Yesterday, on my birthday, I addressed the crowd at the 2019 Autism Speaks Canada Walk, on behalf of my little monsters who were this year’s walk ambassadors. Giancarlo and Rosalia blew me away yesterday, holding hands and marching proudly as the crowd followed them. Sun shining, surrounded by the people I love most, watching my kids walk ahead confident and happy – it was the greatest birthday gift ever.
Just look at this pic. Tell me I’m not the luckiest person in the world. Go on, try. I would never believe you. I have everything I need, right here. We are Team GiaGia, and we are powered by love.
Good morning to all,
First and foremost, I want to thank Krista for once again putting together a beautiful walk. This event has been important for my family for many years, because, as it is for many of you, it is one of the few events we can attend that is free of judgment. Instead, there is a beautiful sense of community, solidarity, understanding, and the comforting knowledge that we are among our tribe, joined by a cause that is dear to all our hearts.
It is for that reason that I was so honored when my children Giancarlo and Rosalia were asked to be ambassadors for this year’s walk. Giancarlo is 7 years old and if he were able to get passed his anxiety and address you this morning, he might tell you how excited he is that there is no school today and how much he loves the bouncy castle and bubble makers, but he doesn’t understand the honor that was bestowed upon him as ambassador. His 6 year old sister, Rosalia, however, does. She knows that she was chosen as co-ambassador because it is important for people to know that Autism doesn’t only affect the individual, but it affects siblings and family members alike. She knows that her role as a sibling is an important one, and she has a wealth of experience to share about living with a brother who is on the spectrum. The problem, though, is that Rosalia is extremely shy. She accepted to be ambassador on the condition that she wouldn’t have to talk on stage, so I am humbly speaking on her behalf.
I also spoke on my children’s behalf several times during this year’s Autism Awareness Campaign leading up to this walk, and very often, the main goal was to demystify what it means to live with Autism Spectrum Disorder. However, I won’t stand here this morning and lecture you about it. If you are here today, it’s because Autism has touched your life one way or another. You may have witnessed, from near or far, the ups and downs of being on the spectrum. Like me, you know that for every small victory we celebrate, there have been obstacles and struggles that preceded. Like me, you also know that none of the victories, big or small, are achieved alone. If you are here this morning, it’s because you’re part of someone’s tribe. Someone’s village. And on their behalf, I thank you. Whether you are a family member, a friend, an educator or a cheerleader for someone on the spectrum, the fact that you are here, wearing your team tshirt proudly like a loyal fan, it means the world to someone. I know it does to me.
Team GiaGia is my tribe. They are the village that, through their love and support, are helping me to raise Giancarlo and Rosalia, who BOTH live with Autism and its challenges. Yes, Rosalia is neurotypical, but she is still very much affected by it. From a young age, she was aware of the fact that her older brother wasn’t able to do many of the things she was quickly learning. She learned early on to stand up for herself when she felt that she wasn’t getting a fair share of attention, as Giancarlo’s special needs took up such a large part of our time and energy. She started worrying a lot too – more than anyone her age should. For example, it worried her, and continues to worry her, when Giancarlo is having a meltdown and I intervene. She worries for my wellbeing. She worries about going to or missing out on events that would be too overwhelming for her brother. She is constantly faced with the conflict of caring for her brother and finding her independence from the weight of his disorder, and that is something she, and other siblings, might live with all their lives. On the playground or at the park, to decide between playing with the other children or staying behind trying to help her brother integrate into the group. As she grows older, the decisions will become more complex. So, yes, Rosalia has a lot to bring to the table as an ambassador for Autism Speaks Canada, even though she herself is not autistic. She is, though, very much part of the village that is helping me raise Giancarlo. She is his translator, because when he struggles to make himself understood, she is often the one who can decipher his sometimes cryptic requests. She is his ally, his guide, his positive role model, and his best friend, and although Team GiaGia is named after Giancarlo, she is as much a star of our team as he is.
And what a team it is. Team GiaGia is a team composed of not only these little ambassadors and their mama, but also a supportive and loving father, grandparents who are generous with their time, energy, and are basically co-raising Giancarlo and Rosalia, educators whose dedication towards Giancarlo’s success is surpassed only by their patience with him and with me! Team GiaGia also has a large following on social media and the outpouring of love and support that I have received through them has given me strength during many difficult moments. The same is true for the family and friends walking with us today, some of whom travelled all the way from Ontario. It is such an honor to have you all in our corner, wearing our team name on your hearts. All the walkers today are doing that for somebody. Know that if you are here, you’re making someone’s load a little lighter and their heart a little fuller. Every team has a story. Every team has its cheerleaders. And every team is powered by love. It is a true privilege to stand before all of you this morning and be witness to such love, and I can’t wait to see that love pour onto the field when the walk begins in a few minutes. However, before it does, know that we are walking with you. Not only on this walk, but on this journey. Whether you are raising or supporting someone on the spectrum, whether you are a grandparent, sibling, or friend, we see you, we applaud you, and we are honored to walk beside you.
Without further ado, and on behalf of the ambassadors Rosalia and Giancarlo, I wish you a beautiful walk.