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Jan 19

New autism campaign will see Calgary students wear their shirts inside out

Calgarians marked World Autism Day at Olympic Plaza Sunday and participants didn’t let a little rain or snow dampen their spirits.

The 4th annual event was held in partnership with Autism Calgary, Autism Asperger’s Friendship Society, Allies for Autism and the Autism Community Network.

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    “It just creates a deeper understanding that when you come across someone who has disabilities, whether it’s autism or something else, just to be able to take a moment and be able to help them, or be able to have some understanding if there’s a behavioural issue that has presented itself, and a greater understanding of who they are as a person,” said Kent Chapman who has a daughter with autism.

    It’s been a challenging journey for Tracy Mendoza’s son through various Calgary schools.  Her son was diagnosed with autism at an early age and has been in public, Catholic and private classrooms. The family finally settled on Quest, a Calgary special education private school.

    “I think in my experience, we’ve had some bullying going on. Instances where people threw rocks at him and called him names and there were anti-bullying posters all over the walls. I brought it up to the principal and it really didn’t work out the way that they like to say that it would,” Mendoza said.

    READ MORE: World Autism Awareness Day: 5 things you didn’t know about autism

    Lyndon Parakin, executive director of Autism Calgary, says awareness among school administrators and students has grown – but there is still a long way to go.

    “I don’t think there is knowledge of what that really means, what that looks like and how to embrace it or how to support people – how to make them feel a part of that community in that school,” Parakin said.

    Parakin adds children with autism are often misunderstood.

    To help get the word out to schools, a national campaign will be introduced next year called “Inside out for Autism.” Students will be asked to wear their shirts inside out as a way to foster acceptance.

    ”It’s really a symbol of daring to be different. It’s a real reflection of life with autism which is to be socially awkward and socially a little bit different. Getting people to step into that.  Wear the shoes of someone with autism and to be a little bit socially awkward for the day is kind of the target,” Parakin said.

    In addition to helping other students better understand the needs and strengths of children with autism, parents would like to see more resources available in schools.

    “The lack of aid time is the number one thing that parents of children with autism will say,” Mendoza said.

    World Autism Awareness day is held each year on April 2.