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Understanding the autistic experience

Chris Marchand

Chris Marchand served as editor of the Dryden Observer from August 2009 to April 2018.
St. Joseph’s school students simulate the struggle that autistic children face when doing simple tasks by wearing oversized gardening gloves. Photo by Michael Christianson

By Michael Christianson

May 4-10 was the Canadian Mental Health Association’s 64th annual Mental Health Week and a few local schools took the opportunity to raise awareness and educate their students about mental health.

At St. Jospeh’s school students from grade one to grade six received a presentation called Understanding Friends, which taught students about autism. The aim of the presentation was to foster empathy and understanding. Students watched a short video about what a child might experience when they are living with autism. Afterwards the students participated in a variety of activities to help them understand what it is like to struggle with fine motor skills, vision issues, processing challenges and sensory issues.

For the fine motor skills activity students put on oversized gardening gloves and were told to string beads and to try and use a zipper. For vision issues students put on glasses that had been shaded in with marker and attempted to catch a ball. All of the students seemed to have fun doing the activities but were quick to note how difficult the tasks were for them.

Coordinator Denise Thompson kept the children engaged all day and hopes they take away something from the presentation.

I hope the kids learn a little about challenges that their peers would have within the school and within the community,” said Thompson.

Over at Dryden High School nutrition teacher Lorna Tremonti had students cooking up sushi and other goodies to help promote an anti-smoking message with ‘Don’t puff, Do stuff’ which challenges students who smoke to drop their habit and pick up a more useful way to spend their time.

“We’re handing out information if a student does smoke and they want some support to stop we have information to do that,” said Tremonti. “The other thing is sometimes mental health is just having a social activity to do and lots of these students would have friends at lunch time but this is another way to maybe create some friendships.”

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