Rebecca Kuik has helped shine a light on autism in more ways than one.
To mark World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, the 14-year-old Island Lakes Community School student spearheaded a school assembly titled Autism Awareness Light It Up Blue.
Mobilized by the global youth phenomenon that is We Day, Kuik was inspired to increase autism awareness and education at the school because of the daily challenges faced by her sister Paige, 10, who has an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
"We Day started with just one person’s will to make the world a better place. I wanted to help raise awareness, so that people like my sister can find their voice," Kuik said, noting her sister can "read and write to some degree, but can’t hold a conversation. She responds better when she gets to choose from a list of options."
Kuik said part of her motivation has been to change the attitudes of individuals, including students, who didn’t understand Paige’s autism.
"People used to laugh if she had a bad day and they would make fun of her because they didn’t understand what was going on. I would challenge them, both older and younger kids, and I always stuck up for her, so I thought what better way to let people know was to have a school assembly with the sole focus being autism," she said.
"People know instantly when they see a pink ribbon that stands for breast cancer, but when they see a blue puzzle piece they don’t have any idea what it stands for, so I wanted people to become more aware," Kuik added, noting the support she had for the assembly from her parents, peers, principal, vice-principal and homeroom teacher.
On World Autism Awareness Day, individuals are encouraged to change their light bulbs to blue and Kuik said the symbolism of the blue puzzle piece facing upright is significant because it’s about "finding the missing pieces of the puzzle."
The assembly included facts and information about autism, a speaker from the St. Vital-based St.Amant who talked about the organization’s support programs, a student whose father died recently and suffered from a dementia-related disease and several Grade 4 students — including her sister, Paige — who each held up a letter to spell out the word "AUTISM."
"It went really well and even now I’m emotionally drained," Kuik said after the assembly. "I’m excited we pulled it off and I feel like I’m walking on Cloud 9 right now. To be able to help Paige and people like her is amazing," Kuik said, noting she is spending this week visiting classes at the school to do presentations and share information.
To learn more about autism, visit www.autismsocietycanada.ca.