Though these are challenging times for our community and so many others, we continue to share authentic stories of autistic Canadians and their families. We hope these will offer a look into the many diverse perspectives in our community and provide inspiring and uplifting stories when we need it most.
Meet Corey Walker, proud Canadian, self-advocate, Northern Regional Coordinator at AutismBC and a Project Lead at the Sinneave Family Foundation. He calls COVID-19 pandemic the most challenging experience of his life. However, he is hopeful when this is all over, we will emerge stronger than ever.
I will start off by saying that the COVID-19 pandemic has been hands down the most challenging experience I’ve lived through in recent memory, and trust me, being autistic, I’ve had my share of challenging experiences. I had some exciting events coming up in March and April that I was looking forward to. In late March, I was supposed to spending two days in Vancouver for some self-advocate meetings with AIDE, a new federal program for autistic Canadians. While I will never live in such a large urban centre as Metro Vancouver, I like to visit it at least once each calendar year because I enjoy some of the attractions. I enjoy riding the Skytrain and Seabus, I enjoy the beautiful gardens they have down there, and I enjoy visiting the Holland Shopping Centre in New Westminster to buy the Dutch candy my Oma and Opa introduced me to as a young boy. I can’t do any of those things in my own city of Prince George. More important than that, I was looking forward to engaging with my fellow self-advocates and to delve into the issues and challenges that us autistic Canadians face. That got cancelled because of COVID-19.
On April 20 and 21, I was supposed to be travelling to Ottawa for the Canadian Autism Leadership Summit, which I attend every year. This year, I was on the planning committee, and had put a lot of time and energy into making sure we did a good job of including autistic speakers and autistic poster presenters. That was postponed until October, which was really disappointing. On the bright side though, it meant I would be in Ottawa on my birthday. I was trying to figure out ways to bring my girlfriend with me, as she’d never been to Ottawa before. Recently, my colleagues on the planning committee decided to move the summit to be virtual only. I was very let down by not getting to travel to Ottawa. After I came home from Ottawa, I was supposed to be travelling to some nearby cities in Northern BC to do some community presentations as part of my role with AutismBC. I love public speaking and was heartbroken when all those events got cancelled because of the pandemic.
Like many autistics, I don’t like changes to my routine, or to my carefully made plans. Watching all my carefully developed plans unravel one by one was very distressing to me. Shortly after that, AutismBC made the decision for its staff to work from home. I’m the only regional employee with his own office, and I left it to work from home for almost three months. Working from home was hard on my mental health; in fact, this whole pandemic has been. It’s been difficult to separate work from home, and it’s been difficult to plan anything. Not knowing when I could go to Alberta to see my parents, brother, niece and nephew was hard. It still is.
There have been some bright sides to this doom and gloom though. The BC Government decided to give everybody receiving Persons with Disabilities benefits, including me, an extra $300.00 a month for April, May and June. This extra money has been nice, as it’s helping me to save up for a car. I haven’t owned my own car in years, and I miss the freedom that comes with having my own wheels. The federal government gave me an extra GST cheque in April, which allowed me to pay off some debts. I also lucked out in that I started a second job at the beginning of March with Sinneave Family Foundation funded by Autism Speaks Canada, so while many people were laid off, I actually had a second income. Actually, I have three incomes until I reach my earnings limit for disability. Being able to buy a few extra things I’ve wanted for a long time has helped a bit.
While I’m still struggling with my mental health and the down feelings I’ve been having during this pandemic, I’ve found a few things that helped me. I kept in regular contact with my girlfriend, and had her over at my place a few times. Enjoying her company helped keep me from going totally insane. I also kept in contact with some of my self-advocate friends, and I have been re-energized by communicating with them. As soon as the BC Government started easing some of the restrictions, and the snow started to melt, my uncle and I started going out for long walks in the neighbourhood. I have found that to be energizing. Since the restaurants were closed for dine-in for so long, I have been cooking at home, and that combined with the long walks has caused me to lose around twenty-seven pounds to date. My belly is shrinking every day, and I feel good about that. I moved into a new apartment last September, and since it has a balcony, I’ve been enjoying planting a small container garden with some colorful flowers, herbs and vegetables. I haven’t gardened in a few years, and I really missed it. Apparently, hundreds of others in Prince George have had the same idea because garden centres have been selling out of stock much faster than they normally do.
I’m hoping that when this is all over, we will emerge stronger than ever. Hopefully, peoples’ temporary love for gardening will become permanent, and we’ll see an increased interest in healthy, home grown food, and a reduced interest in processed, fast food. Hopefully, we’ll be more diligent about hand washing and things like that, and hopefully those of us who survive this will be more resilient than ever. That is my hope. I do hope some things go back to the way they were though: I want to start attending church services in person again, instead of watching service on a computer. I want to enjoy eating in a nice restaurant again once in awhile, and I want my summer bluegrass festivals which likely won’t happen this year, to run again next year, and every year after that. I also want to go back to talking to store clerks without having a plastic shield in between us. I guess what I’m hoping for is a healthy balance of old and new. Will that happen? Only time will tell.
Disclaimer: Information provided is not a recommendation, referral or endorsement of any resource, therapeutic method, or service provider and does not replace the advice of medical, legal or educational professionals. Autism Speaks Canada does not provide medical or legal advice or services. Rather, Autism Speaks Canada provides general information about autism as a service to the community. The information provided on our website is not a recommendation, referral or endorsement of any resource, therapeutic method, or service provider and does not replace the advice of medical, legal or educational professionals. Autism Speaks Canada has not validated and is not responsible for any information, events, or services provided by third parties.