Founder, SAAAC Autism Centre
Social Change Award Finalist
Geetha founded the South Asian Autism Awareness Centre (SAAAC) in direct response to the growing need for awareness and support for South Asian families impacted by ASD and related developmental disorders. The centre began with two families, a handful of volunteers, and minimal resources. Today, it’s a full-fledged centre composed of a multidisciplinary team and more than 200 volunteers, serving 300 families impacted by autism.
My first job ever was… accounting Clerk at John Keels Holding Company in Sri-Lanka
I chose my career path because… my path to my current career was never really linear. Growing up I wanted to be a doctor, but that wasn’t in the cards so I entered into accounting. Being an accountant helped me provide for my family – but finding my passion came later in my life as my family life settled. I wanted to help families to be independent and making changes within our community was very rewarding. With that, SAAAC was born.
My proudest accomplishment is… is growing the SAAAC Autism Centre from just a handful of families and volunteers from the basement of my home to serving over 400 families and training 150 volunteers annually in our 11,000 sq. ft facility.
My boldest move to date was… quitting my job as a controller to run a not-for-profit organization, with no pay, and no experience in the field of developmental health services
I surprise people when I tell them… that I had no real knowledge about autism before starting the SAAAC Autism Centre, and that it was my classical dance organization that drove me to my first encounter with individuals with autism.
My best advice from a mentor was… my greatest mentors were my parents. Their generosity, hard work, and thoughtfulness have significantly developed my character. Their advice to me was that our actions matter – that even if you are helping just one person, that thoughtful action helps create a ripple effect that can be felt far and wide. Because of my parents, I know that the work we are doing at the SAAAC Autism Centre is not just helping children and youth with ASD, but also helping build a more supportive and inclusive society.
“Why are you doing this? If the answer you provide moves you to action, that is all you need to move forward.”
My biggest setback was… starting my life again in Canada as a refugee after fleeing Sri Lanka’s civil war.
I overcame it by… relying on the support of my family and friends was one of the biggest ways I overcame the initial shock of arriving in Canada as a refugee. Also, the opportunities given by Canada made me a better and stronger person
If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… dance more
I stay inspired by… continually engaging with the children, families and volunteers at the SAAAC Autism Centre. Hearing their stories, seeing their growth, and helping them accomplish their goals, keeps me inspired every day.
The future excites me because… I get to work collaboratively with incredible stakeholders to find solutions to help children and families living with ASD. There is a lot of work to be done within the ASD landscape in Canada, and working collectively with passionate, intelligent, and creative people to positively impact lives is incredibly exciting for me.
My next step is… to help build our Centre’s capacity to begin international development work. There are many countries around the world that have little to no autism support capacity. It is my hope that the SAAAC Autism Centre can facilitate partnerships and help build meaningful services that can provide under-resourced communities access to critical ASD support. In addition, I will look to fuse my two passions: arts and autism support. In the coming years, I, along with my team, will look enhance our art-based programming to provide greater opportunities for artistic growth. The programs will look to highlight student development and skill through various public performances such as music and art exhibitions. Look for us on Broadway when we complete the first all-Autistic cast musical!