FEATURES -- Autism has been a widely discussed topic throughout 2016 since the Ontario Liberals changed the funding rules around therapy for children with autism. This move sparked outrage and protest from families of those who are on the spectrum.
While the failings of the Wynne government are not new, there are people with autism that do amazing things every single day, yet not many people seem to take notice.
One of those strong, bright, and influential young people is 16-year-old Philip Alan Shalka, who despite being non-verbal, wrote a book that was published on August. 25, 2016.
The book titled ‘That Place of Knowledge,’ is a philosophical adventure narrated by Dog Guide Sabre.
In the book Philip and Sabre journey to a secret city where they meet with Aristotle to discuss knowledge, and gain insight about life.
The book is a wonderful read for everyone, and shows the immense wisdom Philip possesses on philosophy.
“You know the answer to being happy is to know yourself. The different things that make you unhappy are less important when you understand who you are.”
Those first two sentences of the book show just how intelligent Philip is, and inspires you to read until there’s no pages left.
Throughout, Philip describes the surroundings of the city that’s so clear you can close your eyes and be right in the moment, something many authors are incapable of doing.
But this story is as much about showing you who Philip is as a young man, as it is about teaching you what inspires change and the pursuit of knowledge.
Philip’s love of philosophy began years ago when his tutor read to him about philosophers, and his love and interest in the topic has continued to grow.
According to Philip’s mother Lena Gudyrenko, he worked for four months on the book, and he typed it with only one finger.
Being non-verbal means that communication is often difficult for Philip.
But still being able to write a book, and think deeper than most people can about philosophy, shows how intelligent he and other people with autism are despite the stereotypes that say otherwise.
“Autism is a powerful thing, I learn in a way that would confuse others,” said Philip. “The way people understand information is different.
A child that has autism is considered to have a hard time learning. I do not think this is true. On a regular day, I learn twice as much as anyone else.”
According to Robert Shalka, Philip’s father, he believes that the stereotype of people with autism not being smart stems from their inability to speak.
“As a result, it is easy to jump to a conclusion that the person is not intelligent,” said R. Shalka.
Another thing mentioned by R. Shalka is that some people may have certain behaviours that are considered by ignorance to not be typical, which casts a shadow over people’s opinions.
But according to Philip, these things make him and others with autism, more unique.
“It is important to be unique so that one can identify themselves, autism identifies me… sometimes I think that I would be seen as boring if I didn't have autism,” said Philip. “I have weird characteristics, these characteristics are by-products of autism. This makes me unique.”
In addition to being a new author, Philip enjoys skating, swimming, and going out with his family and dogs on walks. He’s also a fan of classic movies like Toy Story, and an avid reader.
While most people on the autism spectrum have a tough time with everyday tasks, one thing that has truly made Philips life better is his Dog Guide Sabre.
“Every day we ask the question ‘how did we ever live without our dog’,” said R. Shalka.
Sabre was provided by Dog Guides Canada which is funded by Lion’s Foundation of Canada, and Lion’s International.
“It’s really great to see how some of these dogs get trained to work with people and better their lives in such positive ways,” said Durham Region Community Lions Club member Mary Jewel. “The impact these dogs have on the lives of some families is one of the things I’m proudest of as a Lion.”
Sabre is actually Philip’s second dog, his first dog Etta is now a retiree living with the rest of the family enjoying her time as an active senior.
Philip is such an inspiring young person, and learning from him in a time that seems to bring more confusion and darkness than wisdom is what we all need.
Here’s a young man who lives his life like everyone else, accomplishing what other 16-year-olds do and more, all while living with autism.
His story, and the story of people with autism should be heard and shared.
These people are who we should strive to be. Brave, intelligent, and strong, all while facing adversity and ignorance. They come out stronger every time, while most people in the age of social media sink into narcissism and anger.
Philip has his whole life ahead of him, and while he’s waiting for inspiration to write his next book he doesn’t let autism hold him back.
"I have to think more. I know Philip and Saber will go back to the city but I don't know what will happen next,” said Philip. “I want them to have an adventure, the kind of adventure that leads to discovery.”
If there’s one thing to take away from the story of Philip, and of people with autism it’s this.
“Autism is a spectrum and persons with autism have different abilities. The fact that a person cannot speak does not mean they are not intelligent,” said Gudyrenko. “They need to be treated with respect and spoken to as anyone else. We need to break the stereotype.”
To purchase a copy of Philip’s book ‘That Place of Knowledge’ click the link Here.
To learn more about Dog Guides Canada visit www.dogguides.com and to learn about or join your local Lions Club, and help give other people with autism a Dog Guide visit www.lionsclubs.org.