Autism spectrum disorder is a complex condition that impacts brain development and affects a person’s social relationships, communication, interests and behaviour: Province of British Columbia definition
This was a celebration for Ryan and Charles, and for inclusiveness and understanding.
Dorothy Peacock Elementary (DPE) Grade 7 students Charles Munro and Ryan Laface have been best buddies and classmates since kindergarten.
For seven years, they’ve shared a special bond, and have had each other’s backs.
Ryan and Charles have autism — and hope the lessons shared with their school on April 11, during the Walnut Grove school’s first ever DPE Autism Awareness Assembly and Celebration, will prove invaluable.
Ryan hoped the presentation would change people’s attitude about autism.
“Whoever doesn’t know, it’s a disorder, not a disease,” he said. “Some people make jokes about autism and I’m tired of that.”
How special was this day to those at the school closest to Charles and Ryan? The question caused DPE special education assistant Sandi Binding to cup her hand over her mouth, her eyes welling with tears.
“These kids… they amaze me,” she said, her voice shaking with emotion. “Just their strength and their perseverance to power whatever is put in front of them is amazing. This is their last year here, and this is about letting them shine.”
“This is my passion,” Binding added. “I’ve worked with these two boys since kindergarten and this is part of this, is seeing them come so far.”
Binding said she and the DPE team of autism awareness members had “worked tirelessly” to prepare for the celebration, while raising $1,250 thus far for the Canucks Autism Network through the sales of 134 T-shirts (featuring an ‘It’s not autism, it’s awetism’ logo designed by a DPE Grade 7 student), a jersey campaign, and other fundraising initiatives.
The afternoon included a presentation from Charles and Ryan along with the Canucks Autism Network, followed by a short film about autism, and a “fractured fairy tale” called Cinder-Awesome (co-written by Charles and DPE intermediate resource teacher Adam Knowlson) about a princess with autism.
“There’s a lot of fractured fairy tales out there, but this one is by far the best I’ve ever seen,” said Ryan, who narrated the play with Charles.
“Our goal for all of this is to raise autism awareness and teach children how to be a good friend to someone with autism,” Binding said.
Charles told the audience “when we wear (DPE) blue (shirts) it’s not only keeping the conversation of autism going around, but it’s also making sure those with autism and their families don’t feel alone.”
A journey together
Serendipity brought the boys together, and helped answer questions that Ryan’s parents had about their son.
“I knew there was something wrong with him at two-and-a-half,” Ryan’s mom Michelle said. “But with the pediatrician we had, it just wasn’t happening. I was very fortunate that Jackie, Charlie’s mom, was connected to me because they both were in the class (in kindergarten). She helped guide me through that process of having him diagnosed (with autism) because the school knew there was something wrong with him.”
Jackie was the first person Michelle had met who has an autistic son.
“She totally supported me,” Michelle said.
Michelle remembers the day Ryan was diagnosed. “I did not sleep that whole night. It just engulfs your whole being.”
Jackie said, “When you get the diagnosis, they give you the pamphlets and it’s almost like, ‘okay, good luck.’ Then you have to go find the treatment for them, and find out what treatment suits your family because there’s lots out there, and find out what works for you, what doesn’t work for you, and about funding, and about a therapist…”
The boys have been in every class together all through their time at DPE.
“If one’s having a bad day, the other one steps up,” Michelle said. “They are a support for each other.”
“They have each other’s back,” Jackie said.
The thought of them being split apart brings Michelle to tears.
“I’m emotional because, I don’t know what they’re going to do next year, if they’re not going to be here anymore,” she said.
“They won’t be in the same class so they won’t have that support system as much,” Jackie noted.
For both families, the Canucks Autism Network has been there every step of the way.
“I found them when my son was five, and it’s amazing to go to (their) programs,” Jackie said. “If my kid’s going to have a meltdown on the floor, it doesn’t matter. You don’t feel like you’re alone and I think that’s the biggest thing: to feel you are part of a bigger group and there are more people out there.”
The progress Ryan and Charles have made since kindergarten amazes their moms.
“They probably couldn’t sit in the classroom for 25 percent of the day when they first started kindergarten, and now they are completely different boys, and I give all the credit to the staff at the school,” Michelle said.
“This (presentation) is a dream they’ve had since last year,” Jackie said, “and the school has let them have this dream, and let them shine, and to be able to let them shine and be themselves, and show the school who they really are, and what autism is.
They want friendships, too. They may not know how to go about it, and they may go about it a different way but they want acceptance just as much as everybody else.”
One in 66 children diagnosed
April is Autism Awareness month in B.C., and a recent report from the Public Health Agency of Canada shows one in 66 Canadian children and youth ages five to 17 are on the autism spectrum.
Laurie Mawlam, the executive director at Autism Canada, says the report shows that the prevalence of autism is on the rise.
“Regardless if this increase is due to better diagnostics, increased awareness or increased incidence, there is an urgent need for a national autism strategy. This long awaited Canadian data will be invaluable for planning and budgeting for services to support Canadians living with autism.”
The finding is based on analysis of 2015 data supplied by six provinces and one territory.