Here we highlight the 2018 Self Advocate of the year at the BC Autism Awards: Nicole Provost
“By being different, by having the specific set of skills and challenges that YOU alone possess, you are the best one to invent that new way of advocating for yourself…I challenge you to come up with a way to make sure you get treated the way YOU want to be treated, which will work specifically for you. “
My Autism Journey
I am 25-years-old, and I was diagnosed with autism at 16-years-old. I was always in regular classes and never had an EA, etc. I participated in extra-curricular activities, did competitive dance and sports, and even represented Canada at the World Tapdance Championships in Riesa, Germany. My mom was very determined for me to be treated like every other student. She pushed me to be the best I could be, even when I felt like giving up. My mom was initially against me getting a diagnosis of autism, but I went out myself and got it. I was very private about the diagnosis because I did not know much about it. I wasn’t sure how it would affect my future ability to get a job or attend university, etc.
Self-Advocate of the Year
I was invited to the very first-ever BC Autism Awards in 2018. I felt confused because I had never heard of awards being given out for excellence in autism. I live in a smaller town, and at the time, there was not much of an autism community out here. When I arrived at the ceremony and witnessed an atmosphere of respect, excitement, and appreciation, I finally fully understood and appreciated the event. It was unlike anything I had ever been part of before. I remember the emcee saying that this was a night to shine a spotlight on the everyday bravery that usually goes unappreciated, which takes the form of day-to-day tasks. I felt so honoured and excited. I met other amazing people who were making an incredible impact in their community. Just being part of the event, knowing that I belonged there, it was a wonderful feeling.
Winning the award was really a special moment for me, because a lot of the time, being a person with ASD can be difficult. People are not always kind to me, and things are not always easy. I have had to work really hard to get to where I am, and winning the award made me feel like I was doing the right thing with my life. It was reassuring to know that everything I was doing for the community was appreciated and noticed. It made me feel like I belonged there so deeply. It was a moment I’ll never forget.
My Journey of Self-Advocacy
To me, advocacy is a form of self-respect and respect for others. It is a way to make the world a better place for yourself and those around you. It results in people being treated with the dignity that they deserve. People do advocate for themselves daily. It’s a bunch of choices you make every day, from the way you dress and present yourself to how you speak to and about others.
Growing up, my mom never permitted me to quit because something was too hard. I joined a dance class beyond my level, and I wanted to quit, my mom said,
“think about it long and hard, you can quit if you want to, but quitting is the easiest thing you can possibly do.”
If I felt that I wasn’t being treated fairly, my mom would help me write letters to my teachers or rehearse what to say so that I could address my concerns. If I was at a dance competition and did not place, my mom would send me to extra lessons and double the amount of competition the next year. She puts high expectations on me and never let me be idle. I was never allowed to play video games or watch TV, except on weekends, but I was always allowed to have an arts and craft kit, a writing book, or an outdoor game. Each person is different, but if my mom had not instilled these values on me, I feel like I would not be capable of half of what I am today.
Some of the biggest challenges I have faced as a person with ASD are with Transport Canada. I am pursuing a pilot’s license, and I have a goal of being a commercial airline pilot. I’m halfway through my license, but I’m having a hard time obtaining medical clearance. I have to prove myself to Transport Canada in a lot more ways than others. I am confident that I will get medical clearance, and make a great pilot one day. I have some wonderful friends and teachers who I trust to review everything I write to make sure that I come across as intelligent and calm. Attending university also consists of a lot of self-advocacy, because even typical students need to advocate for themselves to be able to get into classes that they want and get marked fairly—it’s a lot.
I would tell anyone who does not believe that they can advocate for themselves that they are mistaken. Every human being is born equal. By thinking that you cannot stand up for your rights, you deny your self of that ability. Some people are born with communication challenges, some will never be able to speak, but you must remember that you are a member of the human race. If anybody sees you as an inferior, it’s because of THEIR lack of intelligence and education rather than YOUR lack of ANYTHING. Our brains are all diverse. Our society will be stronger if everybody understands that no matter how you perceive the world, there’s nothing wrong with you.
We are all dealt different hands in life. If the challenges that you are given make it harder for you to advocate for your own equality of treatment, I feel for you; but if you want to be treated with respect: you have to fight for it. By being different, by having a specific set of skills and challenges that YOU alone possess, you could invent a new way of advocating for yourself. If you’re reading this right now, I believe you care enough about it to seek more information. I challenge you to come up with a way to make sure you get treated the way YOU want to be treated, that works specifically for you.
The Voices of Neurodiversity: Mayday Club Youth Choir
I came up with the idea of the choir in 2015. I spent the year planning, intending to start up in September 2016. I was 19 years old at the time and attending classes at UBC for math and physics.
Believe it or not, I only started the choir to change the conversation around autism and promote the concept of Neurodiversity. I once watched the African Children’s Choir perform. How well they came together to sing for a cause and overcame their challenges really impacted the audience. I felt like using a children’s choir as an educational tool for the community was a compelling choice. Since I was young, I was used to seeing children’s choirs. I witnessed a young girl with a disability being mistreated because she could not stand and sing the same as everybody else. Throughout history, and even today, there are so many instances of autistic people being mistreated or denied opportunities in education and work, just because they are different. It had been on my mind since then.
Something clicked in 2015, and I became very determined to do it. I had always wished for somebody to come along and make a change so that people like me would feel free to be ourselves at school, at the workplace, and even out in public at the grocery store. One day, I listened to a speech by Malala Yusuf, who said that if we want to see change, we have to make a change. I decided to set out and do what I could.
The choir offers so many social benefits to members, most of which I didn’t even anticipate or plan for. Just the simple act of singing and hearing your voice mixed with the people around you offers a bond unlike any other activity in the world. Autism and everything aside, singing in a choir has a lot of clinically proven benefits for all humans. Even though most of them are on the autism spectrum, the people in our choir experience all the same social benefits as everyone else, regardless of whether they’re able to speak or communicate in the typical fashion.
Another advantage is that we travel and perform, as we are a semi-professional group. There is often a rush of anxiety and excitement, and even stage fright, before performances. By being part of the performances, members overcome their fears of performing, public speaking, being on stage, and going to new places, etc. The fact that it’s a group activity, going up on stage, and having all these like-minded people around you helps us feel like a team. We say we’re a family and we do everything together. We trick-or-treat together, have holiday meals together, and even party together on weekends. We love each other so much! We have found a family in this group, through music, and the shared experiences of travelling and performing.
We’re accepting new members for September. We’re not quite sure what next year is going to look like for us because of COVID-19, but we are always accepting new members. The group is welcoming new team members! In terms of commitment, it is quite a big commitment. Think of it like playing on a very competitive hockey team or a competitive dance. While we only practice once a week, in our busy season, we can be performing every few days, all over the lower mainland from Chilliwack to North Vancouver.
Sadly, I heard that choirs would be one of the last things permitted to start up again because they are considered by the World Health Organization to be at higher risk of transmission. Right now, all of our practices are online instead of in-person. In September, we hope to do a hybrid of outdoor, in-person, and online practices and social outings.
When Nicole won the 2018 BC Autism Awards, she was 23 years old. Nicole studied at UBC and has founded her own non-profit organization, the Mayday Club Youth Choir. Nicole got the inspiration for Mayday, after watching a younger child struggle with behaviour in a choir that she used to sing in as a teenager. As someone with ASD, Nicole empathized with the child and resolved to start her own choir one day, where kids would be free to participate in any way that feels natural to them. 2 short years later after hard work and resilience, Nicole now conducts a professional 45-voice youth choir, for individuals ages 4-30, on the autism spectrum. The majority of the youth involved with Mayday experience significant bullying in school or at work, and face issues such as PTSD, anxiety, etc. Nicole continually draws upon her own personal experiences to which inspires everyone around her. Nicole makes everyone feel valued, good about themselves and has created a club based around acceptance and friendship.
To be a Self-Advocate of the Year is to be a role model and an inspiration for others on the spectrum and those around them. They help us question our preconceived notions and they help us grow. They are our champions!