Erik and I would like to share an amusing story from Parliament Hill the night before the CASDA summit, 2016. It is both humorous and touching... a real autism moment and a Canadian moment, as well. Autism transforms cops... We make some friends and earn some supporters! A funny moment on Parliament Hill this evening..
Erik and I trekked back to the Hill one last time today so that he could practice his autism speech...
We get there, it is a lovely evening, and people are camped out all over the lawn. Erik positions himself on the steps in front of the Peace Tower, hauls out his Rock Band microphone, stuffs the cord into his shorts pocket, pulls out his speech and launches in.
"I am Erik Hedley. I am seventeen. And I have autism."
Just that moment, I look up to see not one but three RCMP officers running toward us. Erik has his back turned, so he cannot see the approach. He takes a breath and is just about to launch into paragraph two when I signal for him to hold on.
The police have reached us and have surrounded us.Erik looks up, clearly surprised.
"Good evening. How are you this evening?" one officer asks me.
"I'm fine," I reply. "And how are YOU this evening?" I ask. I have an idea where this is going and I am trying not to smile.
"Oh, we're fine...but we need to ask what you're doing here."
"We're practicing a speech."
"And what is that?" the police spokesman asks, pointing toward the microphone.
"And do you realize that it is against the law to use a microphone on the Hill?"
"Even if it's a Wii Rock Band microphone?"
"It's not live?"
"It's plugged into his shorts pocket," I say.
At that point the female officer bursts out laughing, "Oh jeez, guys! I told you it wasn't live! It's a toy!" She finds this pretty funny.
The guys, meanwhile, look sheepish. I explain that Erik is practicing for an autism rally on the Hill on Tuesday, and that he will be speaking alongside MPs and such. That he has autism. They are feeling worse by the moment.
"We had to be sure you weren't staging a demonstration."
I raise my eyebrows. Erik?
"It's against the law to use a microphone on the Hill without a permit. You need a permit."
I assure him we are not demonstrators. The second male cop has a question for me:
"You mean to say, you've been up here every weekend for a month, and no one has said anything to you?"
"That's right," I reply. "You are the vigilant ones." And after a beat, "You get the prize." Big smiles all around.
"So how about a picture?" I ask. They are still feeling a bit badly, but I insist. We get a good group shot and they disperse. We carry on with the speech... Twice more.. Erik belting it out loud and proud into the toy microphone. One of the cops - the vigilant one - stands behind Erik, off to one side, in "cop pose" almost on guard, listening intently, Parliament behind him. It is a poignant moment.
We thank him afterward and he turns to Erik, "Good speech. I think you'll change some minds out there. Keep up the good work."
And to me, "I've got a friend who has two kids with autism...it's a tough go. Keep up your work with your son."
A nice moment on Parliament Hill this evening...
P.S. Here is Erik's "Autism on the Hill" 2016 speech. It is an example of building resilience through positive channels - in this case, belief.
ERIK'S PARLIAMENT SPEECH
"Thank you for having me here today.
Charlotte, I enjoyed your speech.
I am Erik Hedley. I am 17. And I have autism.
Someone asked me once what it is like to have autism. I told them that I see things that most people miss. I think seeing things in a DIFFERENT way is a GOOD thing. I do.
When I was asked to speak today...I thought, I can do this as long as I have a chance to practice. And then I should be ok. So we came here to Parliament Hill every week for the past month.I stood right here with a fake microphone, and I practiced.
My mom gave me some advice. She said, "Erik, focus on the ETERNAL FLAME. Pretend it is your audience."
And then my mom and I realized that the eternal flame really IS my audience. YOU are all eternal flames for your children with autism.Your flame ALWAYS burns and it never goes out. This is your HOPE and your BELIEF for your child.
Someone also asked me what I thought PARENTS can give their children with autism. I answered in one word: BELIEF. Without belief, what have you got? Not much. If YOU believe in me, I believe in me. If YOU think I can do it, then I think I can do it. What YOU think of me is what I think of me.
Eleven years ago when I was diagnosed with autism, my poppa said to my mom, "ERIK WILL SURPRISE YOU." Poppa was one of my first believers. Those four words have been my guiding light. "Erik will surprise you."
Give your child a GUIDING LIGHT and give them your BELIEF. Remember, YOU are their ETERNAL FLAME. Thank you.”
About the Author:
Teresa is a teacher, writer and autism advocate, but first and foremost, she is mother to Erik (18), a young man on the autism spectrum. For the past four years, Teresa and Erik have been writing a mother-son autism article series for Autism Ontario's Autism Matters magazine. The articles are written from both Teresa and Erik's perspectives and offer strategies for building resilience in those with autism and in those supporting autism. Erik and Teresa also create autism advocacy videos under the channel name, "AutismShoeViews". Teresa is working on a handful of autism curriculum projects, as well. Their current mother-son collaboration involves designing a tailor-made transition for Erik from high school co-op work experience to college student. Their working motto for 2017? "I can and I will!”