Supporting People with Autism One Wave at a Time


A summertime event of the Rides for Autism series
By Paul Taylor Sr.

Since 2019, the Prescott-Russell region of Eastern Ontario has been the host of a Flotilla to help local families with a member on the autism spectrum. While the idea of a Flotilla gathering different types of watercraft for a nice day on the water was new for that region, the fundraiser’s creation was based on greater needs in the area.

The beginning of the rides for autism

When they returned to Eastern Ontario with their son in 2018, Paul Sr. and Nicole Taylor noticed a lack of support, community engagement, and awareness for ASD families & caregivers. They started a small group named ASD United Prescott-Russell to bring those in need together. While the Taylors have volunteered for Autism Ontario since 2014, they created ASD United Prescott-Russell to serve as a local group that welcomes people of all ages with autism and other disabilities, along with their family members. Nicole Taylor is also a 2022 recipient of the Canada Cares Award of Excellence, and an elected member of the SEAC (Special Education Advisory Committee) for the CDSBEO (Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario), a term that will extend until 2026.

Their son Paul Taylor Jr. is currently twelve and loves water. From small pools to big ones, from ponds to lakes and raging rivers, this young man lives and breathes water-related activities. In 2018, Paul Jr. and his family were offered a pair of demo Sea-Doo’s for a weekend. The family took to the water for two days in a row, cruising lightly and taking in the scenery, playing among the waves and wakes while reaching high speeds across the mirror-smooth waters. It didn’t matter the type of riding they did, Paul Jr. was beyond happy as long as they were on the move. The Taylor family was so thankful for their experience, knowing they’d never forget it, yet completely unaware what it would lead to.

The Taylor family was so thankful for their experience, knowing they’d never forget it […].

The upswing of the Flotilla

The following season rolled around and Kevin Assaly, owner of Hawkesbury’s Maximum Powersports, reached out to Paul Sr. again to offer the newest demonstration watercraft for a weekend of fun. The Taylors gladly accepted, although with heavy hearts, wishing they could share this experience with other families and children with autism spectrum disorder. Unfortunately, due to liability reasons, the family couldn’t invite others to ride the machines. “It was then that we came up with the idea,” mentions Paul Sr. He and Nicole began organizing the inaugural Flotilla for Autism Awareness, just weeks before its date in the summer of 2019. Maximum Powersports agreed to not only supply the water-craft, but also to sponsor gift certificates and riding gear as prize giveaways. ALX Designs in Hawkesbury offered to produce the required signage and the Marketing Division of Sylmar Auto Ville volunteered their time to create all the media for both the Facebook page and signage. Paul and Nicole approached a handful of other local businesses and before they knew it, they had an impressive prize pack to offer participants.

The Flotilla for Autism Awareness 2019 attracted approxi-mately 20 participants, mostly riding PWCs, with a no-charge entry and donations accepted on the day of the event. The original event featured a takeoff on the Ottawa River from Hawkesbury to Ottawa, a quick lunch, refueling, and a ride back. The trip was very long and smooth on the way upriver. However, upon the group’s return to Hawkesbury, they were met with two-to-three-foot waves, making the return leg nearly unbearable and causing them to be delayed in meeting town officials, the mayor, and other guests at the event’s conclusion. All of the participants had a great time, made new friends, and took home a prize from the event. ASD United raised $1,287 that day for local families and marked the effort a success. But the Rides for Autism had only just begun…

After that successful event, the Taylors did some brainstorming and received feedback from the Flotilla participants and founding sponsors. It was obvious that they couldn’t travel great distances with time restrictions, but needed a way to let participants engage with the event and its sponsors. This is when the Taylors began planning a fall off-road ride, with the hopes of also creating a winter snowmobile ride. The idea started with a scavenger hunt, in which participants scavenge for points by finding landmarks, points of interest, hidden items, and posted signage.

An out-of-the-ordinary scavenger hunt

For each ride, the Taylors obtain different promotional items from their sponsors and give each of them point values. They are then hidden and placed along the paths and trails of the rides for participants to find and retrieve. Participants are given a Scavengers Task List on the morning of the ride, containing a list of landmarks to locate, points of interest to engage with, and hidden items to scavenge for along the way. It’s now grown to the point that some sponsors set up trailside booths to meet the participants during their ride, offering extra points for their interactions. “Social media interaction is key for our sponsors,” says Nicole Taylor. Among the scavengers’ tasks for points is the requirement to take pictures or selfies at sponsor locations throughout the day, and to tag them when creating certain posts for the ride. The scavenger hunts have grown in popularity with the rides, and returning participants are always eager to receive their new Scavengers Task List on the morning of the event.

These efforts now feature three annual fundraising rides benefiting ASD United Prescott-Russell: The Flotilla for Autism Awareness, The Off-Road Rides for Autism, and the Snowmobile Rides for Autism. The Flotilla is approaching its third year and the other rides are now heading into their second edition. Participation has rapidly increased from 20 to almost 200. The sponsor list has also grown, and the efforts have even attracted the likes of Club APRIL Marine, which officially supports the Flotilla for Autism Awareness. There is no cost to be a participant in any of these rides, however the organizers do accept donations for ASD United Prescott-Russell as participants check in on the morning of each ride.

ASD United Prescott-Russell has identified several require-ments for those with autism and special needs, including building communication and relationships with local first responders and key members of society. The group, in coope-ration with the Eastern Ontario Provincial Police, is developing an Autism Training Program for police, fire, and other agen-cies to teach first responders how to recognize when communication barriers exist and how to engage with those who have them. This effort is just one example of the future plans that the group has for the autism community to help them better succeed. An autism camp for entire families to enjoy an outdoor getaway and educational experience is also among those future plans.

A very busy year

In 2022, the group enjoyed great success hosting several events: A “Boo at the Zoo” at Papanack Zoo for 150 families, Ouimet Farms Adventure for over 30 families, and a Corn Roast at Les Jardins Lamoureux, which was open to the public. There’s also a pool program and weekly activity hour at the Robert Hartley Sports Complex in Hawkesbury, Ontario, which is open to all members.

Members of ASD United Prescott-Russell benefit from the group in many ways. It’s more than just activity nights, pool programs or special activities. It’s also more than just bringing people together. It’s about letting them find themselves and be themselves, with support from others.

Chantale, a mother of two, says: “It means a lot to not feel so alone, to be connected to a larger community now.” Another parent adds: “Being a family with an autistic child can be very isolating at times, so the outings have allowed us to connect with other parents who understand and relate to us. It’s so valuable to have people with shared experiences come together to support each other. It’s amazing to have a feeling of belonging. That’s what ASD United Prescott-Russell has given our family.”

Nicole Taylor, who heads the group, shared that she “is over-joyed about what they’ve been able to create, which benefits so many families. It’s an honour to give back and feel rewarded by such efforts.” Paul Sr. adds that he “feels the group not only unites families, it creates mutually benefiting rela-tionships between dads, making us better parents.”

This year, all three Rides for Autism will go forward and we certainly look forward to the Flotilla for Autism Awareness to be held on August 12 on the Ottawa River, with Hawkesbury, Ontario, acting as home port. Club APRIL Marine and Maximum Powersports will be there. Will you come join the fastest-growing Flotilla for Autism in North America?

For more information about the Flotilla, see the Club APRIL Marine social media posts or visit the event’s website at