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Openly autistic mom of two advocates for equality

‘My diagnosis, at age 46, was like discovering a piece of my brain, picking it up, putting it in place and feeling whole for the first time,’ said Wanda Deschamps
Wanda Deschamps
Supplied photo

“I faced discrimination, bias and negative stereotypes throughout my life,” said Wanda Deschamps.

It was after her two sons were diagnosed with autism that she asked her family physician to refer her for evaluation. She remembers what she felt when she was diagnosed; relief. “Finally, everything started to make sense,” she said.

She was 10-years-old when she realized she was “different.” She describes not being comfortable with hugs, and carrying a social awkwardness that “seems to run out the patience of friends.”

Just three years ago, at the age of 46, she would learn that her uniqueness had a name: autism. “I know what it’s like to be misunderstood, misconstrued and to constantly face barriers in a society that is not designed for you and your way of thinking,” she says.

Despite a self-loathing that stemmed from being socially ostracized, she would complete a Master of Arts in history at the University of Regina, in 2015.

“Being autistic means, I can appear dispassionate, even though I am empathetic. Lack of awareness and acceptance of individuals with autism - especially women - is largely what fuels my advocacy efforts.”

The former Director of Advancement, Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, at University of Waterloo now runs her own organization - Liberty Co. She has partnered with the likes of Emily O'Brien and her new venture, Comeback Snacks - focused on employment opportunities for former inmates. She’s collaborated with Steve Seftel who shares his silent battle with mental health, during his hockey career, in his book Shattered Ice.

Deschamps is a champion for inclusivity. She continues to advocate for achieving gender balance. She says there are a significant number of others like her, identified as having autism midlife, and many are women.

She was the youngest of 10 children. Her mother and father were 40 and 51 when she was born. She refers to a study that concludes older fathers are more likely to have autistic children.

In junior high, she faced increased isolation and anxiety – eventually reflected in her inability to keep up academically. Her father would negotiate a passing grade. “But, for me, the lesson was self-loathing: I was stupid,” she says.

She would continue to struggle with attaching words to concepts, “I listened attentively to people I considered articulate, then memorized their words, phrases and sentences, and recorded them for future use,” she says.

Her firm, Liberty Co., was named to signify her own story and to foster the freedom of sharing this narrative – creating inspiration for others. “I have become a champion for inclusivity with a focus on neuro-diversity and gender equity,” said Deschamps. By combining those two goals she has created an opportunity to advocate for women with autism – and their experiences in the workplace.

“Finally, I am a proud autism mom modelling for my children how you can be unashamed, unafraid and undeterred as an individual with unique abilities. To honour my new-found freedom I refer to myself as the ‘real Wanda.’ I like her.”

April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day. One of the KW Titans game theme’s this year is #women4women. “I am very pleased because this is a division of Liberty Co. which I launched in January.” The April issue of Broadview magazine features her story of being diagnosed with autism at midlife.

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