Iris Gray and Dev Percey

Why autism doesn’t need fixing

New group fills a niche for autistic adults who want to socialize in a non-judgmental environment

The first things one notices about Iris Gray is her affinity for purple and her aversion to eye contact.

She attributes her purple obsession, from eye glasses frames to iPad cover to backpack to watch strap to clothing – as well as an encyclopedic knowledge of cats – to her autism, though she wasn’t diagnosed until well into her 30s.

“Sometimes I describe autism as being on another planet,” says Gray, sitting inside QV Cafe on Government Street, where she organizes a Victoria Autism-Asperger meet up group.

“Say you’re in Battlestar Gallactica and they send you to another planet and everybody looks like you and you speak the same language, but you can’t read their body language, you can’t read their facial expressions … and the only way you can understand them is to take everything completely literally.”

Autism affects one in 88 children in Canada, though a new U.S. study pegs that number at closer to one in 68 children.

About 200,000 Canadians live with some diagnosis on the autism spectrum, according to the Autism Society of Canada. The array of behavioural challenges range from minor social discomfort, such as difficultly making eye contact with strangers, to repetitive, ritualistic routines like rocking or hitting movements.

While many people have come to better understand autism in recent years, Gray says comprehension of the autism spectrum is lacking.

“People tend to lump us into groups without realizing there’s a whole range of people within that spectrum,” Gray says. “There are people who need help with everyday tasks, but then there are people classified as low functioning who can make brilliant art or write fantastic books.”

Gray spends her days transcribing for Hansard Services at the B.C. legislature, and does the same for deaf students taking online classes through Royal Roads University.

Charities shouldn’t aim to “fix” the disorder, she says, but should instead celebrate the differences in the behaviour it creates.

“We don’t need to be cured, we just think different,” says Dev Percey, settling into her seat. “This group is more about what’s going on in my world. I couldn’t find that for years.”

The twice-monthly meet up group isn’t affiliated with any organization, but fills a niche for autistic adults who want to socialize in a non-clinical and non-judgmental environment.

Gray shares her struggle with anxiety, but stressed she doesn’t believe that problem is related to her autism.

“If a person who is non-autistic has anxiety, we don’t say, ‘We need to fix your neuro-typical disorder,” she quips.

Gray and Percey begin listing some of historical figures who purportedly dealt with autism or Asperger’s without the formal diagnosis: Albert Einstein (“He didn’t speak until he was about three years old,” Gray says), Mozart, Glenn Gould and even Dan Ackroyd.

“A lot of people think Bill Gates has Asberger’s,” Gray adds.

The camaraderie, the collective bond of the group, is what pulls Gray and her friends back for each social event, where the “neuro-typicals” become the oddballs, and reporters are left out of the inside jokes.

Gray tries another analogy to make sense of it all: “If you’re a Canadian and you go to France, you might be able to speak French, but you’re not part of their culture. But if you run into another Canadian, you’re automatically going to have something in common. You come from the same culture,” she says. “We seem to just share that connection in our group.”

•••

April is Autism Awareness Month, while April 2 is Autism Awareness Day.

Autism Awareness Walk takes place April 6 at the University of Victoria. Registration ($10) begins at 9 a.m. at parking lot 10. The walk begins at 10:30 a.m.

Just Posted

Chaos at the ferry terminal for people heading from Vancouver to the Island

Easter crowds create backlog at Tsawwassen ferry terminal

Governing bodies accused of ‘destroying’ girls’ hockey by Island’s top team

When asked for advice hockey dad says ‘put your girls in soccer’

Esquimalt to finalize township’s four-year plan

Council will soon make final decisions on its draft strategic goals and priorities

Syrian violinist plays with new Canadian band at upcoming fundraiser

Sari Alesh played with the Symphony Orchestra in Syria for six years

Guns could use smartphone-style fingerprint locks in near future

Startups looking to outflank traditional gun manufacturers using tech knowhow

WATCH: Movie star and PACE alum Calum Worthy talks musical theatre and his career

“American Vandal” and “Austin and Ally” actor has been returning to the program for over 20 years

POLL: How often does your family use BC Ferries?

Navigating the lineups for BC Ferries is a way of life for… Continue reading

Crime Stoppers most wanted for Greater Victoria for the week of April 16

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Kirkland Signature veggie burgers recalled due to possible metal fragments

Recalled products came in 1.7 kg packages with a best before date of Apr. 23, 2019

Parents of 13 who tortured children get life after hearing victims

One of their daughters fled their home and pleaded for help to a 911 operator

Flooding, climate change force Quebecers to rethink relationship with water

Compensation for victims of recurring floods limit to 50% of a home’s value, or a maximum of $100,000

Storms blast South, where tornadoes threaten several states

9.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia at a moderate risk of severe weather

Private cargo ship brings Easter feast to the space station

There are three Americans two Russians and one Canadian living on the space station

Notre Dame rector: “Computer glitch” possible fire culprit

The fire burned through the lattice of oak beams supporting the monument’s vaulted stone ceiling

Most Read