Monday, March 31, 2014

Montreal Autism in Motion Conference and Exhibit: Forward thinkers advance autism

Montreal Autism in Motion Conference and Exhibit: 
Forward thinkers advance autism

It was an uplifting weekend for the over 200 people that attended the Montreal Autism in Motion Conference and Exhibit on March 30, 2014 at the Crowne Plaza Montreal Airport.

Organizers Andre Pereira and Tracy Pennimpede, in conjunction with Giant Steps School, handpicked a list of speakers that shone an encouraging light on autism; shifting from what conference presenter Dr. Stephen Shore described as “the closed door of ‘disability’ and ‘disorder’” to a mindset that leads to lifelong success.

 Andre Pereira, Tracy Pennimpede, Nick Katalifos, and Nick Primiano (Director of Giant Steps School)

The day began with a keynote address from Nick Katalifos, Chairman of the Giant Steps School and Resource Centre, who shared his family’s journey from the moment their son was diagnosed with autism, and the role that the schools play in their community. Katalifos’ story resonated with many, particularly when he shared his closing remarks, “We’ve got a long way to go, but we are very proud of how far he’s come.”

Presenters included medical professional Dr. Laurent Mottron, Soma Mukhopadhyay, who Skyped in to discuss the methodology of the Soma Rapid Prompting Method, and Lucila Guerrero, an artist who has Asperger's Syndrome.

Presenter Dr. Stephen Shore was diagnosed with “Atypical Development and strong autistic tendencies,” and deemed “too sick” for outpatient treatment. He was non-verbal until he was four years old. With much support, he is now a professor at Adelphi University where his research focuses on matching best practice to the needs of people with autism.

There is no one better to explain autism than someone who has it. “Before any teaching begins you have to create a trusted relationship with the learner,” said Dr. Shore, whose anecdotes of bathroom etiquette engaged his audience in a lively discussion about the trickiness of rules. “We spend so much time telling people the rules and that they aren’t doing things right. We need to show them what they are doing right so we can increase their self-esteem."

Specialisterne Canada sees integrating people on the autism spectrum into the Canadian workforce as a series of opportunities rather than problems to overcome. This 10-year-old company that began in Denmark finds jobs that people with autism can succeed at, and creates an environment within businesses in which they can be productive. They eliminate the traditional interview process that proves to be so difficult for people with an ASD. “We focus on talent and what people can do,” says Alan Kriss, CEO of Specialisterne Canada during his presentation. "We go to businesses and inform early adapters of the opportunity before them in hiring people with an ASD."

Kristine Barnett, author and mother of 14-year-old Jacob, who has an IQ higher than Einstein, addressed a crowd that included many who had read her book The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius. Barnett also discussed ‘rules’…a recurring theme over the course of the conference.. and how beneficial it can be to break them.

Nobody knew Jacob had autism when the book was published because of Barnett’s awareness of the power of labels. “First thing you get is ‘can’t”, she shared.

Jacob developed an original theory in Physics when he was 12 years old. “They said that he should learn social skills in hopes of avoiding an institution. Guess what? He is in an institution now – The Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario,” says Barnett.

Barnett shares a potent message on the power of unearthing the hidden abilities in all children with an ASD: “Look for their special skills and talents. Ask them what they want to do. It is important to let them tell you what they want. It’s time to see kids with autism in the way we finally should be looking at them.”

45 exhibitors enjoyed sharing their services with the public in a lively, open space.

 Mi & Stu and their delicious gluten-free treats

On March 30th, Montreal Autism in Motion, in conjunction with Giant Steps School, hosted a Roundtable on Advancing with Autism that brought over 30 stakeholders, including government, service providers and parents, together to exchange ideas and collaborate on future projects to benefit the community at large. The agenda included creating an Autism-Friendly city, education and employment, and housing and respite.

It was an engaging weekend that brought much needed light to the future of autism, on the eve of Autism Awareness Month.

Posted by Wendy Singer, Managing Editor, Inspirations Newspaper

Check out the news in the inaugural edition of the
Inspirations Express!

Featuring a full page of Autism Awareness Month activities

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

'Deaf Snow White' combines ASL and spoken voice

'Deaf Snow White' combines American Sign Language 
and spoken voice

 'Hands that talk'

Have you ever wondered what it might feel like to see a Broadway show but not be able to hear it? How can one truly enjoy the theatre if they cannot hear the words spoken? And why shouldn't everyone be able to enjoy the theatre? 

Seeing Voices Montreal is making theatre accessible to people that are Deaf, and is raising Deaf awareness in the process. A group of volunteers that include native ASL users, native LSQ (Langue des signes québécoise) users, ASL students and other hard-working individuals from the Montréal Deaf community present adapted plays of popular stories that involve Deaf and hearing actors and audiences. 

Deaf Snow White, produced by Seeing Voices Montreal rewrites the traditional fairy tale with a twist - Snow White, played by the talented Lisa Mazza, is Deaf, as are many of the other characters, including Prince P-X, played by the charming Pierre-Olivier Beaulac-Bouchard. The evil step-sister, Queen Magnolia, strongly played by speaking actor Lauren Murphy, wants to be rid of Snow White, the 'fairest of them all', and really can't understand why someone who is Deaf can be so beloved. 

The play's writer and director Jack Volpe has done a tremendous job in directing this large, committed cast. After seeing a dress rehearsal, his excitement was contagious as he expressed his pride in the team. (Volpe made it clear that this is a team effort, so no one will be singled out in this review - all were outstanding!!)

Volpe, who is Deaf, has made this show a three-dimensional sensory experience, making it accessible to both Deaf and hearing audience members. It includes Deaf actors who use ASL, hearing actors who sit offstage and voice the words of the ASL actors, and speaking actors who have ASL shadows that stand elevated behind them to translate into ASL for the audience. 

A Deaf Snow White presents opportunities to integrate topics like minorities, judgement, and how everyone deserves to be treated fairly. The last lines of the play hits home, when the brilliant Seven Dwarfs discuss our differences with messages: 'We're dwarfs, and we're just like anyone else. We are all different and should embrace our diversity.'

Volpe describes his mission in his Director's Note. "As you sit, watch and learn about a whole new culture. As a first time director, my challenge with Deaf Snow White is to immerse and absorb you into a different world. Deaf people and hearing people share various backgrounds and it takes two, one from each community, to figure out that we live in different worlds."

But last night, I felt like I was in the same world as everyone in the theatre, from actors to audience. I was completely immersed in the story, in the acting, and in the entire experience of seeing Snow White in a very different light. She is truly inspiring!

Kudos to the entire cast and crew. 

Deaf Snow White plays at the Players Theatre, 3480 McTavish Street, 3rd Floor on March 13, 14 and 15, 2014. $6 students $8 non-student. For information visit

Posted by Wendy Singer, Managing Editor, Inspirations Newspaper