of their new environment at school and at home was a shock. Not only were they introduced to new people and a new daily routine but had to overcome barriers including the sudden change in climate and learning how to speak English. The boys also missed their grandparents deeply. This made adjusting to their new life in Canada all the more difficult. The move also posed challenges for Minette. While she was happy to have her sons living with her under the same roof, she knew Gian and Gio felt unhappy and it was heartbreaking for her to see them without smiles on their faces.

As time passed, the boys began to cheer up and Minette sought out ways to help Gio with his behavioural challenges. She began by working with a Behaviour Interventionist, who taught Gio to play sports like basketball and soccer, took him biking and on hikes, and helped him make new friends by teaching him ways to interact with other children. After some time on a waiting list for a Behaviour Consultant, the family met Kelly Riccardi who helped Gio foster new healthy behaviours and relationships with the kids at school and his family. While Kelly made a huge difference in many areas of Gio’s life, the most impactful was helping Gio improve his eating habits.

Before Kelly entered Minette and her family’s lives, Gio only ate foods he was familiar with like fried chicken, French fries, and dry meats. He did not have a healthy balanced diet of vegetables and fruits and would not join the family at the dining table. Instead, Minette would feed Gio while he played games or watched TV on the couch where he felt most comfortable. These eating habits worried Minette. She wanted her son to lead a healthy lifestyle and wanted to enjoy his presence at the dining table when the family gathered for their daily meals.

Making a Difference with Food, Fun, and Numbers!

Using a rewards-based program called “First and Then,” Kelly created a visual eating schedule for Gio that introduced healthy foods like carrots, broccoli, spinach, and other veggies along with Gio’s preferred foods like meats and fries. Since Gio is great at math, both Minette and Kelly assigned Gio a specific number of bites per meal to help him finish his new foods in a way he could relate to. After finishing a certain number of bites from his new dishes, Gio could then eat some of the foods he was familiar with as a reward.

Positive reinforcement, visuals, and a set number of bites per meal were the keys that helped Gio excel and ultimately develop new healthy eating habits. This even got him off the couch and sitting at the dining table where he ate and spent time with his family at dinner. Even though this was a difficult new process to implement and follow at first, everyone stuck to it, including Gio! As a result, Gio has tried as many as 45 new foods and no longer struggles to finish his meals. Sometimes he even takes a moment to pick out what he wants to eat and serves his food by putting it on his plate all by himself!

What’s more, the introduction of the First and Then program also translated into other areas of Gio’s life. It helped him create structure in his day and made what were once terrifying tasks stress-free. For example, prior to Gio’s use of the First and Then program, he felt terrified when going to the dentist. Now, his dentist uses visuals, much like Kelly and Minette do at dinner time, to make sure Gio knows what to expect on the dentist’s chair. This helps Gio keep his pearly whites clean and healthy!

Improvements and Growth for the Whole Family

Minette and her family are extremely grateful for the changes in their lives and Gio’s. Since working with Kelly, they have seen Gio’s rapid improvement first hand. In fact, on a recent family trip to the Philippines, Gian and Gio’s grandparents were very impressed by all the progress Gio had made since they last saw him.

“Gio has improved so much and his eating habits have changed completely. He likes to eat his rice with meats, veggies, and even fruits! Sometimes he even eats more than his brother and my niece.” – Minette Julian

Though Minette’s family is sad their contract with Kelly is soon ending, they are extremely happy to have shared these moments of happiness and success with him. As a proud and dedicated mother, Minette is thrilled to share her story with the posAbilities community and hopes to continue keeping us updated on Gio’s ongoing success.

Laurel’s Services and Programs

Not only do Laurel Consultants like Kelly partake in effective one-on-one learning with individuals and their families, but Laurel offers family-centered programs and workshops like Triple P®. Supported by 30 years of research, Triple P® gives parents and caregivers helpful strategies, techniques, and positive approaches to raising children.

If interested in learning more about Laurel and Triple P® go to Laurel’s website here.

If you’re curious about upcoming events and opportunities in your community, be sure to check out the Laurel events calendar and posAbilities events calendar. Make sure to RSVP to the events that interest you most!

Meet Kelly Riccardi!

This year, not only are we celebrating and encouraging awareness, understanding, and acceptance of individuals with autism, but are highlighting the wonderful work our Laurel Behavioural Consultants do in the process.

Check out this short video of Kelly, a Laurel Behaviour Consultant representing Metro Vancouver, who let us how he likes to spreads awareness about autism in the community while encouraging understanding.