Several new faces turned out Saturday for Blue Sky’s Autism Services’ Autism Awareness and Appreciation event.
The April 23 event, aimed at raising awareness and acceptance of people with autism, was held in celebration of Autism Awareness Month.
“It’s great to see all the families coming here, connecting with other people and feeling the support of being together,” said organizer Addilyn Ratcliff, who regularly works with 21 students at Blue Sky’s Autism Services.
“Autism is so diverse. You can see autism but you might also not know a child has autism so I think it’s very important that the community knows there are individuals with autism here and think about how they can include them in their day-to-day lives.”
While parents chatted with representatives from Blue Sky’s Autism, the Cariboo Family Enrichment Centre and StrongStart, their children enjoyed several activities. Ratcliff said this included crafts like colouring, sensory stations, gross motor activities and even a yoga class.
Courtney Arsenault, a stay-at-home mother of three, said she loves how inclusive everyone is in the autistic community. Arsenault’s middle son, Torstein, 4, is autistic and said Blue Sky’s Autism Services has been great for helping him develop and grow.
“Every normal milestone for other people is a big milestone for us and Tor has hit so many,” Arsenault said. “He was non-verbal when he started at Blue Sky’s and now he speaks full sentences and is just doing great.”
Events promoting autism awareness are important for children like Torstein, who will be going into kindergarten next year. His older brother Greyson, 8, said he intends to look out for his brother next year.
“When he goes to school I’m afraid people are going to think he’s weird and bully him,” Greyson said. “I’m going to make sure that everyone knows it’s OK to be different. Sometimes kids are different, but that doesn’t matter.”
Misunderstandings about autism don’t end in childhood.
One day last week, Jason Knuth, 31, said he was verbally harassed while trying to cancel his car insurance at a local business. Knuth, who is mildly autistic, said that he became confused when he was told that he had to pay a $100 fee to cancel his insurance.
The situation escalated during a conflict with the supervisor, who accused Knuth of raising his voice, something he does when he is stressed. Knuth said the man followed him outside, calling him names and telling him people with disabilities shouldn’t be allowed to drive.
A bystander helped defuse the situation but Knuth said the experience was upsetting, especially after he found out he owed the $100 fee because he had been on a monthly insurance plan.
“If (the supervisor) would have just explained that to me, we wouldn’t have had the issue,” Knuth said. “When it comes to learning and understanding situations I need a little bit more communication to understand.”
Ratcliff said such incidents are a reminder that some still need to remember to treat autistic people with respect and give them the space they need when necessary.
She encourages anyone with questions about autism to either reach out to Blue Sky’s Facebook page or check out autismbc.ca.