An incredible speech given by Mike Bernier, an Autism Support Associate at Kerry’s Place for Outcomes Day 2016

I was diagnosed with ASD when I was 13 and at the time I didn’t care. People always told me back then that now that there was a diagnosis, things will get easier. People will know to be more understanding with me and will understand my frustrations.

Elementary school was terrible for me and high school wasn’t much better. Truthfully, I always hated school. I never liked sitting down all day reading and writing. My day was better when I could be alone in a forest, near a creek. Nature was always something that calmed me down. I never liked homework and group assignments. Most of the time I would wander the halls of my high school looking for panels that lead to underground tunnels. Believe it or not, my high school had many.

As a kid, I never really thought I’d end up where I am today. I couldn’t keep a friend if my life depended on it. Partly because I didn’t know how to act around other people my age and mostly because I was a born attention seeker. I would do really dumb things to get attention. Sometimes I liked the attention even though it was the wrong kind. I struggled being in groups of people also because I always had a hard time following along with conversations. Once there are many people talking, I just fade myself out of the conversation because I couldn’t keep up. I got picked on and bullied in elementary school so bad that to this day I blacked it all out. I have very few memories of this horrible time. Bullying is wrong yet I always gave them the ammunition they needed to bully me only because that was the only time the other kids would talk to me. Having no friends and being bullied greatly just naturally turned me into an angry, alone teenager.

Every day I would spend my time alone in a forest somewhere or bike riding all over the map. I got used to being alone. I was always told that there will be things I can and cannot do because of this diagnosis. Things will be hard and you won’t be able to do the things that “Normal” people do. I remember specifically being told I will never be able to get a job, never be in a relationship, never be able to get my driver’s licence and there was more. Now today, everything is different!

My name is Mike Bernier, and I work for Kerry’s Place Autism Services. I have been working here for 10 years now. In addition to Kerry’s Place I always have had a second job. In the last year and a bit my second job has been working on cars at the Jiffy Lube in Keswick. I like Jiffy Lube because I like getting dirty. I like working with my hands. I like it there because I have learnt so much about vehicle maintenance that a lot of repairs to my cars I can do myself. I am far from a mechanic but how to keep your car maintained is valuable knowledge to know.

Working for Kerry’s Place has been a blast as well. I like to think that I have an unfair advantage to working with adult on the spectrum because I am on it too. I work really well with the persons we support because whatever they are going through, there is a good chance I went through it or am going through it too.

Since I was young, my mother runs a Community Living group home. She made me volunteer every chance I could and doing so, I got to meet a lot of very cool individuals that are “differently abled” like me. I have always felt more comfortable being around a crowd of people that were like me then being with the kids at school. I spent some teenage years at the Toronto group home and I loved it there! Staff who looked after me left impressions on me. Some staff are gone now but some staff stuck around and to this day still secretly look out for me.

What really turned my life around was when my high school teachers put me in a co-op work placement at a rock climbing gym. Doesn’t sound like much but that place put me in a life direction I didn’t plan on heading down. At the gym, I mostly did my job then went home. I learnt how to fake being social so that I could make the rock climbing experience fun for the groups I was instructing. There was one staff there that was determined to be my friend. As much as I pushed that person away, she fought harder. Eventually, she invited me to her church youth group and through them I went to a different church youth group at Grace Church. There I opened up and started making friends. These people invited me into their homes and their families. I still have friends from the old youth group days. Years of hanging out with them shaped me into who I am today.

If I aim for a goal and it fails, my mind naturally starts making new goals, and more goals. I plan so many goals in my head and that helps me move forward.

I have hobbies now as I never had before. I love camping, canoeing and fishing. When I get so worked up over life and work, I can get moody and cranky. All I need to do is walk down to the lake and stare at it or spend time in a forest. I LOVE long canoe trips through Algonquin Park away from cell phone service, work drama and Facebook! It’s a great sensation being away from civilization. Nature is my therapy. Its fun and I love it. It’s a nice feeling having an activity that I like and that I am good at.

Getting my licence was easy. I mean I failed twice but I still got it and I am a great driver. I laugh at all the people who said I couldn’t do it because of my “disability”. I got my licence when I was 16 years old.

I graduated high school in 6 years. I know that’s 2 years longer than normal but as much as I despised it I can now say I graduated. For anyone out there struggling with school, my only advice to you is be tough, be strong and get it done. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. I did it in 6 years and at my own pace. At the time I didn’t care about graduating but as an adult now I know the importance of high school and that a high school diploma can help you in the future.

I started my Social Service Worker diploma at Seneca Collage few years back. It pains me to think that I am still not done. The money I put into this course is ridiculous. Every time I think about Seneca, I want to just drop out and continue working my jobs. It’s been 5 years now since I started that 2 year program. It may sound silly to all of you but I don’t care. I want to finish and get that diploma. I would be the only one in my family that got that college diploma. I basically take one class at a time because I’d lose my mind if I had to do more. I am two classes away from graduating. I wish I could say it would all be done by next year, but I can’t. I don’t always pass my classes. However, failing a class doesn’t make me quit school. It makes me mad and more determined to get it right the next time around. It’s a goal I started a long time ago and it’s a goal I know I can achieve. Hard work will pay off for me in the end. That’s goes for anyone struggling with a goal.

My life now has been a series of goals that I jump to and from. I will come up with a goal I will work for it. Not all goals are achievable. If your fail at a goal, that doesn’t mean give up. That just means you may have to tweak that goal so it’s more likely attainable. If I aim for a goal and it fails, my mind naturally starts making new goals, and more goals. I plan so many goals in my head and that helps me move forward.

One thing I remember strongly was being told I would most likely NEVER get a girlfriend. There was no doubt about it, I was terrible at picking up the ladies. As I grew up, I started acting and doing what the other guys did that got them a girlfriend. My problem was I could act the part, but once they got to know me, they would walk away. Another issue I had was once I started dating a girl, I couldn’t understand why people do what they did. Why was holding hands so important? Why would I want to put my lips on your face? Why do you always want to go where I go? Then it led to more questions like why does this make you angry? How is crying about this issue going to help you? I get told I am a robot a lot because I don’t really understand certain emotions. But in most cases they would break up with me once they got to know me and that was the story of my life.

I never really cared for the idea of the “boyfriend/girlfriend” because the “boyfriend /girlfriend” idea would always end in me feeling hurt and alone again. I figured I would never get a serious girlfriend until I saw this incredibly hot looking bartender at a bar in Newmarket. Every time I bought a drink from her I could make her laugh and blush. She had a smile that could light up the room. I had to ask other people what her name was because I forgot a thousand times. Well, I bought her a drink and sang her a song. Well she had to make the drink but I bought it for her. We started hanging out and that led to dating. We had our ups and downs at the beginning because I’m trying to figure her out and she’s having a hard time figuring me out. That was seven years ago on March 5th.

We got married July 29th of this year up in Tobermory. She is the best thing in my world and she fought really hard to get to know me and more to understand me. She gets my flaws, my pet peeves, what I like, what excites me. She knows me inside and out and I love her to death. I worked my tail off paying for that wedding. I set my mind out to make money for it and I did. I worked two full time jobs, 7 days a week at 86 hours a week. I did that for a year to help pay for that wedding and I did it myself. The crazy hours were worth it. I am no longer alone and I am part of this great team of two. Christina and I plan to conquer the world together, set goals and go for them. Everything thing we do, we do it as a team. Together we laugh at all those who said I would never experience this joy. Through her, I have an amazing Mother-in-Law and an awesome little brother!

I am the happiest I have ever been and I am getting really used to proving people wrong. Christina and I have set our next future goals together and even if it may take some time to achieve these goals, we will do it together. We both work multiple jobs as we now plan to save for a down payment on a house. We are even talking about potential children in the near/far future. We have two beautiful dogs and some cats. I have a great life and an amazing wife to share it with.

I was asked to write a speech about my life and my successes and barriers I had to overcome and truthfully I wasn’t going to write this speech. I was nervous and thought “who would even care about my story?” After a couple of days I thought about it and realized EXACTLY who would want to hear my story.

All I want to do with this speech is to inspire everyone who is living with a disability of any kind to not give up on your goals. Doesn’t matter what anyone says, if you set your mind to something you can achieve it. Nowadays, there are so many supports offered that will help you and people out there that will assist you in finding those supports. Don’t give up, keep trying, and do the best you can. You only fail if you give up.

That’s not all who this speech is for. It’s for all the people who don’t have a disability. If you know anyone with a disability or even if you don’t know they have a disability. Be patient. If someone is struggling to do something, instead of getting mad and poking fun, try helping them out. If they struggle to do something one way, help them find another way to do it. Don’t do it for them, help them do it themselves. Self achievements go a long way for people like me. Treat everyone like you want to be treated. Peace, love, and happiness for everyone.

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