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Nate Keller: What I want you to know about autism

A male youth outfitted in running attire bites a racing medal in his mouth

Jun 4, 2019

My name is Nate Keller, I’m 17 years old and I have autism.

People often ask me if I have autism. I don’t always like it, because I don’t know if they’re making fun of me or if they’re just being curious.

I’m also a curious person and tend to ask people a lot of questions, so I do understand. I guess I don’t mind as long as it helps others to learn about me and anyone who lives with autism.

What I want to tell them is that autism can be hard. For example, it is harder for me to do well in school. It’s hard for me to play some sports. It’s hard for me to make friends.

What I want people to know is that I can still do the same stuff as everyone, but I might do it differently.

In school, I sometimes do different projects or have different exams than the rest of the class, but I still learn the same material. I also have extra time to finish projects. There is also an Education Assistant that helps me in class. I notice that some of my classmates ask my EA for help as well. Perhaps everyone needs help in some way.

LEARN MORE: CAN autism training for schools and educators

I love being social, but I feel like some of my friends don’t always understand me. Sometimes they’re impatient if I do things that are unexpected. When I’m feeling stressed or excited, I jump around and make noises. There are times when I laugh to myself when there doesn’t seem to be anything funny.

I want people to understand that when I have these unexpected behaviours, I do them to help me stay calm.

One of the ways that I find I can connect with people is through sports. At school, I am in cross country, track and swimming. I even won a couple of medals in swimming provincials.

I chose not to play basketball and soccer at school, because team sports can be very dynamic and hard to follow.

But outside of school, I play hockey with Canucks Autism Network (CAN). With extra help from staff and volunteers, CAN has given me an opportunity to play a team sport.

I’ve even made new friends at CAN. One of them is Liam. Through the hockey program, I realized that he was a lot like me. He got nervous very easily just like me. He had trouble talking sometimes just like me.

Last year, Nate participated in our “What’s Your ‘I CAN’?” video project
and shared what he likes most about being a CAN hockey player.

I think we both like hockey because we both get to burn off a lot of energy playing. Outside of CAN, we’ve even done the North Shore Triathlon together!

READ MORE: North Shore triathlon adds wave for adapted athletes (North Shore News)

One day, I’d like to play hockey outside of CAN too. Some CAN participants have gone on to play minor hockey and that’s pretty cool.

People who think and learn differently can succeed and offer a lot to the community. Everyone is different in their own way. People with autism aren’t less, they’re just different. They’re not weird, they’re just different.

Even though I’ve found friends at CAN that are similar to me in a lot of ways, I’ve also realized that not everyone is going to be like you. And you’re not going to be like everyone else.

Being different can be interesting. It can even be special.