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« Teachers awarded for tablet technology research | Main | The bullying problem »

11/13/2012

How one teen with autism beat the bullies

Jacob Wilson was diagnosed with autism when he was 4 and was non-verbal until age 5. His struggles to communicate for most of elementary school and his classmates' perception he was getting special treatment, made him a target for bullies. By Grade 8, the weekly beatings from bullies led him to attempt suicide.

After a short stay in hospital, the Vaughan teen spent most of Grade 8 at home. But he used his time well.

"I made the decision I was going to teach myself to talk," says Wilson, now 18, who listened to voices in video games and practised pronouncing what they said.

"I used what I love to help me catch up."

When Wilson entered St. Joan of Arc Catholic Secondary School things began to change. In Grade 10 Wilson surprised even himself when he memorized "In Flanders Fields" and recited it in front of 1,800 fellow students at the school's Remembrance Day Ceremony.

"Everyone was in awe that I could do it," he says proudly. "I still remember it to this day."

Before long, Wilson was taking turns reading the morning announcements and participating in the school musical.

"I started meeting so many people. I made friends who were my peers. And I kept pushing myself to talk to people."

By Grade 12, Wilson and his best friend entered the Sears Drama Festival and he had a co-op position working behind the scenes with Rogers TV in Barrie.

"After eight years of being bullied, I was something that I had never been -- popular," he says.

Wilson credits the psychological help he has received through Kinark Child and Family Services for many of his high school achievements.

Last summer, he spoke about his transformation at Kinark's annual meeting. The experience has led to Wilson's new role as a guest speaker on autism.

He especially likes to speak to students.

"I tell them autism is a disorder you are born with and there are many different forms," he says.

"But I show them that for people with autism, there is always hope for them to be better than what they are."

Wilson is living proof.

"I was bullied for eight years of my life, almost commited suicide, changed my life around dramatically, and now I am loving life."

Toronto star

Jacob Wilson, 18, who had difficulty speaking in elementary school, now reads the morning announcements at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Secondary School, participates in school shows and spreads the word about autism as a guest speaker for Kinark Child and Family Services.

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The Autism Project

  • Welcome to the Toronto Star's autism blog, a daily amalgam of breaking news stories, features, trends and ideas flowing from our Autism Project. The blog is written by Star reporters: Kate Allen, Andrea Gordon, Laurie Monsebraaten, Kris Rushowy, Leslie Scrivener, and Tanya Talaga.

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