The ANCA World Autism Festival showcases the hidden talents of people who are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. This year’s festival begins Sept. 30 with over 100 international delegates, cultural organizations and world ambassadors.
Autism Naturally Consulting is one of many organizations that provides resources and supportfor people diagnosed with autism. Leonora Gregory-Collura and her husband Charlie Collura, founded Autism Naturally Foundation in 1989 to create awareness of the disorder and to provide a platform to showcase the talents of the autistic community from around the world.
“We want to recognize the innovation coming from the autistic community,” says Leonora Gregory-Collura, who has always been vocal about her personal journey with autism.
The foundation offers a bi-annual magazine, a weekly radio show and an annual world festival. The festival features world ambassadors like Vico Cham from the Philippines, who was a 2015 nominee for his contributions in visual arts. Cham was diagnosed with autism as a child, but now he owns an art gallery, teaches animation and is sought after by U.S. fashion designers for his art and design expertise.
Overcoming the stigma
Not every culture is ready to share their experiences with others or ask for support within their community.
“It seems to hit South Asian and Asian fathers the hardest. I’ve seen grown men in absolute tearsover their child’s autism diagnosis,” explains Laurie Guerra, vice-president and board member for the Autism Society of BC.
Often these families become withdrawn and never seek treatment to encourage the best outcome for their child.
Guerra didn’t know where to start when her son was diagnosed with autism. Her pediatrician at the time suggested horse riding therapy. She was unwilling to accept that there weren’t other options. Now 21, Guerra’s son is pursuing an engineering degree at Simon Fraser University.
“When parents learn that treatments for autism exist, they are surprised,” says Guerra. “Thenthere are parents who are really angry because no one has ever told them that autism is treatable.”
Rates of autism underestimated
According to a 2010 study on autism spectrum disorder conducted in select provinces by the Government of Canada, one in 94 children are diagnosed with the disorder. However, when speaking with Guerra, she offers more recent statistics that suggest the numbers are actually much higher.
“Autism is a neurological disorder affecting one in 61 people in British Columbia,” says Guerra as she reads the data recently published on the Ministry of Children and Family Development website.
Mental health experts, societies and parents continue to struggle to verify the real impact of autism across Canada. The lack of data at a national level makes the number of autism cases ambiguous, which means it’s difficult to argue for more government funding needed to research the cause of autism, which is still unknown.
“We’re fortunate that the province of B.C. has been proactive with financial assistance to support people diagnosed with autism,” says Guerra. “What we need now is action at a federal level. We need to do more research on autism to help people reach their best outcome through treatments that are based on scientific research.”
More cultural considerations needed to support families with autism
Non-profits like the Autism Society of BC pride themselves on being able to leverage resources to support different cultural needs. However, much can be accomplished through cultural groups that talk about autism, removing the stigma associated with the disorder that forces somefamilies to cope in silence.
“The more information cultural communities can access, the more they will be open to discussing how autism impacts families within their community,” says Guerra.
Gregory-Collura and her partner acknowledge that many of the award submissions they receive from other countries are specific to the applicant’s culture and traditions.
“We find that many international award nominations work from a grass roots level. These community groups work from an innate level of human development and need, as opposed to an objective level that relies on the expertise of professionals,” says Gregory-