September 28, 2020

BY DEVON HAYES
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They call themselves the A-Team.

Alex Gobbi worked on his homework. A couple more talked quietly amongst themselves. Taylor Burwash ate his lunch.

One thing is clear: this group of students,  each on the autism spectrum with varying degrees and combinations of symptoms,  are just trying to make it through the school year like everyone else.

“I’ve always kind of had self-esteem issues,” said food processing technology student Mark Kennedy. “I have trouble making decisions, and I often make impulsive decisions. Conestoga has helped  me with these issues.”

Kennedy held a book in his hand – Asperger’s from the Inside Out – and was happy to talk about it. “I found this book really helpful,” he said.

Conestoga counsellor Kelly Laurila asked Kennedy, “did you buy it to help you understand yourself?”

“I think so,” he replied. “It has all the different characteristics and stuff like that. It has the negative interpretation of those characteristics, and then it has the positive interpretation. I found that very helpful.”

Laurila was happy to point out the positives.

“The talent in this group is incredible. Everything from singing to developing video games and drawing pictures – many of you talk about it being a de-stresser,” she said.

According to the Autism Canada Foundation, autism “impacts normal brain development leaving most individuals with communication problems, difficulty with typical social interactions and a tendency to repeat specific patterns of behaviour.”

The foundation also states that symptoms of autism often differ, resulting in a spectrum.

It is pretty clear that this is a smart group of students, though they want you to know that they think differently than other students.

“You have the same capabilities and abilities as other college students,” Laurila said.

When it comes to being bullied by others, Alexander Menage said those who bully are ignorant.

“It turns out that the bullies who pick on people like me are bigoted,” he said. “When I say bigots, I mean those who are ignorant of the fact that you have Asperger syndrome lack the understanding of what it means to have that, and therefore, think that you are a lower class human being.”

While Menage would rather keep his struggles with autism to himself, Kennedy said he finds telling those who don’t seem to understand helpful.

“You kind of have to feel people out,” he said.

It can be hard for them; a few have experienced bullying here at the college.

“You have the right to be here,” employment adviser Charlie Matjanec reminded them.

The A-Team wants you to know they are a diverse group struggling with the same disorder, and they all think a different way.

In the weeks leading up to the seventh annual World Autism Awareness Day, which will take place on April 2, the A-Team has been hard at work preparing to educate their peers here at Conestoga.

The World Autism Day slogan is “Light it up Blue.” Blue is supposed to be a colour that represents calming and de-stressing for people along the autism spectrum.

Major world landmarks will be lit up on April 2, including the CN Tower.

If you want to learn more about the autism spectrum, this group of students will be at Door 3 on April 2.

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