Raising the flag, and awareness, for autism

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By Adam Brazeau 
CORNWALL, Ontario - A Cornwall mother and local school teacher is leading the charge for autism awareness in the city and eastern Ontario.

Jennifer Fullarton and her five-year-old daughter Karli.

Inspired by her five-year-old daughter, Karli, who was diagnosed with autism when she was just 15 months old, Jennifer Fullarton is marking World Autism Awareness Day on Wednesday in a big way.

Fullarton is coordinating Autism Ontario’s Raise the Flag campaign for all 87 schools within the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB), as she prepares for a two-part fundraising event in mid-April.

The campaign will encourage UCDSB schools to increase awareness about the condition by raising the Autism Ontario flag, providing links to helpful materials outlining how students can support their peers with autism, and videos offering insight into students with autism.

Her and her daughter's story made such an impact with Autism Ontario that Karli is the official poster child for the campaign on Facebook.

"I'm doing this as a mother of a child who has autism, I didn't realize the impact it was going to make in each school," said Fullarton. "It's overwhelming the e-mails from teachers and principals supporting me with my quest to raise autism awareness in classrooms."

She hopes the message gets to parents who need help dealing with the diagnosis and are looking to secure a normal life for their autistic child. Fullarton says parents need to know the warning signs of the condition as well to ensure their child can receive the necessary care immediately. Thanks to an early diagnosis from her doctor, Karli was referred to see a developmental pediatrician at the Ottawa Children’s Treatment Centre. Since other parents might have to wait two years to see such a specialist, Fullarton felt extremely fortunate.

But when Karli was first diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), the shock was overwhelming. Fullarton had to quickly embrace that her daughter was living in an autistic world.

"Karli has never said a word in her life, so it's important that I'm her voice," she said.

The flag campaign is also her way of educating people to help them understand and be more empathetic to children suffering from autism. Taking her daughter to a store is often a difficult task since loud noises or bright lights can cause her a great deal of distress. But what really bothers Fullarton about going shopping with Karli are other people's reactions.

"I wish people would be more understanding and wouldn't stop and stare," she said. "If Karli was ever having a meltdown and someone said 'Is there anything I can help you with?' – that would be incredible."

Once Autism Awareness Day is over, the 36-year-old school teacher will be focused on hosting a fundraiser to benefit Autism Ontario on Friday, April 12. The event starts with a charity BBQ and silent auction being held at Beverly Tire on McConnell Avenue from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m., followed by a three-course meal at Bar Q at 6 p.m. Tickets are $50.

For more information on the incredible list of silent auction items or to reserve a spot at Bar Q, visit the Autism Awareness BBQ, Dinner and Silent Auction Facebook page.

Organizations: Upper Canada District School Board, Ottawa Children, Beverly Tire

Geographic location: Autism Ontario, McConnell Avenue

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