Jamie Rivard didn’t think much of it when her son hadn’t started talking by the time he was a year old
“He’s a boy,” people told her and she thought he was just a little delayed.
About that time Rivard and her husband moved to Prince George and both attended the University of Northern B.C. Jamie put Gabe in speech therapy to help him with his speech development.
“He was in speech for about a year and the speech language pathologist said she thought it was something else and that he should get autism testing,” says Rivard, who still felt everything was fine and that Gabe was simply delayed.
Then it was a week of specialists and the diagnosis that Gabe had autism. He was three-and-a-half years old.
The specialists showed Rivard a video about another woman who discovered her son had autism and how she coped. It was that moment that everything hit her and recalling it today brings the emotions right back.
“I knew then that his life was going to be significantly different than what I had planned,” says Jamie. “So I just sat there and just stared at the table and waited for it to be over. The next week, I mourned the life I had planned for him. Then I basically I said to myself ‘it’s time to suck it up, this is your reality now. We have to do everything we can to make his life better.’”
She decided she would advocate strongly for him and for others with autism.
About three years ago she got involved with the Northern Interior Autism Society and became a board member.
“I have a very strong personal interest in autism and spreading awareness and understanding for it,” she says.
The society is hosting its seventh annual autism awareness walk April 21 at Lheidli T’enneh Memorial Park. The walk isn’t just for families who have autism in their life. It’s to bring the community together and learn about autism. It’s open to everyone.
The fun gets underway at 1:30 p.m. with refreshments, balloons and a scavenger bag hand-out for children, and you can purchase tickets on a raffle. There will be a few speeches at 2 p.m. and the walk will go around the park at 2:30 p.m. After the walk there will be cake, snacks, refreshments, goody bags, raffle draw.
They will be handing out blue balloons for kids to walk with and everyone is encouraged to dress in blue. The scavenger hunt for children will be along the route.
The walk is about 1.5 kilometres from Lheidli T’enneh Memorial Park to the start of Cottonwood Trail and then retracing the same route back to the starting point (ending at the playgound).
This event is hosted by the Northern Interior Autism Society, AutismBC, and Pacific Autism Family Network PG Centre.
The walk got a financial boost this week from the Brink Group of Companies which donated $1,000 to the walk.
“It’s huge,” Rivard says of the donation. “We don’t have any kind of government funding for the walk.”
And, with an expected 500 people at the walk this year, there are some expenses to pick up with balloons and snacks and goody bags for the kids.
For John Brink, of the Brink Group of Companies, donating to the walk will help create awareness about autism.
“There are a lot children who are affected by it,” he said. “And it fits with what we want to do. Creating awareness is very important.
And so how is Gabe doing?
“Gabe is now doing really well,” says Rivard. “It’s a spectrum disorder so you’ll never meet two people with autism who are the same. Gabe is in Grade 2 and reading at a Grade 4 level. He’s really smart and he’s really funny.
“You would look at my son and you wouldn’t think anything is wrong with him … he’s just a typical kid. But he does have a disability, it’s just invisible. People need to be aware of that. Kids might be having a fit in a grocery store and it’s not because they’re a bad kid, but it’s because the lights are too bright or the carts are too loud.”
Mark April 21 on your calendar get take part in the autism awareness walk.