This is part one in a three-part series on children and youth living with autism in Hope.
Brayden Duplessis is fed up with hearing high school students joke and make snide comments about people living with autism.
A Grade 10 student at Hope Secondary School, Brayden said he hasn’t told his classmates he has autism spectrum disorder. He wouldn’t really have to, his mom Kerri adds, as in most ways he lives a full life as any other 15-year-old would.
But Brayden is different from his classmates.
People diagnosed with autism are diagnosed on a spectrum, so the effects and the severity of the neurodevelopmental disorder are different for each person.
Generally, people with autism have difficulties with social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication and may have repetitive or restricted behaviours, according to Autism BC.
Brayden said he experiences mood swings, sometimes as a result of negative interactions and other times because of something he’s done. He also does not understand ulterior motives, Kerri said, giving an example of when another student tried to sell a stolen good to him.
“He’s one of those kids that’s brutally honest, because that’s part of autism. So if somebody asks him something he’ll be brutally honest about it and they don’t like the answers,” Kerri said. “And for him, that’s just how you’re supposed to be.”
Brayden gets overstimulated when in chaotic, noisy, loud and bright places.
Social and emotional cues are difficult to read and he has a hard time making friends.
He also has no interest in the things other youth might be experimenting with, such as drinking or drugs, but when he hooks on to an interest or a hobby, he is hyperfocused.
“Ideally, I would like them to live at least just one day in my shoes, because, well, maybe a week. Because that would show them how much different it is to be me as opposed to being them,” Brayden said.
“But, as I like to say, different isn’t always worse. It’s sometimes better.”
Although bullying has been an issue in previous schools, Brayden said he has now made some good friends and is not as worried about being bullied directly. But the schoolyard comments, the use of the word “retard” and the making fun have to stop.
“It’s something that happens a lot and it’s to the point where there’s probably going to be at least one-quarter of every school who does something like that,” he said. “Kids are stupid. They do stupid things.”
A lot of the comments happen when students are out of earshot of teachers, so the students are rarely disciplined.
Kerri, who works in local schools as a special education assistant, said knowing this is going on and not being able to intervene is difficult.
“It’s absolutely heartbreaking, because he is probably one of the most compassionate, empathetic people I’ve ever met in my entire lifetime. So when they’re picking on him because he breathes a little funny or because he walks a little differently, or because he likes Dungeons and Dragons and Nerf guns, it’s heartbreaking because he’s just pursuing his interests,” she said.
“And there are a lot of kids out there that are on the spectrum with the same sort of interests. They’re strategic, they’re logical – they’re all that sort of stuff, and other kids don’t get it.”
With the prevalence of autism in Canadian children – one in 68 is somewhere on the spectrum – Kerri said she’s surprised at the lack of understanding.
“Why don’t people know? And why don’t people know that it’s really not a disability, it’s just a different way of thinking? I don’t understand how they don’t know and how, in this day and age, there’s not acceptance,” she said.
The idea of sharing their story first began when Kerri became a local tester of Calm Wear, a company which makes sensory compression clothing. She said the clothing worked to calm Brayden and prevent arguments. The company put an interview with him on their website and the response was more than they’d seen before.
In the post, Brayden didn’t share his name or his photo. Speaking with the newspaper is a bigger step, as he knows he will likely get teased more for doing so, but he is determined to share his story now.
“At first I was a little concerned about it but now I think, you know what, I’ll just put up with it. I’ll put them in their place if they continue the bullying after this point,” he said, adding he doubts those who bully and make comments will change their ways. “It’s time for this stuff to stop.”
Brayden’s determination is an inspiration for his mom, who has seen him go through challenges throughout his time in school.
“This kid inspires me every single day,” Kerri said, adding his determination for the endeavours he puts his mind to are unbelievable. “He gets up and he’s ready to go, first thing in the morning, and to me that’s brave.”
This series will explore what it’s like to live in a rural community, get access to resources and thrive with an autism diagnosis. If you are a person with autism, family members or caregiver who would like to share your story, contact news@hopestandard or 604-869-4992.