Iris Gray and Dev Percey

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

The City of Victoria is once again offering $50,000 for selected neighbourhood enhancement projects, through its participatory budgeting program. (Courtesy City of Victoria)
Victoria neighbourhoods can earn city funding for projects

Up to $50,000 available for initiatives that enhance, enrich neighbourhoods

The Victoria Royals will return to the Save-on-Foods Memorial Arena for the first time since the 2019-20 campaign when they open next season against the Vancouver Giants on Oct. 2. (Black Press Media file photo)
Fans expected in the Save-On stands for Victoria Royals’ Oct. 2 home opener

It’ll be the first Western Hockey League action at the arena since March 2020

Police are looking for witnesses and video footage after a crash on June 18. (Photo courtesy of West Shore RCMP)
West Shore RCMP looking for videos related to Corvette crash

Driver believed to have fled the scene of View Royal crash

Environment Canada has issued a special weather statement for Greater Victoria with unusually high temperatures expected Monday and this coming weekend. (Black Press Media file photo)
Greater Victoria’s first week of summer will be a scorcher

Special weather statement issued Monday by Environment Canada

A rendering shows what the Doral Forest Park development would look like from the southwest. (Rendering via D’AMBROSIO Architecture & Urbanism)
Beaver Lake area project passes next hurdle in Saanich

Council approval for 242-unit parks edge development hinges on meeting of conditions

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Bernadette Jordan addresses the media following a swearing in ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on January 14, 2019. Jordan says the government will provide $2 million to allow First Nations to continue to strengthen the marine safety system across Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
First Nations receive federal funds to purchase marine rescue boats

Quatsino, Heiltsuk, and Kitasoo First Nation’s among eight across Canada to receive funding

A blood drive in support of 1-year-old Rielynn Gormley of Agassiz is scheduled for Monday, June 28 at Tzeachten First Nation Community Hall in Chilliwack. Rielynn lives with type 3 von Willebrand disease, which makes it difficult for her to stop bleeding. (Screenshot/Canadian Blood Services)
Upcoming blood drive in honour of Fraser Valley toddler with rare blood condition

The Gormley family has organized a blood drive in Chilliwack on June 28

One Reconciliation Pole and two Welcome Figures were unveiled during a ceremony in honour of truth and reconciliation on National Peoples Indigenous Day at the Vancouver School District in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday, June 21, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Horgan marks Indigenous Peoples Day by urging recognition of systemic racism

National Indigenous Peoples Day has been marked in Canada since 1996

A man makes his way past signage to a mass COVID-19 vaccination centre at the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Canadians encouraged to see mRNA shots as interchangeable as more 2nd doses open up

Doctos urge people not to hesitate if offered Moderna after getting Pfizer for their first shot

Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance sits in the front row during a news conference in Ottawa on June 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Defence committee rises without report on Vance allegations

Committee had been investigating the government’s handling of complaints against former defence chief

The Coquihalla Lakes washroom is getting upgrades. (Submitted)
Coquihalla to get upgrades to aging washrooms

The Ministry of Transportation is providing $1 million in funding to upgrade 3 rest areas

The Crofton trailer park home where the bodies of two people were found. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Mom still waiting for answers after daughter and her fiance found dead in Crofton

Pair discovered dead in their Crofton home in May identified as Rachel Gardner and Paul Jenkins

By the end of life, the average North American has eaten the weight of a family sedan in sugar. (
FITNESS: Living the sweet life without too much sugar

Simple choices can have a major impact on your health

Most Read