BY LEAH MORROW
“We have students here who are about to graduate,” said Charlie Matjanec, employment adviser in Accessibility Services. “We have students who are just starting out or have a reduced course load. We have graduate alumni here because they enjoyed the interaction and wanted to continue.”
Accessibility Services has about 13 students registered who have autism and who are members of the A-team.
According to Autism Speaks, the world’s leading autism science advocacy group, autism spectrum disorder and autism can be defined as complex disorders of brain development. These disorders can be categorized in varying degrees with people having difficulty with social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication and repetitive behaviours. The website for the organization said that over 40 per cent of those on the spectrum have above average intelligence and creativity levels.
“I would say one of my best traits is thinking outside the box,” said Danny Eagle, one of the A-team members. “When we are doing a math problem, most people take the streamlined method. I try to think about various perspectives and then come up with the right answer.”
“I am very knowledgeable about a lot of things and I am very creative,” said Cam Schaefer. “I am currently writing a novel.”
“My super power would be that I am outspoken,” said Becky Hunt. “I am motivated.”
Hunt has written and published a children’s book called How Bullying Victims Feel.
“When I was younger, in elementary, middle school and high school I got bullied a lot,” she said. “Like constantly being bullied every single day. Every time I would go to the office, I would get the same excuse; they are just being kids or they are just being boys. One day I just got fed up with it.”
She said that is when she started to write to express herself. She said if people were not willing to listen to what she was saying, then she would write it down.
Matjanec said one of the topics addressed in Hunt’s book is people not speaking up for themselves. He said she took it upon herself to speak up and be their voice for them.
“I stood up for my friends who were being picked on too,” said Hunt.
Matjanec said the purpose behind the A-team is to give students a supportive environment free of bullying, a place where people can go and talk about everything from school to relationships in a safe environment.
Schaefer said he can look back on moments when he stood up to bullies of his own.
“This was one of the moments that I was most proud of myself,” he said.
Schaefer said when he was younger he, like many kids, had a wild imagination. He had invented what he referred to as “the double world.”
“One day, a bunch of kids came up to me,” he said. “They said, Cam, did you know that there is a portal to the double world in the dumpster?’ I asked them, how dumb do you think I am?”
He said his bullies’ lack of creativity was almost disappointing.
“If I am going to get bullied,” he said, “I want high quality bullying. I want effort put into it.”
Schaefer said he wants bullying that could be at least classified as a B.
Karen Harnock said back in Grade 9 a girl created a lot of issues for her. “My teachers didn’t seem to understand at all. The girl pushed me into a locker, so I decided to use self-defence.”
She said she had no choice but to punch this bully, putting her down for the count.
“Bullies might not know that the person they are bullying has super powers of their own,” said Matjanec. “You have to be able to say, enough, I’m not going to take this anymore.”
Matjenec asked the team to specify any issues or concerns they have within the college environment.
“Sometimes people on the spectrum require a little more clarification,” said Harnock. “I had to deal with a professor last semester who was not very understanding and I got so fed up that I had to drop the course.”
The team agreed that sometimes so much information is thrown out at once that it is very easy to get lost.
“I have done so much public speaking surrounding disabilities,” said Yvonne Spicer, another A-team member. “Since 2008, I have been speaking to government officials and been on so many committees.”
She said they are trying to eliminate the stigma surrounding disabilities of every kind.
“We want to be more included,” she said. “We want people to not bully us and not treat us differently. We want people to just get to know us, not for our disabilities.”