On Wednesday, June 11, students at St. Mary-St. Cecilia Catholic School in Morrisburg, dressed in their purple duds and headed off to school to celebrate Autism Awareness Day.
Throughout the day, at the various grade levels, videos and stories on Autism were shared with students and it culminated in an afternoon assembly to hear two very remarkable sisters, Taylor and Peyton Horning.
Taylor, 15, is a grade 10 student at St. Mike’s Catholic High School in Kemptville and Peyton, 13, is in Grade 8 also at St. Mike’s. Both are very involved in their community.
Taylor has Asperger Syndrome, a form of Autism which creates difficulties in social communication, social interaction and social imagination.
It is great to see a school working hard to make sure everyone is included, the girls told their SMSC audience. They acknowledged that as sisters they are much alike, (they both like to travel and they both like to volunteer) but also different (one is a talker and the other is not and one like to dance and the other does not).
“Even though we are sisters and have a lot of things in common, we are also different and that is a good thing,” said Peyton pointing out that the things that make people different are also the things that make people unique and interesting.
For their speaking engagements, Peyton has written a story about a pink mouse Millie, a mouse that is different. She tells of how the other mice left Millie to be on her own and how one little mouse, Joe, befriend her.
Following Peyton’s story, Taylor explained Asperger Syndrome, how she wears ear phones because things are too loud, how she wears her hat and sun glasses because sunshine is too bright.
“Taylor can do everything I can do, she just has to do them differently sometimes,” said Peyton.
The sisters are very community-minded and have successfully completed two very big projects: Share Your Hair Project and Show We Can Project.
For the former the sisters collected 1,000 pounds of hair from 26 hair salons and pet groomers and had the hair shipped south during the Gulf Coast Oil crises where it was made into hair booms to soak up the oil. For this effort the girls were recognized with a presidential environmental youth award from U.S. President Barack Obama.
For their Show We Can Project last year, they used “big blue bins” to collect 1,000 pounds of aluminum cans which were sold to raise money to help Habitat for Humanity purchase building supplies for a home in Kemptville.
Most recently Taylor was one of 60 applicants representing all parts of the education system and regions of Ontario, selected and appointed to the Ontario Minister of Education’s Student Advisory Council. The council will share ideas and advice with the Ministry of Education.
In February, Peyton experienced provincial legislature in action as a Page at the Legislative Assembly in Ontario.
Each year grade 7 and 8 students from across the province who are outgoing, high achieving community involved students who demonstrate responsibility and leadership are select as Pages.
Taylor and Peyton’s mom, Alexandra Prefasi who is the executive director of the Asperger’s Society of Ontario said, “we are trying to spread more awareness across Ontario. We are committed to help promote awareness and are pleased to come here. The girls have done the whole presentation today. They are talking about difference and that it is okay to be different. I am incredibly proud of the girls. As a parent you can’t ask for much more than a child who wants to be involved in changes.”
To mark the Autism Awareness Day, SMSC participated in Austism Ontario’s Raise the Flag campaign. Their flag to be displayed in the school gymnasium was unveiled to the children on Wednesday.
The assembly ended with the awarding of prizes donated by the Conners family, principal Joy Martel and Canadian Tire in Morrisburg. For each $1 donated, students received a ticket which, if drawn, won them the pick of a prize from a fabulous prize table.
The fundraiser which ran from Monday, June 9 to Wednesday, June 11 raised $514.21 for the Autism program at CHEO.
“We celebrated diversity and recognized the uniqueness that we all share within our school community,” said Autism Awareness Day organizer Tracey Shaver in a newsletter. “This is a day that helps us recognize our different learning styles and needs, and helps us to understand that we are all capable of great things.”