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April is Autism Awareness Month. If one does not live with autism or someone close to them with autism, it can be difficult to understand. That's why Kayla Dyck stepped up to help.

Kayla has lived with autism spectrum disorder her whole life and explains that one of the most difficult parts for her is understanding her own emotions and the emotions of those around her.

"Number one, I have a hard time with my emotions and number two, I have a hard time dealing with friends... because emotions are so tricky it is hard to connect with other people."

This is one reason that she connects with Hope Centre Ministries. This organization, run by Shellie Power, "exists to celebrate the gifts and uniqueness of individuals who live with disabilities and support them in their walk with God and their faith community" as it explains on their website. 

They often run workshops and various programs to help support not only those living with disabilities but also the church communities in Manitoba so they can find ways of including and accepting people living with disabilities. 

Kayla wanted to help run a workshop on autism, which is how her book was born. 

"Kayla is a friend of mine that I met on a mission trip for youth with disabilities and she lives with autism. We have been meeting together for several years actually and this year she asked if she could lead a workshop." Shellie explains, "she wanted to be able to explain what the scars were on her body so that people would understand, she wanted people to know about autism because she lives with autism, and she just recently got a tattoo that is a beautiful butterfly that has puzzle pieces, which is the autism symbol, on it and she wanted to be able to share that as a thing of beauty because autism sometimes becomes a label that people are afraid of and she wanted a new label on her that was a thing of beauty and autism is part of who she is. So Out Of The Cocoon was our way of scripting this workshop."

Kayla wanted to help others understand what it can be like to live with autism.

"I want people to understand about autism so they can understand about me. I also want to share that there are beautiful things about me too... Emotions are hard for me to understand and it's hard because I get mad and upset. And it's hard for me to control them. When I see other people get upset then I start getting upset. I need to start thinking [about a way] to calm down like taking a deep breath or having a place to be by myself."

Shellie hopes that workshops like this one will foster more understanding and acceptance of those with disabilities into their communities.

"I think it's really important for churches to know that, first of all statistically, 1 in 68 families is affected by autism and to understand that it's not something we need to be fearful of. We need to recognize that as faith communities we are incomplete when we don't understand how to fully include others."

Autism Awareness Month isn't the only time available to learn more. You and your faith community can also attend the workshops or have Shellie speak with your community.

Speaking about the month of raising awareness, Shellie states, "it promotes an understanding which in my opinion is the very first step to inclusion because understanding is something that is so necessary for all of us before we can even start talking about what kind of accommodations we need to make. And so I see awareness of disabilities and autism awareness as a stepping stone to acceptance."

You can find more information about the workshops and Kayla's book Out of the Cocoon - Autism: My Journey on the Hope Centre Ministries website. Her book will also soon be available on amazon.