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ASD Snapshot: An Arresting Speech

~ A moment in time that defines: belief

By Teresa HedleyPublished 3 years ago 7 min read
World Autism Awareness Day 2016 Parliament Hill Speech - Ottawa, Canada

When Autism Speaks, We Listen

The spring of 2016 sees Erik on Parliament Hill. He speaks to a crowd gathered to hear voices united for autism. He speaks for parents of children with autism when he says that their belief is like the Centennial Flame that burns on the Hill. It never goes out, just as our hope and our belief for our children burn brightly within each of us. Politicians, autism leaders, scientists, moms, dads, grandmas, grandpas and siblings wipe a tear as Erik speaks of his poppa’s belief and of the four words that have become his guiding light. When autism speaks, we listen.

"I am Erik Hedley. I am seventeen. And I have autism."

“Thank you for having me here today. Charlotte, I enjoyed your speech.

I am Erik Hedley. I am seventeen. And I have autism.

Someone asked me once what it is like to have autism. I told them that I see things that most people miss. I think seeing things in a different way is a good thing. I do.

When I was asked to speak today, I thought, I can do this as long as I have a chance to practise. And then I should be okay. So we came here to Parliament Hill every week for the past month. I stood right here with a fake microphone, and I practised.

My mom gave me some advice. She said, “Erik, focus on the eternal flame. Pretend it is your audience.”

And then my mom and I realized that the eternal flame really is my audience. You are all eternal flames for your children with autism. Your flame always burns and it never goes out. This is your hope and your belief for your child.

Someone also asked me what I thought parents can give their children with autism. I answered in one word: belief. Without belief, what have you got? Not much.

If you believe in me, I believe in me. If you think I can do it, then I think I can do it. What you think of me is what I think of me.

Eleven years ago when I was diagnosed with autism, my poppa said to my mom, “Erik will surprise you.”

Poppa was one of my first believers. Those four words have been my guiding light. “Erik will surprise you.”

Give your child a guiding light and give them your belief. Remember, you are their eternal flame. Thank you."

"You are all eternal flames for your children with autism."

The Night Before the Big Day

But we are not without our hiccups, our sticky, humorous and often perplexing moments. One unfolds during a practice session on the steps of Parliament, the night before the big day.

We write an email to Gramma the night before: An Arresting Speech.

A humorous moment on Parliament Hill this evening . . .

Erik and I trekked back to the Hill one last time today so that he could practise his autism speech. We get there, it is a lovely evening, and people are camped out all over the lawn. Erik positions himself on the steps in front of the Peace Tower, hauls out his Rock Band microphone, stuffs the cord into his shorts pocket, pulls out his speech and launches in.

“I am Erik Hedley. I am seventeen. And I have autism.”

At that moment, I look up to see not one but three RCMP officers running toward us. Erik has his back turned, so he cannot see the approach. He takes a breath and is just about to launch into paragraph two when I signal for him to hold on. The police have reached us and have surrounded Erik. He looks up, clearly surprised.

“Good evening. How are you this evening?” one officer asks me.

“I’m fine,” I reply. “And how are you this evening?” I ask. I have an idea where this is going, and I am trying not to smile.

“Oh, we’re fine . . . but we need to ask what you’re doing here.”

“We’re practising a speech.”

“And what is that?” the officer asks, pointing toward the microphone.

“A microphone.”

“And do you realize that it’s against the law to use a microphone on the Hill?”

“Even if it’s a Wii Rock Band microphone?”

“It’s not live?”

“It’s plugged into his shorts pocket,” I say, gesturing toward Erik.

The female officer bursts out laughing. “Oh jeez, guys! I told you it wasn’t live! It’s a toy!”

She finds this pretty funny. The guys, meanwhile, look sheepish. I explain that Erik is practising for an autism rally on the Hill on Tuesday, and that he will be speaking alongside members of Parliament and advocates. That he has autism. They are feeling worse by the moment.

“We had to be sure you weren’t staging a demonstration.”

I raise my eyebrows. Erik?

“It’s against the law to use a microphone on the Hill without a permit. You need a permit.”

I assure him we are not demonstrators. I pull the cord from Erik’s pocket; it dangles between us.

The quieter cop has a question for me: “You mean to say, you’ve been up here every weekend for a month, and no one has said anything to you?”

“That’s right,” I reply. “You are the vigilant ones.” And after a beat: “You get the prize.”

Big smiles all around.

“So how about a picture?” I ask. They are feeling a bit bad, but I insist.

We get a good group shot and they disperse. We carry on with the speech, twice more. Erik belts it out loud and proud into the toy microphone. The low-key officer stands behind Erik, off to one side, in cop pose, arms crossed as though on guard, listening intently, Parliament behind him. It is a poignant moment.

We thank him afterward, and he turns to Erik.

“Good speech. I think you’ll change some minds out there. Keep up the good work.” And to me: “I’ve got a friend who has two kids with autism . . . it’s a tough go. Keep up your work with your son.”

A nice moment on Parliament Hill this evening . . .


Points to Ponder: Eleven years ago, Vancouver, Canada hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics. Close your eyes, and you may be able to summon the theme song, “I Believe.” You may also be able to conjure up the image of diminutive Nikki Yanofsky, delivering the song, at first in delicate tones and then full force, as belief flooded though her. The song still sends shivers. “I Believe.” What stronger, more inspiring message could be sent? In his speech for World Autism Awareness Day, 2016, Erik chose to highlight the transformative power of belief and believers. “If you believe in me, I believe in me. If you think I can do it, I think I can do it.”

Teresa Hedley is the author of What’s Not Allowed? A Family Journey with Autism (Wintertickle Press, 2020), a memoir which offers an uplifting approach to mining the best version of each of us, autism or not. Teresa is also an educator and a curriculum designer. Teaching stints in Canada, Japan, Greece, Spain and Germany have shaped her perspective and inform her writing. Teresa and son Erik co-wrote a twenty-article series for Autism Matters magazine, “I Have Autism and I Need Your Help.” Additionally, Teresa worked directly with families and school boards in Ottawa as an autism consultant and advocate. She and her family live and play on Vancouver Island.

“Teresa and her family are making a difference in the world and are doing what makes them feel joyful. Their products are so insightful, positive, and overall, works of art!”

–KATHLEEN ROONEY, Trainer and Consultant, Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute; Ottawa, ON


About the Creator

Teresa Hedley

Greetings from the beach... where you'll find me exploring, reading, writing, hiking and kayaking with our local seals. I'm excited to share my stories with you via What's Not Allowed? A Family Journey With Autism. Now on Amazon + Chapters

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