Archive for April, 2015

PACE

Posted: April 29, 2015 in Uncategorized

This week is a double feature. Not only are we posting a new article from Annette, but, I also decided that I would use this space to highlight a group who are doing great things for Autistic Families in Winnipeg.

Autism Winnipeg PACE (Parents of Autistic Children Everywhere) is dedicated to serving our community by providing a valuable service, for both parents and children whose lives are affected by autism or ASD (autism spectrum disorder). Children enjoy “gymboree time” every Tuesday evening, while parents have a cup of coffee and talk with parents who understand, don’t judge and embrace each other’s problems.  Teens have their own group, where they play cards or boards games and work on social skills facilitated by a parent.

Birthday parties are tough for children on the spectrum.  The children often don’t get invited to parties, and when they invite children from their class, parents often struggle with no shows.  Autism Winnipeg PACE recognizes this problem and has created a solution:  Monthly birthday parties!  Here’s how they’ve become a part of the solution:  Children with a birthday in a given month are thrown a birthday party, to which Arlene, owner and operator of Cakes by Arlene, donates a specialty cake for the kids. The parents of the birthday boy or girl purchase a $5 gift for their child to open to make them feel special, and the rest of the Autism Winnipeg PACE community comes and celebrates the birthdays as a family.

Every Friday night is time for Youth Group.  This group has been offered to our autism community by Reverend Mark Satterly at Kildonan United Church.  Mark has seen the struggles most parents face and wants to help by offering special services and supports to families living with autism.  One of these ways is by providing an all-inclusive Youth Group, with the help of parents.  This provides both parents and children the opportunity to learn together.

Monthly bowling for the group has become an incredible gift to both parents and children, as families get to play as part of a team.  Co-founder Lou Lovrin is a terrible bowler, but she doesn’t let that little fact stop her from having fun with the kids.  The guard rails at the bowling lanes were not put up for the kids; they’re up for the protection of those around Lou…  She’s thrown her ball in neighboring lanes around her, but now that danger has passed with the guard rails, and her hubby, Co-founder Mike Wilwand, has assured folks he is in complete control of her game.  Bowling may not seem like much to folks, but it is very therapeutic; it encourages and teaches turn taking, social skills, gross motor skills, math skills, communication and more.

With summer finally approaching, Lou and Mike will be organizing many fun events for the kids with the help of Events Coordinator Arlene Reid, Marketing Executive Michael Nurse, Graphics Designer Noreen Luptak and Teen Leaders Carollynne and Daniel Picton.  Some of the plans for the summer include a Family Day Camp and possibly three overnight Family Camping Trips.  Each camping trip would consist of a minimum two night stay, with lots of fun activities for families to enjoy.  Every kid should have a chance to go camping, and Autism Winnipeg PACE gives families the opportunity to not only go camping, but go as a large group to 1) ensure safety, 2) have fun and 3) not worry about being judged by the campers next door who “just don’t get it.”  Their first camping trip is in preparation as we speak, coming this May long weekend.  Three days and three nights at Bird’s Hill Park packed with memorable adventures for the whole family.

The biggest event of the year is their annual World Autism Awareness Day Walk, every April 2nd.  All of Winnipeg is invited to attend the walk, meeting at the Legislature Building.  The walk lasts about 20 minutes.  Every walk (three so far) is packed with 400 hand colored posters (compliments of the children attending kid gymboree) which people wear for the walk, 180 decoupage mason jar lanterns (made again by the children attending kid Gymboree and Youth Group) and always includes fun music, guest speakers, coffee and a quick snack.  This last walk consisted of approximately three hundred people, and featured comedian Adam Schwartz, artist Ryan Smoluk, Fred Penner, Winnipeg Blue Bomber’s Louie Richardson, Buzz and Boomer and Lionel from Boston Pizza.  The kids and parents had a great time, had coffee thanks to Starbucks and cupcakes thanks to Arlene of Cakes by Arlene.

For more information on Autism Winnipeg PACE, check out their website at www.autismwinnipegpace.com or find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/autismwinnipegpace/.

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People with Autism have such narrow interest. Growing up I only played four different sports because I simply had no interest in cricket or Polo. I didn’t even compete in diving, talk about a narrow focus. This is probably to my detriment and I would be a more well-rounded person, if my interests were more diverse say La Vie. In addition, I only write creative non-fiction and stand-up comedy. All the other writers are like “Would it really hurt you to write a poem every once in a while or even a sketch, you are so boring!” Someone could argue that we don’t have narrow interests we have tastes and preferences, but that is merely a sign that we are denial of our Autism.

The DSM 5 list is also bang on when it says that we like engaging in repetitive behaviors. Fortunately, Society can be so accommodating to our need. Every day we wake up, go to work, come home, and go to bed. I couldn’t imagine what life would be like, if sometimes, I came home and didn’t go to bed, or if I only had a job to go to some of the time while the rest of the time I just got up and watched television all day. I mean would it kill me to dinner at 4pm or 4am instead of being so darn predictable? I mean PLEASE! I even catch the same bus to work and never really vary my routine by doing something different like, you know hang-gliding or dogsledding to work.

Another hilariously autistic characteristic is our poor-hand-eye-coordination. While it may be hilarious to us, it can be a real nuisance to the people around us. I am so glad that giant industries have been created surrounding us such as the Velcro industry. A heartfelt thank you goes out to the shoe industry for giving us so much choice. Phew I thought that we would be stuck with Velcro and slippers, but, boom out comes another kind of slip on shoe called Crocs I don’t know what we did to deserve all of this. I mean, they do realize that we probably make up less than a tenth of the shoe market, don’t they? Either way, I’m not going to complain. There are a million and one other products designed for us that if I had to handwrite a thank you card to each of the inventors or heads of industries it would take me years. Fortunately, someone anticipated how long it would take to write each card legibly with my poor-hand-coordination and designed first the type writer and then the computer and if that wasn’t enough Graham Bell designed the telephone so I could thank each of them personally.

One characteristic that I personally struggle with more than most, is social interactions and communications. I am constantly observing other people to know how to interact. I have been doing dating wrong every single time I go on one. I always put my cellphone in my pocket instead of just putting it on the table and answering texts all night. I have also been watching videos on Youtube wrong. Instead of trying to find videos that I will actually enjoy, I should be trolling around the internet to find videos that I can write hurtful messages about. Trolling and shaming don’t just happen naturally you constantly have to be working at it if you don’t want your skills to get rusty.  Another observation is that it’s almost rude not to slap your waitress on the ass. No matter how old you are, whether your wife or children are there or not, when she walks by your table midway through the meal you just need to reach out and touch her on the ass. Also it is super important to always let people know how busy or tired you are, or people will think you are slacking off and not getting the most out of your day. Thank goodness for my opportunities to observe these individuals, hopefully one day I will be as socially adept as they are.

A symptom of our poor social skills is our struggles with making sustained eye-contact. At the Autism games in a staring contest Kevin Willis once stared his opponent in the eye for a whopping ten seconds. Our plight, however, has received very little sympathy from women. They are constantly making snide comments like “My eyes are up here!” or asking if we are staring at their chests when it is obvious. Don’t they realize the person they are talking to has Autism? They just don’t just realize how prevalent it is and how sometimes every single guy at a party is on the spectrum. The most recent statistics, 1 in 57 people, totally underestimate how big a percentage of the population has Autism I think its closer to 1 out of every 2 people.

 

I.

Terry The Turtle, moving with considerably more grace and speed than the average member of his species, moved towards the door of the abandoned storage locker in the abandoned storage locker warehouse that he shared with his companion in endeavours.  On two legs rather than four, so that he resembled a bald, green-skinned human in a shell, he moved towards the closed, silver door of the locker and knocked on it with one of his “hands”.

“Bessie!” he shouted. “Open the door!”

Slowly, the mechanism of the door opened, revealing Terry’s companion, a white furred greyhound, on her hind legs like Terry, who had just pushed the button inside of the locker in order to open the door. He entered the locker, and then she cautiously pressed it so that it closed behind him.

“This better be good!” she warned him. “I had a hard time sleeping last night, after….”

“Never mind that!” he snapped. “You’re supposed to be my assistant, remember? The deal we made when we escaped…”

“I have a life outside of you!” she countered.

Terry and Bessie were both mutants, creatures with capabilities beyond those of the normal members of their species, capabilities that had emerged as a result of their exploitation as lab animals in a nearby university from which they had escaped. Terry had advanced strength, speed and intelligence, while Bessie possessed the speed of a supersonic jet and agility to match. As part of an informal pact that they had made upon escaping their confinement, they agreed to fight crime and other social ills together- though what they did with their off hours was their own business, as Bessie was now reminding Terry. He liked to think of himself as the senior partner, though Bessie was quick to remind him otherwise.

“Fine!” Terry resumed speaking. “We have an actual problem now, so I would appreciate your help here!”

“What is it?” Bessie asked.

“Hattie Malatti.”

“Her again?”

“’Fraid so.”

“What’ s she doing this time?”

“She’s got a watermelon on her, and….”

“A WATERMELON?”

“DON’T LAUGH! This is SERIOUS work, Bessie…”

“Okay, okay! But a watermelon?”

“It’s about as average a watermelon as we are an average turtle and dog!”

“How come?”

“She’s somehow managed to insert a bomb into the rind without disturbing the pulp or seeds.”

“Boy! For a meth head, she sure is smart!”

“Let’s not stand here indulging in personalities, Bessie! Let’s stop her before she actually tries to throw that watermelon at something!”

“Right.”

Bessie got down on all fours, and, after re-opening the locker door, Terry proceeded to get on her back, as if she were a racehorse and he were her jockey. Completing this illusion was the fact that Terry habitually used a branch on Bessie’s backside like a jockey’s whip, to make her go faster. As if going faster than the speed of sound, her top speed, was somehow possible.

As she often did, Bessie yelped painfully when Terry struck her with the branch, which she did now.

“MUSH!” he shouted, carried away with himself.

“I swear to God…” Bessie growled at him, “if you so much as even try that again…”

“Sorry!” he said, as he threw the stick away.

“Just hang on!” she told him. “You have enough trouble staying on me as it is, without bringing that damn branch into it!”

She floated away easily down the road, leaving a path of flaming tracks in the ground behind her.

II.

Hattie Malatti, a former sex worker who had somehow managed to survive the explosion of a nuclear power plant by becoming radioactive herself, stood angrily facing the increasing cowed police force of the city. Clad in black fishnets and red spandex, with her black hair hanging angrily over her white skin, she growled viciously at the assembled company, who  were afraid to approach her. If she so much as touched any of them- or did anything beyond that- she would obliterate them all. Both she and they knew that perfectly well, and the added factor of the watermelon-bomb she was cradling in her arms added an additional level of tension to the stalemate at hand.

“Try and stop me, pigs!” Hattie snapped, revealing a voice and a mouth decayed and rotting as the rest of her due to her addiction to both crystal methamphetamine and filter tip cigarettes. But the police, as much as they put up a brave front, knew that stopping her was an impossible. They knew full well that only Terry The Turtle and Bessie The Greyhound were made of stern enough stuff to approach Hattie Malatti without threat of severe injury or death to themselves.

Fortunately, our heroes, in a blast of fire and wind, promptly made their appearance directly in front of Hattie, and the police now found that they could relax, for once. Terry and Bessie would soon have things sorted out!

“Hah!” Hattie snorted. “If it ain’t my old reptile buddy- and his faithful steed!”

“You did not just call me that!” Bessie growled, but Terry waived her silent as he jumped off her back.

“Give me the watermelon, Hattie!” he demanded of that worthy.

“NEVER!” she shot back. “The thing’s MINE, Turtle, and you ain’t gettin’ NONE of it!”

“Don’t be difficult!” Terry said. “You know perfectly well that Bessie and I can kick your ass easily- even without touching you!”

“Why ya think I got the damn BOMB in the first place?” Hattie growled. “This is the only way I can stop you without you hurting me! THE ONLY DAMN WAY, hear?”

“No, it isn’t!” Terry countered. “You know perfectly well that there’s all sorts of counselling that you can get to deal with the abuse you suffered- and for all the OTHER addictions you seem to have!”

“I ain’t got no addictions!” Hattie said dismissively.

“That’s your problem- right there!” Terry responded pointedly. “DENIAL! If you could just get past that…”

“DAMN YOU!” Hattie Malatti growled defiantly.

And, before Terry, Bessie, or anyone else could do anything, Hattie Malatti gripped her watermelon-bomb like a football, and shot it directly at Terry’s head.

“NO!” Bessie shouted.

Moving quickly into action, the greyhound leaped into the increasingly narrowing breach that was coming to exist between Terry and the bomb. Within seconds, the watermelon smashed and spattered itself on her pristine white coat, and Bessie, with a yelp, landed painfully on the ground.

“BESSIE!” Terry shouted. “Are you hurt?”

“Never mind me!” she snapped. “The BOMB! Get the bomb and throw it away, idiot!”

“But isn’t the bomb…?”

“It’s OVER THERE!” Bessie pointed to a small black object, covered in watermelon seeds and pulp, that was lying kitty corner from where she lay. “Get rid of it before Malatti gets her paws on it again!” Even now, the villain was coming towards it, intending to gain back her advantage.

Terry knew what he had to do. He did not waste a second doing it, either. He ran towards the bomb, and picked it up, using his advanced mutant strength. Like a shot putter, he held it up, parallel to his head, and then let it go. It soared across the downtown corridor and into the riverfront nearby, displacing water from the river onto the land as it exploded harmlessly.

Terry now turned to a defeated Hattie Malatti, realizing her best efforts had now just been halted.

“It’s over, Hattie!” he said with finality. “You gonna give yourself up, or what?”

“WHAT!” she snapped, and, before he could make another move, she had disappeared down one of the labyrinthine alleys of the city, out of his grasp, again. He went to pursue her, but Bessie, recovering and knowing better, blocked his path.

“Never mind her, Terry!” she said. “We can get her next time!”

“What next time?” Terry said. “This is a one-shot story!”

“THIS IS A ONE –SHOT STORY?” one of the police suddenly realized. “That means that, now that we’ve reached the denouement, the world IS GOING TO COME TO AN END ANY MOMENT NOW!”

And, en masse, the police ran screaming down the opposite end of the street from where Hattie Malatti had just disappeared, leaving Terry and Bessie standing alone in the street.

“Was it something we said?” Terry asked.

Bessie just shrugged. And then the world ended.

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I  had a dream where an Aboriginal elder gave me a traditional Aboriginal name fitting for their culture “He who has the social skill of skunk”. At the time I asked him if it was because I was a hopeless romantic like Peppy le Pew from the Bugsy Bunny show, to which he replied “No, it’s because you are awkward and no one wants to be around you very long.” All jokes aside, however, at the World Autism Awareness day, Winnipeg event put on by Mike Williwand and PACE I was surprised to see how diverse the audience and members of the community are. Autism can affect people from all walks of life, which means that people on the spectrum often face challenges that I cannot even fathom. On top of being different and having to deal with any problems that may arise because of their Autism, they may also face Racism, Sexism, Transphobia, or any other kinds of discrimination. In addition, my parents were able to provide all kinds of additional supports for me because we were middle-class that I would not have had in place, otherwise. Other people are not so lucky. I am sure that people on the Autism spectrum are equally represented among homeless people. On the other hand, panhandling is the only job where it doesn’t discriminate against people on the spectrum, as everyone is awkward when they are asking for money. You can’t really be faulted for not remembering to shower if you don’t have access to one and no one looks at you strangely if you draw connections between conversational topics other people can’t see. I wonder if the homeless are more tolerant because so many of them are
dealing with mental illness or if the homeless individual with Autism has to sit at his own burning barrel. Although, it has to be hard when no one will snuggle so you can both keep warm. 
  I wonder if in indigenous tribes where chiefdom is passed down by hereditary lines, the chief’s son with Autism, behind his back is referred to as the tribe’s “chief embarrassment”? Or whether the position and title is ever passed down to someone else, instead.  There is so much that I don’t know about how different cultures and Autism have intertwined and can really only write this blog from my own personal experience. The Autism walk just struck this point home to me, more than ever before.

Since, it’s almost World Autism Awareness day I asked members of the Autism community if they could let society know one thing or change one thing what would that be. Here is what some people said.

Individuals with autism want and need the same as anyone else: want to be accepted, want to have paid employment, want to have relationships, want to live independently, want to be respected for who they are, want people to see them – not autism!
Carla Dayholos, mother,

Vice-president of Autism Society of Manitoba.

What I would say for this would be that I would like Neurotypical people to have the option to learn about Asperger’s on a more detailed basis, maybe at the level of a program at a community centre. Racism and discrimination against people chiefly come from a lack of knowledge on the accuser’s part, and something like this would help people have a better understanding of what people with Asperger’s have to deal with on a daily basis.

David Perlmutter  author of America Toons in: A history of Television Animation.

Please know that autism is a spectrum and like a rainbow it’s a long, often complicated journey to the pot of gold, with  each one of us hiking a different path, in a unique way but in the same direction.  Some of us  need a lot more help to get there than others.  However, none  of us, (A.S.D. or not) really arrive at that “pot of gold” unless we realize that “the gold” is actually “the journey” and the opportunity to walk it compassionately with the rest of the travellers.Applying this mindset to our lives would break down walls and create the pathways to arrive compassionately, as one at our destination.

Elaine Pelley
mom to Sarah Erenberg-
A colourful teen, living with A.S.D. on our journey!

I don’t think like you. I know I look a lot like most of you, but I am wired differently. I usually don’t see things the same way you do. I have been taught/trained to be polite, and I try very hard. When you call me rude, or yell at me, I don’t understand and I am hurt, but I just suck it up. I don’t yell at you! Don’t tell me I don’t have a real disability, and that I should just try harder to be your definition of normal. This is not something I can fix!

Annette Dim Witte

What I would want to change is the very common perception that parents of autistic kids are somehow “saints” or “Super Mom/Dad”, that they are uniquely capable of caring for an autistic child or that they should get a medal for raising their kids. We are like any parent and our children are just our children. I have three other kids–each has their own strengths and challenges. On some days, my youngest (who is neurotypical) is MUCH more of a challenge than my autistic son. Parents are parents, and if we’re decent people, then we love all our children, autistic or not.

Alicia Hendley, mother and Author.

If I could change one thing I would create some magic dust to sprinkle on people so that they would “NEVER GIVE UP” in working with individuals with autism. There is ALWAYS one more thing to try, another reinforcement that might work, a new creative idea that may move things along one more step.

Bennetta Benson

Head of OHEY

works with people with Autism

Runs OHEY

Works with people with Autism