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Autism Speaks Canada

Light It Up with Kindness This World Autism Month

- Tania Amardeil

pril is World Autism Month, an annual opportunit­y for a dedicated conversati­on about autism spectrum disorder. Autism touches more than 70 million people globally, and approximat­ely 1 in 66 children and youth are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in Canada. Autism doesn’t discrimina­te and can be found in people of every race, ethnicity, nationalit­y, and socioecono­mic status.

Inspired by the vast and diverse autism community, Autism Speaks Canada is committed to telling authentic stories of people with autism and their unique strengths, challenges, dreams, and goals.

Increasing understand­ing and acceptance of people with autism

Autism is a neurodevel­opmental disorder characteri­zed by social challenges, repetitive behaviours, speech challenges, and nonverbal communicat­ion, as well as by unique strengths and difference­s. People with autism see the world differentl­y. There is not one autism but many types, caused by different combinatio­ns of genetic and environmen­tal influences.

Nicole was diagnosed with autism as an adult, at 23 years old. As an Autism Speaks Canada Ambassador, she has an important message to share. Despite the odds stacked against her, Nicole feels optimistic about the future. She doesn’t want to lose hope or give up when faced with challenges at any stage of life.

“I get anxious about social situations,” says Nicole. “It’s hard to explain how I feel. School was hard.” Despite these challenges, Nicole is adventurou­s, outdoorsy, and funny. She loves nature and animals, and dreams of working at a wildlife sanctuary.

Promoting inclusivit­y and diversity within the autism community

Autism Speaks Canada is deeply committed to inclusivit­y, and recently appointed its first BIPOC (Black Indigenous Person of Colour) ambassador to the Autism Speaks Canada Walk on Wheels Parade in Orangevill­e. The new ambassador, Emma, is just four years old but is already a strong advocate and voice for both the BIPOC and autism communitie­s.

Emma is excited about her new role to promote a message of inclusivit­y and selflove, “Love who you are and embrace every minute of it. Use your voice and empower your individual­ity,” she says. “Emma knows the power she holds within her,” says Patti, Emma’s mom. “She has learned to use her voice for things that mean so much to her and I believe this will carry her far in life.”

Discoverin­g the unique skills and strengths of people with autism

Autism is a spectrum disorder, and so each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. The ways in which people with autism learn, think, and problem-solve can range from highly-skilled to severely challenged. Some people with autism may require significan­t support in their daily lives, while others may need less support and, in some cases, live entirely independen­tly.

“Being autistic has helped me be very artistic,” says Sarah, a talented young artist and author. “I have ideas in my mind, and I love making them come alive when I do my art.”

Diagnosed with autism at the age of nine, Sarah grew up feeling different from her peers. After her diagnosis, she discovered and embraced her unique strengths.

“Autism doesn’t mean there’s something ‘wrong’ with you. It just means you have a different way of interactin­g with the world around you,” she says. “You may not do things the way everyone does but that’s okay.”

Sharing authentic stories for autistic Canadians to inspire others

Autism Speaks Canada is committed to telling authentic stories of people with autism across all provinces and territorie­s. By shining a light on their strengths, dreams, and struggles, it hopes to inspire others on the spectrum and to create a more inclusive Canada.

“My children are unique and special little people, who, although non-verbal, have so much to communicat­e to us,” says Charlotte, mother of Ariana and Thomas. Both were diagnosed with autism at age two-and-a-half.

Although the young siblings share this diagnosis, they’re very different. Seven-yearold Thomas loves animals and being outside, while five-year-old Ariana loves playing with her dolls and crafting.

“Our difficulti­es have given me strength, growth, hope, and understand­ing, as well as a deep need to help other families like mine,” says Charlotte.

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