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The teen educating Niagara on autism

Fifteen-year-old Addison Tuckwell has created kits that let other people experience what it's like to be on the spectrum; 'I want to do as much as possible to bring awareness'
Fifteen-year-old Thorold Secondary student Addison Tuckwell together with her trusty companion Baxter.

April is World Autism Month and 15-year-old Thorold Secondary student Addison Tuckwell is on a quest to educate others about the condition. She has created special kits that let other people experience what life is like for someone on the spectrum.

“It’s five experiences that put you in the shoes of autistic people,” says Tuckwell, in an interview with ThoroldToday. “I want to do as much as possible to bring awareness, just to make everyone more comfortable, and make people more aware and [create] acceptance for people with autism.”

Tuckwell conceived of the project in her Believe Leadership course that challenges students to pursue a passion project on a subject they want to learn more about.

“I chose autism because my brother was autistic,” she says. “I realized that I didn’t actually know that much about autism because it was just my brother. Then I realized the actual details of it and that I related to it. In the process I discovered that I was autistic.”

To help her adjust to her diagnosis, Tuckwell has had a little help from an unexpected friend: a seven-year-old golden retriever named Baxter.

“He was my brother’s but then when I got diagnosed he transferred him over to me,” she says. 

Baxter is a certified emotional support animal, and goes to school with Tuckwell every day.

“It’s like a comfort and something else to focus on in stressful situations,” Tuckwell says. “When I don’t know what to talk about, we talk about the dog because people want to talk about the dog anyway. He puts his head on my lap as a comfort and he can understand when I’m overwhelmed.”

Bringing Baxter to school did take some preparation.

“There was some things that needed to be put in place like we bring the mats to school,” says Tuckwell. “I had to be put in a certain seat so I have room for him, and then also getting people used to having him around.”

With the help from Baxter, Tuckwell has been able to throw herself fully on her Believe Leadership project. Her autism education kits let participants experience what it’s like to have autism. There’s exercises to do with motor skills, visual distractions, and verbal communication. For example, the experience involving fine motor skills asks participants to put together a bolt and a screw while wearing heavy-duty garden gloves. 

“The idea is that autism differs from person to person,” says Tuckwell. “I don’t have too much trouble with motor skills but if I’m more overwhelmed already then it just makes any task harder. Once you keep doing it already overwhelmed you just keep getting more overwhelmed with it.”

Tuckwell’s mom Dawn works at Autism Ontario, and when she told her co-workers about the project, they were immediately enthusiastic.

“This is a really good tool to help people understand,” Dawn tells ThoroldToday. “We use it as a training tool for our staff.  We’ve put this on our website: the kit and how to do it and we’re spreading it across Ontario so that schools can use it as a tool.”

And that is not all. Tuckwell recently received a $5,000 grant from Autism Speaks, that will be used to replicate and deliver the kit to all DSBN schools in Niagara, so that every student will get an education on autism.

“It’s just a really good example of the power of one person and the change that one person can make,” says the principal of Thorold Secondary School, Janice Sargeant. “Goodness spreads.”

As for Tuckwell, she feels extra motivated to keep educating others on autism.

“Everyone is different,” she says. “You met one autistic person, you met one autistic person. It’ll be different for everyone so you just have to communicate with them what they would need so you can be more aware of what their specific situation is.”


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Bernard Lansbergen

About the Author: Bernard Lansbergen

Bernard was born and raised in Belgium but moved to Canada in 2012 and has lived in Niagara since 2020. Bernard loves telling people’s stories and wants to get to know those that make Thorold into the great place it is
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