Like many others on the autism spectrum, Melody Low is familiar with loneliness and isolation.
But the intelligent and articulate 13-year-old has taken matters into her own hands, with the help of her mom Toni.
The young teen, who likes to draw and write stories, has formed a committee to present A Gathering of Like Minds, an autism awareness event that will take place from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday, April 29 at the Downtown Activity Centre.
Melody says the event is designed to bring the autistic community together to connect and to inspire each other with a “showcase of their abilities,” and reassure each other that they are not the only one dealing with the condition.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is described as a neurological difference that affects how a person processes the world around them.
“People on the autism spectrum may have similar characteristics such as difficulty in social situations and communicating with others, maintaining eye contact or understanding social cues,” says The Mighty, an Internet platform created to share information and show people they are not alone.
While there may be certain similarities, Melody and her mom are clear that, “Once you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”
Just as in the general population, each person with autism is unique – like snowflakes. And, like the general population, people on the autism spectrum may have some difficulties, but they usually have something they do very well.
“I don’t like the word disability like we are bad or suck at this,” says Melody firmly. “We’re good at something, but people stick us with this and it’s
hard to shake that label off.”
That is why Melody has chosen a snowflake as the symbol for the event.
“A piece of a puzzle is often used but I wanted something that shows uniqueness and individuality and potential,” says Melody, who brainstormed with her mother to come up with the symbol. “One snowflake can be beautiful and sparkle on it’s own. When you put a whole bunch of snowflakes together, amazing things can be created – like snowmen and snow forts or even an event.”
Melody is the lead in a team planning A Gathering of Like Minds, along with two students, one in Grade 7 and the other in Grade 12, and two adults, plus helpers Toni and Angelina Van Meulen.
The event will feature a couple of connection games and there will be displays of artwork and creative building using Lego and Playmobil, an original cookbook, a fun photo booth, crafts and activities along with presentations of poetry, music and singing.
Those who attend will be invited to inspire others with autism by sharing a talent or accomplishment.
“Choosing to be a participant, sharing your affinity or whatever you choose to share, takes courage,” reads one of Melody’s handouts. “Your choice to share can have a positive effect in the world…”
Melody was diagnosed with autism in Grade 3.
“Before that, we had lots of challenges,” says Toni. “We needed to understand what we could do to make our lives easier and the diagnosis gave us the tools.”
“When I was little, I was very lonely. People thought I was different from everybody else,” says Melody, pointing out going to the Loft, a Shuswap Children’s Association program designed for children and youths with autism and other developmental disabilities helped her connect with others. “I didn’t feel alone anymore.”
The catalyst for creating A Gathering of Like Minds was that all of the events she and her mom have known about were planned by professionals and therapist who don’t have autism.
“I am so proud of her; it certainly takes courage to put yourself out there,” says Toni, smiling at Melody with deep affection. “It makes my heart happy.”
There has been a lot of positive feedback and Melody and Toni are hoping that will mean the event will be well-attended.
”It’s amazing how people are feeling inspired even before the event has begun,” Melody says. “It’s an amazing event for amazing people.”