OTTAWA -- A summer respite program for children with autism is in jeopardy and scrambling to find a new location to host their activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The schools that they normally run out of are closed and without a new location, Kaleidoscope Day Respite may be forced to do the same. 

Walking through the sports field at Emily Carr middle school in Ottawa, Tracey Abeysundera stops to pick up a dandelion for her son Rayne to blow. She is also with her other son, Parker. 

She laughs as she puts the dried ball of fluff up to her soon-to-be 11-year-old sons face and tells him to blow, he does. The white seeds scatter with the wind. 

However, for Tracey and her family, not every day is a walk in the park. Rayne has autism. 

"He's got some language but he's mostly nonverbal," she says. "Not having the routine has been a nightmare for rain lots of anxiety that his day is unpredictable."

A routine that has been shattered by COVID-19. Days filled with school and activities like swimming are gone. In addition, respite care, nearly impossible to come by. Rayne has become unsettled; he's damaged two televisions and kicked holes in the wall. 

"Bedtime is really hard, there are a lot of sleepless nights ... we have very little support at this point my dad used to help out a lot and I don't want him around us I'm still going to work." 

But as more businesses begin to reopen, there was light at the end of the tunnel. A camp Rayne has been attending since he was four. 

Kaleidoscope Day Respite is a subsidized five-week summer program put on by Children at Risk charity. The daily activities are tailored to the needs of children with autism and offer one-to-one counsellors. It also provides support and a break for parents and families. But the program is in jeopardy. 

"We're in a limbo right now we don't have a home for the program."

The program is now in its 10th year and has been deemed essential respite care. Executive director Brenda Reisch has all the grants and funding in place for Kaleidoscope, just not a location to host it. 

The Ottawa Catholic School Board provides space during the summer to host the program, which Reisch is grateful for, but this year they cannot, COVID-19 is keeping the schools closed. 

"There's got to be a recreation centre, there's got to be a community centre, I was even saving the baseball stadium we don't have a team this year I mean a big green field and separate rooms," she says. "We want to do everything we can to keep the personal distancing."

Reisch plans to follow health guidelines, and says that they will likely have to hire more staff to disinfect and ensure used rooms and equipment are disinfected throughout the day. She notes that this may cost more but it is not an option. 

For the nearly 150 families who rely on Kaleidoscope Day Respite, it too, is not an option not to run. 

For Tracey, programs like this are what she says, something we rely on to survive. 

"When he comes back he's calmer overall and he sleeps better so overall it makes our lives easier and I feel like our life is pretty hard right now."