A group of boys diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome or autism have written a letter to the public asking people to be open minded and to try and understand what it is like to have a disability.
“I am a 12-year-old boy who has to deal with social challenges every single day that most people do not have to worry about,” Twelve-year-old Nick Fejes wrote. “I often will get into fights but not really understand what started it in the first place and I also have a hard time perceiving other people’s side of the story. It is hard for me to process my emotions. I wish that most people in the general public, the average Canadian citizen, would view kids on the spectrum as actual people, rather than “something strange.”
Nick is but one voice of the many, all saying the same thing, simply, they want to be heard and to be treated as normal.
The group of boys attend a private school in the city’s west end called Mindware Academy, which offers children with learning disabilities, a different approach to learning.
The school runs a daytime and after-school social group which helps boys like Nick work on social interactions and feelings. It was during this group time that teacher Susan Mancini worked with the boys on expressing their feelings on paper.
“Usually when they first come to the school they are withdrawn, mistrusting and scared,” Mancini said. “I noticed the kids needed to vent. To get their words out. At first I would transcribe what they were saying, after that, the boys began to write their own words down.”
The group shared their thoughts with each other and then, tentatively, with the rest of the school.
“They were nervous to share, but once they saw how well other students in the school responded, the group decided to stretch their reach a little farther. They thought what if we could get it out to the general public?” she said.
The goal is to let the public know how people with a disability feels on a daily basis; what it feels like when they are teased, or mistreated.
“We want the world to understand,” Callum Nightingale said.
Some of the feelings in the letter are raw and incredibly open.
Twelve-year-old Nikita Sautchenko, an avid gamer with Asperger’s syndrome, said he feels just an average kid, but students in his former public school treated him poorly on a daily basis.
“It got to the point where I was turning into a bully just to keep them away from me,” he said.
Creating a hard shell on the surface, Nikita admits he was battling depression and thoughts of suicide when he came home.
“I wish that the general public or people who are “normal” would view people on the spectrum as regular people and not weirdos or outcasts,” Nikita wrote.
Now the social group would like to share their message with as many people who care to listen.
For them, the group describes this crusade as not only about teaching the world about treating them better, it’s about stopping bullying from happening to other children like them.
Each one of the students who wrote the letter at one time attended public school, before transferring to Mindware.
The bullying, according to the group, starts around Grade 3.
“Right around the time kids start to notice there is something different about you,” Nick said.
It can start out small, either they don’t get picked for a team, or they get ignored in the schoolyard, but each one of the boys says that it escalates quickly to name calling, teasing and exclusion.
The purpose of the letter is to foster change.
“I don’t want other kids to have to go through what we did,” Jayden Findlay said. “It needs to change. Everyone needs to change.”
The boys come from different parts of the city and each admit they would like the change to start in their own neighbourhoods, but would be happy if any school, parent or youth would listen to them.
Callum said spreading the word today is important, because he won’t always have his school to make him feel safe.
“Here everyone understands you, but eventually, you have to go out in the real world and it would be nice to know that people out there understand you,” Callum said.
The next step for the group will be to spread their message to different school boards and groups who are willing to listen. Mancini said she will meet with different schools, presenting their letter and hopefully, the boys will have a chance to hold presentations on the issue.