“You don’t want to hear that, but it’s a relief to know what’s going on and to have the supports that come with a diagnosis,” she said.
She noticed, when Riley was two or three years old, that he often acted differently than most children. He was extremely sensitive to smells, lights, touch and sounds. When he was with other children he would play next to them, but not with them. Regular routine was important; he became very upset by anything unexpected. He was in Grade 2 when he was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and now, almost 13, he acknowledges his own differences and finds places he can fit in.
“I get sidetracked really easily,” he said. “I’m not really socially good. I can stay very focused on my interests.”
One of those interests is Dungeons and Dragons, and he takes part in D&D events at the library and at Slate Youth Centre, where he finds his differences are accepted.
“I like books,” said Riley. “I like reading a lot. I do a lot of art work, too.”
He’s currently in Grade 7 at Truro Junior High and, although he doesn’t find classwork difficult, he faces some struggles with peer relationships.
There’s no hesitation when he’s asked what he’d like to do for work when he’s older; his list of possibilities includes manga artist, programmer and creating video games.
“He’s very bright and creative,” said Stephanie. “He has a great support system at school and they do a lot of work on social skills. Structure and routine is important, and he deals with things like surprises much better now.”
Vicky Harvey, community outreach co-ordinator for Autism Nova Scotia, said people with autism are often misunderstood because others don’t understand why they’re reacting in certain ways.
“They may have odd reactions we don’t expect, and social skills are often affected,” she said. “A lot were labelled as bad kids years ago because of this and other conditions that weren’t understood. There are a lot of very interesting people whose autism has contributed much to who they are: Temple Grandin… the inventor of Pokemon… a number of scientists…. We often see success in engineering, science and computer sciences. Areas where they do well, they do extremely well.”
Stephanie Mitchell took part in her first Autism walk three years ago and is now on the committee for the event.
The local walk will take place June 10 at Victoria Park. The opening ceremony is at 10:30 a.m., with the walk at 10:45 a.m. Other fun, family activities will also be part of the day.
For more information visit http://www.walkthewalkforautism.ca/