I will skip the soap opera like drama that was my preschool to elementary school years as an only child of divorce trying to navigate family and friends. Lets return back to the middle school hallways where the taunting began because there was just something not right about me to everyone else . Was it that my parents divorce emotionally stunted me and that is why I chose to retreat to the basement to play with my dollhouse instead of parties? Did it have the opposite effect and force me to grow up instantly which is why I dressed like I was going to a business meeting with my latest outfit from Le’ Chateau paired with sensible heels when my peers wore jeans and sneakers. My best friend at the time was the tallest girl I have ever seen, she was blonde, curvy and vivacious which means typical story, girls wanted to be her friend and boys wanted to date her.
I stood next to her just over 5”, freckles, braces for over 5 years and attempting to dye my hair from brunette to red which resulted in a carrot top situation. I was in every sense of the word the ugly duckling of our group and it didn’t get easier in High school. I remember sitting at the lunch table looking around and hearing all the gossip from the parties I had missed the previous weekend while I retreated in the basement because I did want not to partake or simply because I was not invited. Sex, drugs, alcohol they were experimenting with everything and I was more interested in the latest release of an animated movie or new Broadway Musical. We were never seen as the “cool kids” but to me they were, and I was not.
I was diagnosed with Depression and Anxiety around the same time and had a huge setback. I struggled to control my emotions and prescribed medication made it impossible to get out of bed. I eventually failed grade 9 due to lack of attendance and attitude so when I was going to have to repeat a year and my group was going graduate on time I decided to transfer and start fresh. I switched school and fell in with another group and I felt little more accepted but still always the odd one out. I worked really hard to graduate but I fell ill and almost missed the festivities. I was so sick I missed the breakfast and now I have an yearbook without any signatures. No “I’ll Miss you” or “Rock on!” and now that I barely talk to anyone due to distance, life and personal growth I sometimes look at the blank cover and wish by some power that I could have those signatures.
My first year out of high school my mom thought it would be a good idea for me to volunteer, and so I applied to be a camp counsellor for Canterbury Hills. They have both day camp and residential programs and a special needs one on one support team. I volunteered to be the one on one support for my cabin that summer and my life was forever changed. I bonded with children who thought differently, spoke differently and sometimes not at all, but we did our best to understand one another.
My older cousin is on the Autism Spectrum and growing up in our household it was never a conversation, it was expected that she be accepted and treated with respect because she is one of us, she is family. Over the years I have seen her and the children I have worked with struggle similar to my experiences when it comes to finding your place because of our individuality and differences. By writing ‘Friends on the Spectrum’ I set out to create material for children, parents, educators and more to use as a platform for discussions around awareness and the importance of acceptance in regards to the value of our peers on the spectrum. I do not claim to be an expert on the subject matter and have used my personal and professional experiences with my background in children’s education /development to form the content. The illustrations are individually hand drawn by a young woman on the spectrum from Newmarket, ON and she has created an incredibly detailed depiction of daily living and learning in order to tell this story. Together we have created an engaging, fun and educational story in order to foster open and honest conversations to promote uniqueness and individuality for all ages.
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Photography by: Lady Luck Photography Studio