Monday, September 18, 2017

Navigating the world of dating with autism

By guest blogger Stephanie Mitelman

I have autism. This means that my social skills aren't the best. I also am
yet to experience sex. I fear this is because of my lack of social skills. What advice would you give to someone like me who wants to put themselves out there and get into the world
of dating and sex?

Hi. Thank you for your question. I want to say that it is courageous of you to ask for help. Lots of people with and without autism have trouble navigating the world of dating and sex. I also want to say that many individuals with autism have dated and have found pleasure and happiness in relationships with the right person. So your autism may bring some challenges but does not have to limit you in this area.

To get you ready for dating, it would be important to work on those skills that may be a challenge for you. Dating largely relies on communication (verbal and non-verbal), and social skills. You should work on starting a conversation, maintaining eye contact, expressing interest, appropriate topics of conversation, how to understand and read body language, and how to be aware of your own body language.

If you have questions, ask a trained educator, a coach, or a trusted friend for help. Choose someone who you feel will give you honest and open feedback. Ask them to rehearse some of these skills with you so you can apply them when you meet the right person for you to date. Remember that there are many ways to learn a new set of skills; some people learn by intuition and others need more concrete instruction.

You can also work on body awareness, any sensory issues you may have (light or hard squeezes, being touched in a certain place or way) and what gives you pleasure and does not. We all need to be able to express these limits to a potential partner. It is also important to read up on safety and sex, such as preventing pregnancy (if this is possible and not intended), as well as reducing the risk for sexually transmitted infections. There are many reliable sites that can explain safer sex practices.

As far as meeting someone goes, this is a hard one for most people, so you are not alone! In today’s age, online seems to be a key method. There are several sites that help match you based on interests and other factors. One benefit here is that this method will give you time to get to know someone through emails and chats before meeting in person. The downside here is that there are some cases where people claim to be individuals they are not. So caution always needs to be taken. I would read some Tips for Online Dating before starting this.

If this is not for you, then lots of people meet each other via shared interested and activity groups, like cooking classes, the gym, or religious gatherings. So joining a new group may be a prime way to meet new people.
Once you do meet someone new, it will be up to you to disclose your autism or not. Most people wait a few meetings before sharing such personal information with a new person. But if you plan to date the person then letting them know about autism may be helpful for the relationship so they better understand you, and some possible difficulties with social situations, communication, and/or sensory issues if you experience them. Remember that relationships take time to build. But the strongest ones are rooted in honesty, respect, and friendship. Good sex is usually born from this.

Stephanie Mitelman, MA is a certified sexuality educator and Professor at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec. She has a private practice where she sees individuals and couples with special needs for sexuality education, and also hosts the largest online marketplace for sex education teaching materials- Sex Ed Contact Stephanie at


Share your resource in Inspirations
Fall 2017 / Winter 2018 edition

Make It Matter receiving requests for funding

Make It Matter (MIM) is a new non-profit organization that funds project specific initiatives that support quality education for all learners. How does this work? MIM invites educators, teachers, and community organizers in need of financial assistance to visit the MIM website and apply for funding. Acting as a liaison between the Montreal community and the classrooms, MIM aims to create a support system for administrators, educators, parents, and learners in order to ensure the success of every child’s education."
Give the gift of a great future!

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Caravela Blind and Partially Sighted Dragon Boat Team

The Caravela Blind and Partially Sighted Dragon Boat Team:
Defined by athletic ability, not physical disability

Team Caravela in action!

By Randy Pinsky

Picture this: walking across an unbalanced dock and joining 19 other paddlers in an unstable boat, aiming to paddle in sync, water splashing on your face, trying to hear your coach’s bellowed calls over the many distractions around you… all with limited to no vision.

This sounds impossible. But it’s quite the opposite for Team Caravela.

In fact, that’s what they have been doing every week on the Lachine Canal since the start of the dragon boat season in May. Under the expert leadership of Coach Ira Lax and Captains Annie Gouveia and Josh Simmonds, the team, sponsored by the MAB-Mackay Foundation in Montreal, Quebec, strives to perfect their technique and stamina in preparation for various competitions.
Getting ready for a race.
Team Caravela participants are not new to the sport. As the first dragon boat team in Quebec to include blind and partially-sighted paddlers, Caravela has garnered quite respectable rankings in its four years as a community team. They most recently paddled in the McAuslan Cup (June 17) where they beat sighted teams in their division (gleefully referred to as ‘sighties’), attaining their personal best time of 55 seconds for a 200m race. Sighted paddler sub Angela Lowson remarks: “The thing that struck me is how competitive these paddlers are.” Indeed, they are not here just for fun. The Caravela paddlers are intent on improving their performance and timings.
Team Caravela
Captain Simmonds salutes his team for being results-oriented and keen on incorporating feedback.

Born with retinitis pigmentosa, Simmonds has more vision than most paddlers on the team, and readily admits it takes a lot of courage to be blind and paddle on an unstable boat. “I couldn’t do it,” he shares. Having limited vision by day and night blindness after dusk may challenge some, but not Simmonds, who is a member of the 22Dragons Senior Mixed and Senior Men’s teams, as well as the prestigious Club Crew.

Being blind from birth has also never stopped Ioana Gandrabur who boasts four music degrees, speaks six languages, and is an internationally renowned guitarist. She enjoys being part of something bigger than herself, and notes how there are few options in the athletic world for those visually impaired. “Limited vision can be a benefit in races as we’re not affected by mind games, like ‘they’re gaining on us!’ like the other teams are,” she quipped.

Coach Ira Lax and Captain Josh Simmonds
Coach Lax leads the team with quiet authority, making no allowances from what he expects from them. In his second year coaching Caravela, he led the movement for them to don the same jerseys as his other high performing teams, Verdun Impact and Force. The intention was to not have any distinction between Verdun paddlers. Simmonds concurred with this decision: “You are not a ‘vision impaired paddler’. You are a paddler who happens to be vision impaired.”

Lax encourages his team members to have a ‘vision’. “They’re here
Captains Annie Gouveia and Josh Simmonds
for a purpose - to see themselves as athletes –  a new reality for many,” he states.

Competing in a technical sport such as dragon boating takes a lot of commitment and grit. The team paddles in all types of weather, and contends with challenges such as wobbly docks and carelessly strewn-about life vests. A sport that is both physically and mentally demanding, Team Caravela uses minor adaptations such as auditory cues and being physically positioned by the coach rather than visual demonstrations.

Caravela is gearing up for the Montreal Challenge dragon boat competition to take place at the Olympic Basin on July 8 and 9, 2017. Come out and cheer them on! As noted by Lax: “If they can do something as bizarre as dragon boating, they can do anything.”

Paddles Up, Caravela!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Leaders on Wheels give back

The Leaders on Wheels give back 
to the Montreal Children's Hospital

By Wendy Singer

The Leaders on Wheels (the Mackay Satellite class at Westmount High School of the English Montreal School Board (EMSB)), are committed to giving back to their community. Over the past four years, this class of eight students in wheelchairs has donated over $6,000.00 to the Montreal Children's Hospital (MCH). They are passionate about giving back to the hospital that provided them with excellent care. 

Thanks to an EMSB Entrepreneurial grant, the Leaders were provided with seed money to bake brownies, make a spice rub, and their uniquely delicious BBQ sauce, which they sell year-round. The profits of their sales are donated to the MCH. 

The Leaders presented their cheque in the amount of $2,124.75 to Angelica Maselli, Tribute Program co-ordinator at the MCH Foundation. Leaders on Wheels teacher Rose Sondola requested that the funds be used to purchase one piece of equipment.
The Leaders on Wheels staff and students donate to the MCH.
The Leaders are not only great in the kitchen. They also are fabulous at promoting their products. Watch their promotional video for their spice rub here. 
Teacher Rose Sondola with graduating student Brian at the MCH.

If you are in need of brownies, spice rubs or BBQ sauce, you now know who to call!

Congratulations to the Leaders on Wheels students and staff. We all learn how to support our communities through your example. And now, it is time to take a break from your hard work and enjoy the  summer!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Jackson-Jay Foundation raises funds for autism

Jackson-Jay Foundation: 
Improving quality of life for those with autism 

By Valentina Basilicata

Andre Lessard, President and Founder of Jackson-Jay Foundation
 with his wife Maude Bourassa. (Photo credit, 
Alain Bellier)
Father and entrepreneur André Lessard and his team proudly celebrated the official launch of the Jackson-Jay Foundation on June 1, 2017. Named after his five-year-old autistic son, the foundation’s mission is to offer financial support to adults living with autism. Dozens of friends and family members, as well as numerous Quebec celebrities from the sports and arts community, including Jonathan Roy, Paul Byron, Kim St-Pierre and Joey Scarpellino, joined him for a dinner-cocktail fundraiser at Restaurant Le 20 in Laval. 

In a recent press release, Lessard highlighted: “In North America, one in 68 children are diagnosed with autism.  We want to ensure a better quality of life once they are adults and for their future.”  
DJ P-O (Pierre-Olivier Leboeuf) was one of the DJ`s at the event, with his proud father Jean-Pierre. 
(Photo credit, Alain Bellier)
An emotional Lessard kicked off the festive evening by unveiling a big project his foundation aims to undertake: the development of residential communities for semi-autonomous autistic adults aged 18 and over. The communities will be made up of multiple quadruplexes, each with four units for rent. After five years, the tenant is given the option to purchase the unit, allowing “the individual to acquire a guaranteed financial asset,” according Lessard. 

The Red Carpet (Photo credit, Alain Bellier)

Within the community, centrally located, non-residential buildings will house restaurants, sport complexes and more, allowing a common space for the occupants to socialize and even take life-skills classes in the evenings. Dedicated specialists and therapists will be onsite for support and to help residents. The foundation will team with local businesses and corporations to guarantee jobs for the residents, although job opportunities will also be available within the complex. The goal of these unique neighbourhoods is to ease the burden placed on parents caring for adults with autism by creating an environment where their grown children can live independently while being well cared for.

“It’s not just one community we are planning on building, its many,” says Lessard, adding that although he cannot yet reveal the locations, they will be popping up throughout the country, including Quebec and Ontario. “We’re working with national corporate partners right now.” 

 The foundation will organize two to three events a year to raise the funds necessary to support the cause so dear to Lessard’s heart. He and his wife, Maude, learned their son was autistic when he was two years old. They have been proactive in getting him early intervention.  Two years ago, they held a private fundraiser that brought in $90,000 to help pay for Jackson-Jay’s therapies at the Miriam Foundation’s Gold Centre. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Making it Matter

The FunFair Spring Gala, May 6, 2017 in support of Inspirations and St. Gabriel Elementary School

What happens when a group of young professionals with deep hearts and powerful minds put their resources together to create change? They Make every student Matter! And that's exactly what the dynamic duo of Deborah Athanosopoulos and Olivia Sheehy-Gennerali, and their team are doing.

Make it Matter is a new non-profit organization that funds project specific initiatives that support quality education for all learners. Their vision lies in their conviction that all learners, no matter their economic, social backgrounds, or challenges, are entitled to academic resources that will enhance their educational experience. The unique concept of MIM allows them to serve as the liaison between the Montreal community and the classrooms, where they are committed to creating a support system for administrators, educators, parents, and learners,  in need of financial assistance to ensure the success of every child's education. 

Both Deborah and Olivia have a drive to create change in their communities. And it is inspiring to see these young adults put their energy into taking charge to implement change the lives of students. 

A McGill University graduate, Deborah is always searching for new ways to inspire and be inspired. She is currently earning her Masters degree in Education. A philanthropist at heart, she believes that every child should have access to the best academic resources. "My passion for fundraising has led me to realizing a life-long dream of starting a non-profit organization. It's never too soon to try and make a difference," she states.
Co-Founders of Make it Matter Olivia and Deborah

Olivia recently achieved a Bachelors in Community, Public Affairs and Policy studies with a minor in First Peoples. She currently works with the Federal Government at Passport Canada. Next Fall,  she will begin a Graduate Diploma program at Concordia in Community Economic Development. "This program will enable me to focus on Make It Matter while allowing me to deeply develop my passion for Indigenous social justice through providing and working thoroughly on Teacher toolkits for educating, be it for teachers, educators, or corporate leaders," she shares. 

So how does this work? Every year, MIM will select at least two projects to fund that can range from classroom materials to support. Their website welcomes applicants and sponsors alike. If MIM does not specifically have the funds for a particular project, MIM is where they can go to find a suitable sponsor.

We at Inspirations are honoured to have been selected as one of Make it Matter's first grant recipients, alongside St. Gabriel Elementary School, English Montreal School Board. Funds raised will help us create a resource guide for parents that will compliment our database of special needs resources. It will go along way to helping us reach more families, teachers and caregivers. Funds given to St. Gabriel will be allocated to their Home Reading Program and Creative Arts Program.

MIM's first event is sure to be a fun one! The FunFair Spring Gala will take place on Saturday, May 6 at Kandy Art Gallery, located at 5629 Ferrier in Montreal. Hosted by prominent radio station 94.7, the event will include lively entertainment, funfair attractions, open bar, appetizers, dessert buffet, and raffle prizes. It is a great opportunity to get to know Deb, Olivia and the MIM team.

Please join us at the event! Meet the team. Get to know them, tell them about your ideas. Perhaps you'll be next year's fundraising recipient! For tickets or information, contact Olivia or visit for information about their initiatives.

Thanks to Make it Matter for choosing Inspirations!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Inspirations welcomes Jay Jones-Doyle as Team Inspirations Ambassador

Jay Jones-Doyle: Ambassador, Team Inspirations

After months of planning and anticipation,Team Inspirations is ready to walk and run at the Scotia Bank Charity Challenge this weekend. Our team is 35 members strong. Some are English Montreal School Board employees, some are lovers of Inspirations. Some come from the Lester B. Pearson School Board, while others are from Laval. We've covered the island, and are not only raising funds for Inspirations, we're spreading the word about Inspirations, the work that we do to support people with special needs, and sensitizing the public to the importance of inclusion. Inspirations is the hub of special needs news in the Greater Montreal and surrounding areas, providing a voice to people with special needs and a valuable platform for collaboration and sharing of resources. 

We are proud to welcome Jay Jones-Doyle as our Team Ambassador. Jay is a columnist for Inspirations, sharing insightful life messages with each edition that inform, encourage, and inspire people with and without limitations. His contributions are a highlight of each edition. So, it was fitting that he was chosen to be Ambassador to Team Inspirations, and we are honoured that he accepted our invitation.

Jay has never been one to let barriers get in the way of his dreams and success, and is an example to many. His C.V. proves just how accomplished he already is.

Jay is the co-founder and VP Product Development of the innovative Legal Lighthouse Inc. He is also a coach, and the President of Confidence Driven Coaching, the Chief Financial Officer of the Centre for International Sustainable Development Law, and worked with the UN’s Business and Biodiversity program. Jay holds two advanced degrees and was named one of Quebec’s top three graduate students of 2011 as well as Concordia’s Outstanding Student of the Year. He sits on the Board of Directors of the Concordia University Alumni Association, is an accomplished motivational speaker, a championship-winning junior hockey coach, the proud father of a 12-year-old boy, and has cerebral palsy. In addition, he is an all around terrific guy!

Jay on a canoe trip in Northen Ontario where he canoed down the majority of the French River (~75k)
This is not Jay's first adventure on the race track. A few year's back, he participated in an adapted version of the Spartan Race! (check out our Fall 2015/ Winter 2016 edition to read about that). Walking 5k won't be as great a challenge for Jay, but he's up for the adventure nonetheless!

Jay will be with us at the start line as we walk our 5k on Saturday, and available to chat or for interviews after the event at the Inspirations tent in the family section on site. 

We welcome you to come out to Parc Jean Drapeau and cheer us on, meet our team, pick up your copy of Inspirations! The 10k runs begin at 9:00 a.m. The 5k begins at 11:00. The 21k is on Sunday.

Ready, set, GO Team Inspirations, GO!