Almaguin Highlands student Bailee Harvie kicks 'bad kid' label and embraces autism advocacy
'To advocate for autism has become my quest ... I will help people find their super powers too'
A northeastern Ontario teen is raising awareness about autism among her classmates, teachers and community. Almaguin Highlands student Bailee Harvie lives with autism, and knows what it's like to be bullied, called names and not have any friends.
But she has turned those experiences around and is teaching others to advocate for themselves — and she's been recognized for her efforts.
Harvie was recently given an Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation Student Achievement Award, the highest honour the Federation can bestow on a student. She won the award for a poem she wrote called Overcoming Autism.
The poem takes readers through her life as a young woman living with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and shows them that — through compassion, education and perseverance — students can be successful and can learn to advocate for themselves and for others.
Lisa Rogers is a teacher who works with Bailee Harvie — and is inspired by her.
"To watch her grow and impact other people has such a ripple effect and I think that as educators that's what we have to do more is find peoples' strengths," Rogers told CBC News.
Harvie became interested in autism advocacy work after doing a Grade 8 science fair project on the neurological condition.
"A part of me knew that I wanted to teach others about autism," Harvie said.
"When I went to high school I asked to bring awareness to the school. I did a presentation and since then it's progressed big time."
In an interview with CBC's Up North, she spoke about her experience.
Harvie says her advocacy work makes her "feel so proud."
"I plan to keep doing what I'm doing now. And then after high school I plan to bring awareness into the college. I think autism is something to be talked about. It's one of those things that is left in the dark."
She plans on training to be a mental health councillor.
I was born with all my limbs, 10 fingers and toes.
I was healthy and "normal" as far as a newborn goes.
I learned how to roll, to crawl then to walk.
I was right on "developmental cue" when I learned how to talk.
My parents say I was as good as gold;
that is until I was three years old.
That's when all hell broke loose;
I kept my parents necks in a noose.
I began to bite, punch, kick and scream.
My behaviour it seemed was quite extreme.
I didn't like hugs or the clothes mom made me wear, and
to the frustration of my mother I preferred to run around bare.
I was always in trouble, or so it seemed.
But I didn't understand rules; what did they mean?
Why did mom always yell?
What did misbehave mean? I couldn't tell!
I hated school, my grades were bad.
My teachers didn't like me and that made me sad.
I was an aggressive child, defiant they said.
I was suspended in grade one for clonking a kid on the head.
I was mocked and bullied every day.
"She's annoying, she's weird!" all the kids would say.
I had no friends and mom was always mad.
I was a good kid, why did people think I was so bad?
"Control your emotions." My mother often said,
but the meaning of control went over my head.
I had tantrums a lot and would scream at the drop of a hat.
It was my way of expressing, what was wrong with that?
My mom grew weary; it was the same old song.
Her nine year old daughter was aggressive and defiant, there was something wrong.
A call was made, a family counselling appointment was booked.
She was told, "Bring in your daughter, we'll have a look".
So together we went, she full of hope; that they would give her guidance on how to cope.
After many appointments it was clear there was more going on than my behaviour here.
Questionnaires were analyzed and everything was in order.
I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
So what exactly was this ASD?
What was it that was different about me?
I was told my brain didn't function like the rest,
I wasn't neurologically normal but that didn't mean I couldn't be my best.
A Science Fair project due at school became my inspiration, became my tool.
My project was on autism because I wanted to see, I wanted to learn and know about me.
I worked hard on that project and much to my delight,
I won a spot at Regional's; I was bringing Autism Awareness into the light.
The next year my high school career did start.
I wanted the school to know about autism, I wanted it to do its part.
I talked to my school and they said okay
To promote ASD at school on Autism Awareness Day.
From that moment I have progressed.
To advocate for autism has become my quest.
In order to help the understanding of teachers on the staff
I gave an Autism presentation for their behalf.
Perhaps now they will all know
that Autistic kids are not bad; they just need extra help to grow.
We have our quirks and special needs
but we are just bushels of blossoming seeds.
I have some great friends and I now enjoy school,
My tantrums have ended and I understand a rule.
My journey has been long and it's not over yet.
I will continue to learn and to be an advocate.
Like a super hero, I will help other kids with their Autistic fight,
I will help them see their future is bright.
I will help people find their super powers too
We are not that different me and you.
I just happen to see things with a different view
but I am no worse off than you.
For that view has allowed me to see
that Autism or not I am still simply…ME!
Bailee Harvie also promotes her autism advocacy work on Twitter.