This season, please give to the AutismBC Support Their Future Fund to help empower, support, and connect the autism community today.
“I want to be free to be myself”
My autism journey
My name is Nicole Provost. I am a pilot, voice actor, teacher, and the founder of the federally registered charity Mayday Club. I was diagnosed with ASD when I was a teenager. Luckily, I had an excellent experience in high school and had great friends. Outside of school, I was a member of the Canadian tap dancing team. I was absolutely obsessed with my sport and so were my teammates. I believe that having ASD really helped give me the focus and dedication I needed to succeed on Team Canada.
After high school, a lot changed. For the first time in my life, I was alone and I stood out a lot at university. Suddenly, obsessively talking about tap dancing and Harry Potter weren’t cool anymore. I felt creepy and different and weird and for the first time I was super affected by my ASD. Someone once said to me that autism and its social challenges aren’t always apparent until the social demand outweighs your specific skill set. The demands and social expectations of a young adult were difficult for me. I struggled for years and I often still struggle — but at least now I have an excellent community of like-minded people around me.
“I want to live every moment of my life true to myself and who I am. I want to seize every opportunity and embrace every tiny little aspect of what life is and who I am.”
Becoming a young leader in the autistic community
I live in a small-ish town, and there were really no opportunities for recreation and skills growth among neurodiverse people. I needed mental health support and guidance when I had finished high school and first started university. I was going through some pretty scary mental health challenges, and I didn’t know who to reach out to. I couldn’t find anybody who could give me the help I needed. I felt very alone because I didn’t know anybody who struggled with the same things I did or even had the same set of interests that I had. There was no way of meeting like-minded people. Part of me was even doubting that there was anybody like me in the world, even though I knew deep down there must be.
As I learned more, I realized that people who live further and further away from Vancouver have more and more trouble finding resources. I thought it was a shame that there was nobody to help people like me and help us find each other. Then I heard a speech by Malala Yusuf where she said sometimes change will never happen unless we make it happen. I realized it was unlikely that anybody would do anything in my community centred on what I envisioned and needed, so I decided that I would give it a try myself. I set to work founding my own organization which eventually became Mayday Club.
I decided I would use my uniqueness and my understanding of different points of view to help other neurodiverse young people meet each other and understand that they’re not alone. I founded my own organization called Mayday Club. Today, even with the pandemic, Mayday Club is going strong after five years.
Among other, smaller programs, the club’s biggest known aspect is the Mayday Club Youth Choir, which is made up of over 50 young people from across Canada. All the singers are either autistic or with other neurodiversities. I have taught over 100 young singers, and we have performed for over 21,000 people over the course of the program’s history. At our performances, we talk about inclusion and sing about overcoming challenges.
In the choir, I get to know each singer and guide them to be the best that they can be. Through their performances and practices, they gain confidence and experience and get to visit new places. I love each singer deeply. I let them know how much I care about them, and I hold them to a very high standard. I expect them to show up at performances and do their best and I let them know that they are being relied on. Each and every one of them loves being taken seriously and being relied on as part of the team.
Often in their lives, they are given an easy job in a group because they are labeled “the kid with autism.” Other times they are not allowed in at all. In my group, they are the star. Everyone is held to the same standard, and they are rewarded for their work with respect, applause, publicity, and friendship.
As the program has been running for five years, some of the kids have graduated and gone off to at university. Two past choir members are currently studying music at different universities in Canada and another three are studying psychology or social work. I really like to think that their experiences in the choir helped them to achieve these goals.
“[…] how can we expect people to make a difference without allowing them to BE different?”
I want to be free to be myself
“I want to be free to be myself” sums up my vision for my own future, for the futures of my loved ones, and even for the rest of the world. Our minds are so different from one another’s minds on so many levels. We are changing from moment to moment. Every second new information is being stored in our brains and new connections are being made between synapses. Based on the concept of neural plasticity, we are literally different people from one moment to the next. The fact that we are so different from one another is beautiful and exciting and mysterious. We are so lucky to be part of a species capable of so many different ideas and thoughts. When we truly embrace different type of thinkers for who they are, we will see growth in ways we never imagined.
I want to live every moment of my life true to myself and who I am. I want to seize every opportunity and embrace every tiny little aspect of what life is and who I am. I love being alive and I love our world. I want to be free to be myself every single second in order to live the biggest and truest life I can.
I have big plans for the future, and I hope to start implementing them in my community and beyond. I believe with all my heart and soul that the fact that we treat people of different neurotypes as ‘disabled’ proves that our society is still immature. The mark of a mature society would be a place and use for every mind. Why don’t we have autistic people in cabinet? Why are there no people with down syndrome on climate committees? Our society is built for one type of thinker, and anyone who doesn’t fit that box is considered ‘disabled’.
Imagine a world where people born with special minds aren’t considered disabled. Imagine if we spent less time teaching all kids the same stuff — expecting them all to be able to do the same things — and instead focused on their natural talents. Imagine if we used technology and tools to make up for the essential life skills some people lack, instead of trying to teach them to fit in. Imagine if neurodiverse people could be placed in highly specialized fields where they would excel. When you look at a problem differently, you come up with better solutions. There are so many issues in our world and we are only looking at them from a neurotypical point of view.
We will be at our strongest when we put every mind to use. When one human being is told that their worldview is inferior to any other, that says more about our society than it says about the individual. My vision for the world is a niche for every type of thinker, and a stronger and healthier planet and human race because of it.
“When you look at a problem differently, you come up with better solutions. There are so many issues in our world and we are only looking at them from a neurotypical point of view.”
The importance of autistic leaders in our community
I think it is important to have autistic adults as leaders in the community because they are naturally out-of-the-box thinkers. There are so many challenges and injustices in our world today that our global leaders have been unable to solve, that have persisted and been exasperated from generation to generation. Everything from the climate crisis, to health care, to truth and reconciliation, to war and famine — our global leaders have promised change, and yet change has not occurred. Most people in power have been of one neurotype while individuals with autism and other diversities have been treated as problems to solve rather than problem solvers. I strongly believe that once we start consulting people of different neurotypes in decision-making and problem-solving on every level of society, we will start to see change and solutions to big problems. Once we shift away from “working with special needs people” to “working alongside people of different neurotypes” we will have made a fundamental step towards maturity and sustainability. After all, how can we expect people to make a difference without allowing them to BE different?
“I want to be free to be myself every single second in order to live the biggest and truest life I can.”
To help bring up more young autistic leaders, AutismBC and all organizations serving the neurodiverse community can continue to focus on providing opportunities for autistic individuals to gain skills-building experiences. Young people of minority neurotypes, like those on the autism spectrum, may need to work extra hard on gaining skills that come easily to other people. However, they should be treated as children and young people full of potential and not written off. They should be given the chance to develop and refine their natural skills. Organizations such as AutismBC can contribute to this by investing in and promoting programs that help push young people to their potential so that they can grow up to be leaders in their community and in their fields.
Why donate to AutismBC?
AutismBC is an organization that has real impacts in the every-day lives of autistic people. They provide opportunities for autistic individuals and for parents to learn, grow, and be part of the community. They always have something cool going on and it really feels like a community anyone can be a part of and welcomed into. Donations and volunteers are what makes this possible.
Watch Nicole’s interview here
At AutismBC we strive to support autistic leaders in the community and amplify their voices.
This takes programs that will empower young autistic people, and help them make gains that will support their future to be the leaders and mentors of tomorrow.
We’ve launched the SUPPORT THEIR FUTURE FUND to ensure that we can continue to provide autistic people with programs and supports needed across their lifespan, now and into the future. Your donation extends to reach autistic people throughout the province. It ensures AutismBC will be there for them with the programs and supports they need now and into the future. Programs like AutismBC Goes, AutismBC Meets, AutismBC Talks, and the AutismBC Online Resource Blog that shares important information, creates awareness and connects people throughout BC.
You can make a lasting difference with your donation this holiday season. Please give to the Support Their Future Fund today!
“I want to live every moment of my life true to myself and who I am. I want to seize every opportunity and embrace every tiny little aspect of what life is and who I am.
I want to be free to be myself."
Nicole Provost is a pilot, voice actor, teacher, and the founder of the charity Mayday Club. She was diagnosed with ASD when she was a teenager. In this video, Nicole shares her journey as a leader for the neurodiverse community. She also talks about why it is important to bring up autistic leaders in the community and what it means to be "I want to be free to be myself".