Chelsea Pettipas wins autism prize

LINACY — Chelsea Pettipas has been recognized on a national level.

Pettipas received the eighth annual International Naturally Autistic People (INAP) special achievement award for community achievement during a ceremony on October 1 in Vancouver.

She was among Canadians who were saluted during the ANCA World Autism Festival and was recognized for her contribution to society.

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“It was absolutely great,” she said. “We got to go to a beach and I was able to pick up glass. I love the beach.”

She also expressed thanks for the support from several sources that she has received from Sharon St. John United Church.

The award presentation happened during the art awards, although she was nominated for community service. It has prompted her to consider competing for an art award next time.

Pettipas also received a congratulatory letter from B.C. Premier John Horgan.

“Your steadfast commitment to your work makes you a role model in your community,” he wrote. “I hope that this award is only the beginning of the mark you will make, not only at home, but abroad as well.”

Pettipas’ award was for a video she made almost a year ago about the current mental health status in Pictou County and featuring people’s challenges since the local mental health facility in Pictou closed. She accessed some of the services provided there.

“I interviewed a number of people, some already affected, as well as relatives of those affected,” she said. “I was hoping the award would bring more help for the plight of people here. Many people have had to seek help outside the county. They were upset with the situation going on.”

Now 23, Pettipas was 18 before her autism was identified.

“I have sensory issues that lead to anxiety,” she said. “I have social issues where I want to isolate.”

As a result, Pettipas had a difficult time in school from bullying, academic issues and challenges associating with her peers.

Domestically, she dislikes certain textures of food and clothing.

“A lot of people think I’m a conceited person, but I try not to be,” she said.

Her mother Debi, who has a nursing background, felt troubled that she didn’t pick up on Chelsea’s signs of autism earlier in her life.

“You’d think I could recognize, but I couldn’t,” she said.

Chelsea attributed the delay to what health and education personnel were looking for, seeing her intelligence without evaluating her behaviour.

“Junior high school was really bad,” she said.

Life has been better since her autism was confirmed, especially since people she meets with autism understand her symptoms.

“Once you have another person with autism, you have a friend because they can see right through you,” she said. “Since the diagnosis, a lot of things make sense. It’s amazing what you recognize.”

She also saluted the support she had received from Autism Pictou County.

Among things she doesn’t recognize are hints and sarcasm, which she enjoys giving out but can’t figure out when it’s directed at her.

“My dad would say there are dishes piling up and I’d say ‘Yes they are,’” she said.

It didn’t click he was suggesting for her to do the dishes.

Chelsea would like to be working and living on her own. She has earned administrative assistant and veterinary assistant diplomas from Eastern College and the three cats she has reflects her affinity for vet clinic work.

“They’re going to get a phenomenal employee,” Debi said.

“If I had my choice, I’d work with animals,” Chelsea said. “I’d love to be independent, even though I love my parents. I want employment I’ll be happy with all my life.”


Chelsea Pettipas shows the 2017 International Naturally Autistic People (INAP) special achievement award for community achievement she received during a ceremony on Oct. 1 in Vancouver. (Goodwin photo)

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Steve Goodwin
Steve Goodwin was born in Amherst, N.S. and has been a journalist for more than 40 years. He has been a resident of Pictou County for nearly 40 years.