April 28, 2021
by Maxwell Smith
I’ve been accessing Canucks Autism Network (CAN) programs for almost a year now. I thought about joining a couple of years back, but hesitated. I was busy with high school and was in a very bad place mentally and emotionally. But I’ve been making progress on healing and being in a better place.
Being with CAN has really been a journey, since I felt like I was entirely on my own beforehand. I joined last August near the beginning of the pandemic.
I thought, “How do I find people that are just like me?”
I had looked elsewhere, but was often found ineligible for different services and programs because I was deemed ‘high functioning’.
Before CAN, I had been paired with workers who had made me feel afraid to show my true autistic self – that I could not understand social cues or that I experienced sensory overload. I felt like I had to stand up for myself and justify why I deserved to be respected as a human being at a young age.
I can make some eye contact and I can speak, so I was often made to feel like I should be able to move past those social and sensory challenges. It left me with way more emotional scars than I needed. I felt helpless, scared and alone. Looking back on it, I would never wish it on anyone at all.
So when I joined CAN, I really had no idea what to expect. I joined their Youth & Adult Advisory Group (now called the Youth & Adult Leadership Committee), a group of individuals on the spectrum who provide feedback and insight on CAN programming. After the first session online, there was already a huge difference from what I’ve been used to.
Interested in joining the Youth & Adult Leadership Committee? Email [email protected].
I shared about how certain actions we see in the community can stigmatize autistic individuals – how making us feel like certain behaviours are inherently bad can be very damaging. I didn’t get questioned or scrutinized for what I had to say. I actually felt as if my voice mattered, and that I was believed with no judgement or shame whatsoever.
“Autism acceptance means I’m part of a community that supports and listens to me.”
Since the Advisory Group, I have joined a number of CAN programs, including the Skills Training Employment Program (STEP). The program is a 12-week paid opportunity for autistic youth and adults. I was part of their first cohort this past winter. It took time to build back the confidence that I had shattered. But by the end, I had learned much more than what my five years of high school had taught me – and in a way that I can understand.
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Maxwell (bottom right) on “graduation day” with STEP in March 2021.
The program also allowed me to reunite with a childhood friend, both online in STEP’s virtual classroom and in-person after the program. As part of STEP, I’ll be working with CAN as an office assistant starting this May. I’m looking forward to it, including working alongside my future colleagues!
The best way to support the autistic community is to listen to us, amplify our voices and to be willing to work with the autistic community to bring change, justice and acceptance as a whole.
As an autistic person in the community, both online and in person, it’s both saddening and infuriating seeing certain groups stigmatize us – and then around April, act like they have our backs or speak for us just for their own publicity gain. We’re not here to be alienated and looked down upon. We’re human just like everyone else. We just need support and acceptance for who we are – not a cure or to be “solved like a missing piece of the puzzle.”
Yes, I’m proud of the first steps our communities are making right now. It’s a good thing to shift to “acceptance”. But now we got to continue to strive forward for continued change.
I’m glad to speak out on this month with the best of my ability. I’d like to end with a quote which I stand by to this day: “Nothing about us, without us.”