By NATALEIGH MCCALLUM
World Autism Day took place on April 2 around the world, but at Conestoga’s Doon campus the day wasn’t just about raising awareness, it was also about members of the A-team being able to tell their stories and give advice.
The event featured games in which students were asked to put a sock on their hand and then try to tie a shoe, interactive videos of others sharing their stories as well as a colourful board display featuring information and cartoons of what it feels like to be on the autism spectrum.
Each member of the A-team experiences his or her own difficulties when it comes to being on the autism spectrum. For Alex Menage, the co-facilitator of the A-team and a third-year computer engineering technology student, it’s the overwhelming pace of things that he struggles most with.
“I have so much to do in life with school, work, my social life and my responsibilities at home. There is just a lot to focus on,” Menage said about his management skills, adding that he finds the conversational aspect of life hard as well.
For Becky Hunt, a second-year general arts and science student, she struggles with social cues the most as well as holding conversations. But with the help of the A-team, she is working on this.
“The A-team helps with all of our struggles. It shows us we’re not alone,” Hunt said.
Vanessa Wojcik, a graduate from the general business program and a member of the A-team, encouraged students who find themselves on the spectrum to join the group.
“Mostly my communication skills and my socialization,” said Wojcik when asked what she struggles most with day to day.
When it comes to Rebecca Schmidt, a second-year early childhood education student, she said it is hard for some people to understand what it’s like to be on the autism spectrum.
“I may be a little slower at learning tasks than other people,” Schmidt said. “Sometimes it just makes me feel different.”
The event gave students the chance to talk to individuals who find themselves on the autism spectrum and it gave these individuals the chance to explain that the autism spectrum disorder is not a disease.
“I have trouble communicating with people. It makes me really shy with making friends,” said Carly Crooks, a third-year business accounting student, adding that when she first came to Conestoga she didn’t have many friends but thanks to the A-team she does now.
“It makes me feel like I’m not alone,” Crooks said.
Rachel Gagne, a first-year media foundations student, said it is people who do not try and understand and are not patient that upset her the most.
“I really think that it’s important for people to understand what autism is,” she said. “A lot of people say autism is a disease. But it is not, it’s not something that can be cured. It’s just how your brain is wired and it’s not something bad.”
Each member of the awareness group told their story to whoever stopped and wished to listen. They raised awareness through their own experiences.
Charlie Matjanec, the co-facilitator of the A-team and an employment adviser at Conestoga, said people are surprised that members of the A-team want to tell their stories since they struggle with communication and social skills.
“Be yourself, it’s all you can do. People will like you for who you are,” Schmidt said.