Jacynthe Geschke has a soft voice and a shy smile. When she makes eye contact, it is with a nervous look. Her voice is hesitant and faint.
Jacynthe has autism, a developmental disorder that affects a person’s ability to communicate with other people or to have normal social interaction.
According to the Autism Canada Foundation, people with autism have impaired social skills and relationships, deficits in communication and language, a dependence on routine. They can also have a narrow range of interests and behavior issues.
However, 26-year-old Jacynthe has got the better of her disability and will be receiving a Community Achievement award at the second annual International Naturally Autistic People Awards and Convention this weekend in North Vancouver.
This award is one of 11 being given out to autistic individuals and organizations nominated from eight countries around the world.
Jacynthe is among nominees from Canada, the U.S., India, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Scotland and Germany. She is one of two Canadians to receive an award.
“She’s come so far and she’s out there in our geographical community, visible and helping”, said her mother, Laurie Geschke. “She is very active in the autistic community. She helps there by mentoring and modeling”
Jacynthe works for ANCA Consulting, a company that educates autistic people, their families and the community about the disorder with help from a support staff.
She travels for two to three days a week to the Sunshine Coast to work with Anthony, the son of ANCA Consulting president Leonora Gregory-Collura, who is autistic himself and is confined to a wheelchair after a car crash.
“She started first developing through the program like everybody else, and then I noticed that she actually had a talent in being able to read other autistic individuals or people with other challenges,” says Gregory-Collura.
“She just seemed to have a natural knack, you know, very gentle, very understanding, but also just intuitive. Particularly with little children and individuals like my son who would be considered non-verbal.”
During her time with Anthony, Jacynthe says they play board games and go for walks.
“It was actually Jacynthe that got my son to start using his hands again,” says Gregory-Collura.
“As a peer friend, she was the one who taught him to play cards again. She was the one who held his elbow, again without anyone telling her, to paint. Because that is something she loves herself. And now he is at a stage that he can play board games and take the little counters and what-not and that was all due to Jacynthe.”
She also volunteers at her church, Southgate Church on Laity Street.
“Right now I organize communion and get stuff for it ready,” explains Jacynthe. “I mostly prepare and clean up and organize, like phone people and get people to serve (communion).”
“It makes me feel useful and helpful,” she says.
“She is showing that there is life after an autistic diagnosis,” says her mom.
Opening ceremonies for the awards take place Friday in West Vancouver.
The gala awards dinner and fundraiser takes place at 5 p.m. Sunday.
Families affected by autism will be able to use their autism funding through The Ministry of Children and Family Development to attend the entire weekend.
“It is important for people to come. And I’ll tell you why,” says Gregory-Collura. “Even though you are seeing successful autistic adults at this event, their families have worked very, very hard to see the potential in their child and not get swayed by the negativity that’s out there.
“I think this could be very supportive for folks out there because they will have the chance to actually speak to the parents of these very, very talented individuals who now run their own businesses, I might ad.”
It’s an opportunity to learn from others who took the challenge, to live life and not be afraid of it.
• Go to naturallyautistic.com for tickets to the event.