Riley, a teenager living in Toronto with his mother, has learning disabilities as well as ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and generalized anxiety.

Riley experienced a great deal of trauma at school, had difficulty with peers and had no friends to turn to for companionship. He was bullied physically and verbally. Understandably, Riley developed a “go-to” response of shutting down or getting out of uncomfortable or threatening situations. Sometimes Riley would respond with rage (throwing objects, yelling) and then become angry with himself for not being able to cope or having “meltdowns” in front of his peers.

For children and youth with complex challenges, Towhee provides a therapeutic environment where everyone feels acceptance and is encouraged to grow and gain the tools to build a brighter future. Towhee, at its core, is all about “challenge by choice”, which helps youth feel safe enough to take risks and experience success — often for the first time.

Riley has been able to attend Towhee for five summers through bursary support. With the help of Towhee counsellors, Riley was able to respond more mindfully to overwhelming experiences, fears and conflicts. He learned the phrase ‘I’m going to opt out of this for a minute’ when situations made him feel like shutting down, yelling, crying, or worse. Last year, Riley enrolled in the Towhee Leader in Training (LIT) program for the first time. He matured and transformed, taking on new challenges and added responsibilities. Riley was ready to develop new skills, ones he needed in order to return to stressful situations and find his way back in.

Learning Disabilities remain the most common form of disability experienced by Canadian children. Since its inception in 1968, Towhee continues to provide a successful and enriched learning experience for children and youth living with diagnosed learning disabilities complicated by mental health issues (LDMH).


Thank you to Riley and Child Development Institute for sharing this story. Kids like Riley and places like CDI are prime examples of how treatment enables kids with mental health issues to have great lives. But there are so many kids just like Riley who are unable to access the help and support they so desperately need. Talk with your MPP today and tell them that Ontario #kidscantwait for accessible mental health treatment in their communities.