Meet Leo from Saskatchewan
When I grow up, I want to be an entomologist and a marine biologist. Maybe even an astronaut so I can go into a black hole!
Leo was diagnosed with autism when he was 3 years old. Now at the age of 10, Leo is an avid traveler with big plans for his future. He is an aspiring entomologist, but he would also consider a career as a marine biologist or an astronaut. Not only does Leo have a huge heart, but he is also incredibly smart and ambitious. He can tell you endless things about dinosaurs, natural disasters, animals, the oceans, insects, and space. He can tell you how a black hole is formed and what spaghettification means. His memory is his superpower.
Leo loves gymnastics, swimming, drawing, and spending time with his friends. He is charismatic and loves to sing, act, dance and do impersonations.
Leo has a strong community of family, grandparents, therapists, teachers and friends around him to support him in any way they can. He has progressed his communication and motor skills, and his ability to process emotions. And his Mom is committed to providing him with all the tools he needs to excel.
Learn more about Leo’s autism journey with his Mom, Catea, in this Q&A below.
At what age was Leo diagnosed with autism?
Catea: Leo was diagnosed at the age of 3, but I knew he was autistic by the time he was 2. I just noticed things about Leo that were a bit different than other kids. He didn’t have many of his own words and he couldn’t communicate well, yet he had an incredible ability to remember sight words and things he enjoyed like animals. Leo made little eye contact and did not respond well to his name. When he was formally diagnosed in 2014, Leo could accomplish puzzles which most kids found impossible, he could spell and say words others could not, like tyrannosaurus rex, but could not call his mom, “Mom”. Leo’s motor skills (small and large) were also a bit troublesome. He still needs assistance to this day in accomplishing what most kids find easy.
How has autism affected your life?
Leo: It has affected everything.
Catea: Leo is still learning what autism really means. I just remind him about it, especially when he is frustrated or overwhelmed. Although he is in the appropriate grade and learning level, he needs full-time assistance in school. His “play” is much different than other kids and Leo’s ability to keep and maintain friendships has always been something I have had to help with. Autism has had us feel more alone at times but also realizing who is there for us and who is not. Leo used to be a bit aggressive and charge when mad or shake his head on you. He still has his moments of anger but now they are more of a take a deep breath, walk away, and he is getting better at expressing how he is feeling. Group therapies, taking ABA classes and just understanding what makes him tick has helped him in this capacity. Everything is affected, nothing is ever “normal” or “easy”, but we learn to adapt.
How does it make Leo unique, and help him excel?
Leo: It makes me unique because I am extra super smart. It makes me proud to be smart at things.
Catea: I think Leo is incredibly smart. His obsessions with things have made him a walking fact book for the things he loves. He can tell you endless things about dinosaurs, natural disasters, animals, the oceans, insects, and space. His memory is his superpower, he remembers moments and things that I do not remember and am surprised he does. His memory helps him in school, he is particularly good with math because of this. Aside from his intelligence, Leo is very affectionate, he has a big heart and is easily triggered by his emotions. Kids will clap for him in class for doing well and he will tear up from being so happy. Leo’s obsessions, memory, intelligence, loving, and ambitious attitude help him move forward in life. I only give him the tools, it's up to him to use them.
What struggles have you faced because of your autism?
Leo: Some things are hard for me, like video games, sometimes focusing, and being afraid to do some new things.
Catea: Leo has faced many obstacles. He has fully faced his ability to put together simple phrases and can now speak fluently. Leo has struggled with the ability to make friends and be a part of the group. He often doubts himself, or when he struggles to focus or understand something in school he will say “why won't my brain work or why does my brain make me do this?”. His motor skills have often stopped him from enjoying simple pleasures of riding bikes, climbing monkey bars, keeping up in gym or running with his peers and playing tag. I try to accommodate his needs with finding a modified bike and getting him involved with special Olympics so he can learn at his own pace and feel more confident when playing with his peers. Leo still has struggles with comprehension in school, too much information can overwhelm him and cause nothing but chaos in his mind. Leo’s safety also used to be a big hazard for himself. He used to be a runner, just run away without reason and without knowledge of the dangers around him, like cars, dogs, strangers. He used to have to hold my hand, or finger wherever we would go. We were getting a service dog to help with this, and luckily, he has overcome his urge to run. When people meet Leo now they see him as high functioning, which goes to show how far he has come. Leo has overcome the obstacle of just having the word Autism to his name, he has autism, he is not autism. He overcomes something every day and I am so proud of him for it.
How has your family supported you through your autism journey?
Catea: Leo has a strong family and community around him. I am always seeking what he is lacking and then trying it find a way to help. Since he was diagnosed, he has been put into multiple therapies and classes to help him along his journey. He is in speech therapy, horseback riding, swimming lessons, gymnastics, and takes random courses at Autism Services in his area to be with peers and learns how to be around others. He is also involved with music therapy, we have done ABA, and Special Olympics. I also take these classes, therapies and implement then into his IIP, at school, with his E.A. and any new things he goes into. Leo has a tight bond with his grandparents as well, his grandma will join us in some classes and therapies and gets involved any way she can. She has even put-on fundraisers to help pay for these therapies and classes. His grandpa is always getting him the newest technology and loves to take him to the lake in the summer, where Leo gets a break from his hard work and enjoys himself. His aunt and uncle are always finding new games and activities to do with Leo and their child. I will support his dreams and help him with anything he wants in his life.
Has your life been impacted by Coronavirus? What are your some of your goals and hope for the future?
Leo: Covid-19 has taken over the world, so I can’t travel places, see my friends, do the fun stuff I use to. It makes me sad. In the future I want to travel, I want to go to college, I want to swim with sharks and go scuba diving. When I grow up I want to be an entomologist (insect keeper) and a marine biologist. Maybe even an astronaut so I can go into a black hole!
What advice would you give to a young person, recently diagnosed with autism, wondering what the future holds for them?
Catea: My advice would be, do not fear the diagnosis or let it discourage or think there is something wrong with you. The diagnosis opens so many doors of opportunity to help you manage your different abilities. Autism is just one part of your many attributes. Focus on your strengths and work on your weaknesses. Find the ones who love you for you, having those people will only move you forward in life, they will be a huge part of the community that is needed with any diagnosis. Your future is no different than anyone else, you may have to work harder, or do it differently but it does not mean you cannot do it. Autism does not define you. You define you!
What five words best describe Leo to the world?
Loving, Performer, Adventurous, Tornado Man (his own superhero), Helpful
Leo, why are you interested in becoming an Autism Speaks Canada Ambassador?
Leo: So more people can know about me! My mom thought it would be good for me to do it. She thought it may help me understand my Autism traits more, help my peers understand me and others better, and meet one of my many goals of being “famous”. For my mom, its spreading awareness of Autism and a part of who I am.
Disclaimer: These are subjective opinions and real experiences of autistic people across Canada. Autism Speaks Canada does not provide medical or legal advice or services. Rather, Autism Speaks Canada provides general information about autism as a service to the community. The information provided on our website is not a recommendation, referral or endorsement of any resource, therapeutic method, or service provider and does not replace the advice of medical, legal or educational professionals. Autism Speaks Canada has not validated and is not responsible for any information, events, or services provided by third parties.