Etobicoke North MP Kirsty Duncan greets Dee Gordon on Parliament Hill Jan. 29 at the end of her walk for autism. Photo courtesy of Dee Gordon

Mother walks the walk for autism

By 
  • February 15, 2015

OTTAWA - Dee Gordon, a Catholic mother of three, walked to Ottawa from her home in Toronto in the dead of winter to raise awareness of the autism crisis.

“It was so incredible I was able to make this walk,” said Gordon in an interview from her home.

Gordon, a parishioner at St. Benedict’s parish in Toronto’s west end, said the two-week odyssey changed her spiritually and made her stronger as a person. “I wasn’t sure I could complete this walk when I started it.”

Gordon hopes her walk will help provide the supports and early intervention programs for autistic and ASD children that she found lacking when her son Jacob, 14, began to show signs of significant problems. She had successfully raised two older children, but by the time Jacob came along she was unprepared for his aggressive behaviour and meltdowns that left her shunned by many friends and barred from schools and daycares that could not handle her son.

She said she decided to start her walk Jan. 15 because the struggle against snow, wind and cold represents the struggle those with autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) experience every day.

“Every single day, even the hottest day of July, is like the biggest snowstorm in January for my son,” she said.

“Every day is plowing through the snow for him and other children with autism.”

It seemed like it was “uphill all the way” and against the wind in extremely cold temperatures that often hovered around the -20 mark.

Through she trained for the walk, she experienced a bout of vomiting during her first couple of days that broke blood vessels in her eyes. By the third day she temporarily lost her vision.

“All I could see was headlights,” she said.

Her feet began to bleed, causing a great deal of pain, requiring her to bandage them every day. Her eldest son, Timothy, 26, who accompanied her in a vehicle on the drive, several times urged her to call an ambulance, but Gordon refused because it would make her fall behind on her walk.

That she was able to continue, despite the physical hardship and pain, she attributes to God’s grace and seemingly miraculous interventions that encouraged her to keep going at those moments when she felt it was impossible to go further.

The first stop on Gordon’s journey that began in the wee hours of Jan. 15 was at the perpetual adoration chapel at St. Benedict’s. Fr. Michael Pace brought her Holy Communion and prayed for her. During the whole trip she recalled the vision of the consecrated hosts on the paten whenever she became discouraged.

But what amazed her even more was how, when she was at her lowest ebb, she would hear cars honking, people clapping and people would join her on the walk, sometimes accompanying for 15 km or more, helping to keep her spirits up.

Gordon reached Parliament Hill on Jan. 29 and was greeted by her MP Kristy Duncan and Sen. Jim Munson, who has championed autism awareness efforts on Parliament Hill, and people from several charities. Her son’s godmother drove Jacob to Ottawa to join her as she was greeted outside Centre Block. The sun was shining and Duncan presented her with a bouquet of roses.

Then Gordon spoke of the need for a pan-Canadian strategy to provide support to the growing numbers of people with autism in Canada. Inside Centre Block, she received a standing ovation in the Senate and later inside the House of Commons.

Gordon said when she opened the big doors in Centre Block to leave she saw “the biggest blizzard I had ever seen.” She was delighted because the wind and snow would help “everyone to understand what this walk was about for all these children with autism.”

When she returned to her hotel room, she removed her boots and the bandages from her feet.

“My feet were completely healed. I could not believe my feet were not bleeding,” she said. “It’s kind of scary for me. I knew how bad my feet were.” Her vision is also now completely fine.

Along the way, she met many children with autism who stopped by the side of the road, asking to sign her petition.

“Some looked up at me and asked me, ‘Are you going to fix my autism?’ It pulled strings on my heart,” she said. “No, I’m not going to fix your autism but I’m going to help you live with your autism better. They really got excited. We weren’t saying there’s something wrong with them, we’re saying it is a gift from God. Autism is a label that people give you; autism is not something God labels you with.”

During the past year, Gordon wore a set of bells on her side to remind her of the voices of children who are non-verbal.

“Each step that I’ve taken along this journey I have heard those bells ringing. Even when I couldn’t see, I could hear. I can’t even explain how blessed I am to be able to talk about this.”

Her petition can be accessed through her web site walktoottawa.org.

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