By Adam Brazeau
CORNWALL, Ontario - Holy Trinity Secondary School students diagnosed with autism were surrounded by teachers and classmates as they helped raise a flag to mark the second annual World Autism Awareness Day at a special celebration.
© Steven Smeall
Holy Trinity Secondary School supports World Autism Awareness Day by raising the flag.
The Cornwall Catholic high school was one of over 300 schools across the province participating in Autism Ontario's 'Raise the Flag' campaign on Wednesday.
At noon, Grade 7 and 8 students and teachers joined the Fearless Falcons, a group for autistic students, at the school's flagpole in solidarity of an estimated 100,000 people in Ontario who are affected by the condition.
Grade 12 students Nicholas Villeneuve and Justin Swift, both 18 years old and members of the Fearless Falcons, were diagnosed with autism at an early age. They considered the flag raising a comforting sign of acceptance.
"This is teaching students that sure we're a little different, but we shouldn't be excluded in anyway. We are still normal people," said Villeneuve.
"It was very emotional," added Swift.
Villeneuve said he was autistic to the point doctors thought he would never talk. As he answered a slew of questions from local media, he credited the school for playing a part in his progress.
"This day is very important because my changes have been dramatic and many people didn't think I would get this far. I want to see all autistic kids get the chance to make it like I did," said Villeneuve.
Angela Pilon, an educational assistant at Holy Trinity, noted that students diagnosed with autism have tremendous support from the Upper Canada chapter of the Autism Society, in addition to the Fearless Falcons.
"For our school it's important to raise the flag because we have a lot of students here with autism," said Pilon. "We want them to know as a school we're here for them and that all students are the same."
The Fearless Falcons program launched six years ago and there are 10 members.
"Seeing everyone gathered by the flag made me very proud," said Swift.