It’s Paula Torit’s first year at Fleming College in the Ecosystem Management Program. She was diagnosed with autism when she was young and says the Autism Spectrum program at the school she joined a year ago has really helped her come out of her shell.
“The autism group is a safe space,” said Torti. “That’s what it’s supposed to be, so it’s a good place to go with people that have the same interests as you. It’s a small little group; it’s a great way to make friends.”
The group meets twice a week and hosts a variety of different activities, designed to help students build confidence and get out in the community.
“Recently we were talking about dating, and the strategies of dating, so that was two-parter,” Tortie said. “So the first day, which was about two weeks ago, we talked about how to make friends. And the next week, which unfortunately I missed, they talked about actually dating — like asking someone out.”
On World Autism Awareness Day, the program hosted a flag raising ceremony to help increase awareness around campus, followed by arts and crafts for students and teachers alike.
“We’re inviting other students just to sit down and make a bookmark, and so it’s just, ‘come and meet us, meet our students that are in the club and support what we are doing,'” said Melissa Mcquaid, councillor at Fleming College.
Tortie’s wish is for everyone to see see that people with autism are just that — people.
“I want people to know that even though we don’t have the conversation skills that other people have, we’re still the same as everybody else,” Tortie said. “Like we still have hopes, aspirations.”
By hosting events like these, organizers hope to reduce the stigma associated with autism, and ultimately empower students and help them succeed.