This Tuesday, April 2, a local family is pushing for acceptance, not just awareness, for people on the autism spectrum. Mother, Catherine Bell, and her children, Matt and Kate Bell, have all been diagnosed with autism. Living with autism is part of their everyday lives, and they have worked hard to carve out a life for themselves in North Grenville which takes into consideration their needs as autistic individuals. They are very interested in educating people about autism, and promoting inclusion for autistic people in schools, the community, and the workforce.
At 23-years-old, Matt Bell is in his second year at Carleton University. After an unpleasant experience at Algonquin College, Matt is thriving in school, with a social circle that accepts his differences, and with lots of support from the Paul Menton Centre (PMC), for people with disabilities. “I was told when he was two years old that he would never graduate high school,” Catherine says.
Matt is not only enjoying taking courses at Carleton, he is also heavily involved in advocacy and education about autism. He writes for an international blog about issues concerning autistic communities, and is helping to create an online campaign, spreading the idea of autism acceptance. He has even applied to be a mentor with the PMC for people who are disabled, or on the autism spectrum. “So far, going to Carleton has been one of the best experiences I’ve had,” Matt says.
He is on the lookout for a job, but has had some trouble because of his special needs. The Bells have found that the workforce is one place where there still needs to be more acceptance when it comes to people on the autism spectrum. “He is very loyal, and has a great resume,” Catherine says. “When people at the PMC see it, they don’t know why he hasn’t been hired yet.”
Kate is a senior at North Grenville District High School and, despite her shy nature, she is hoping to present a speech at her school about autism acceptance on April 2, which is Autism Acceptance Day. Kate has a group of friends at school, and finds riding and being around animals to be the best thing to help build her confidence. After she graduates, she hopes to go to school to be an early childhood educator and take a course in horse training.
Catherine says it has taken a few years, but she and her family are now settled in the community. They have all found a balance between socialization and the solitude they need to recharge. Catherine is involved in the community through her volunteering with the Hospice, and through the Horse of Course riding club of Eastern Ontario.
The Bells are a prime example of how you can live a full life with autism. It has been hard work, but they are showing the world that, despite their differences, they will persevere. And their message is clear: more autism acceptance is needed in communities across Canada to ensure that people with autism lead as full a life as they do.
“Make sure to use the resources available in your community,” Catherine says to anyone with autism who is struggling to fit in. “You need to find someone who knows the ropes to help you bumble along.”
Catherine and her family are willing to be those people to anyone needing a hand up in the community. They are passionate about what they do in terms of autism advocacy, and are willing to share what they have learned through their journey to integrate into the North Grenville community. “We moved out here four years ago,” Catherine says. “It was a great move for our family.” Anyone in need of support can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.