28 Years Old
Class of 2020
“I hope that Neurodiversity YMM can be an instrument of good policy-making as our region becomes a place where everybody finds acceptance, respect, and access to everything they need to live well.”
Christopher Whelan ignited a passion for social justice when he was attending high school in Fort McMurray.
As a Grade 10 student at Westwood Community High School, Christopher would spend Friday nights volunteering with the Salvation Army, handing out meals, clothing, and essentials to those who had lost their housing.
“Having conversations with the people I met in my service made me interested in social justice, and I decided to pursue a career in humanitarian work,” Christopher shared.
It wasn’t until Christopher had nearly finished his degree in social work that he figured out where exactly he wanted to go with his career.
“I found out I was autistic that spring,” said Christopher. “When I tried to read as much as I could about autism, like how to manage my mind, help with coping, and staying productive, the literature I read was heartbreaking.”
Once Christopher began to read essays and articles written by autistic people, he became empowered.
“They wrote about our place in the world, and how we must all celebrate the diversity of the human mind and all of its possibilities,” he said.
In 2019, he founded Neurodiversity YMM. It’s an organization where people of any learning disorder, developmental disorder, intellectual disability, brain injury, mental health condition, or any other condition which caused a person to have a divergent mind could come together.
Holding monthly meetings since the summer of 2019, Neurodiversity YMM has grown from five founding members to 52 members as of September 2020. It shifted from physical meetings to a combination of participants meeting physically and via webchat.
“This had the happy side-effect of making our self-advocate meetings accessible to people with neurodivergent conditions living in communities across the Wood Buffalo region who did not live in Fort McMurray.”
Looking into 2021, Christopher has been accepted to Wilfrid Laurier University’s Faculty of Post-Graduate Studies for a Master of Social Work degree program, and commences studies in January 2021.
As for Neurodiversity YMM, he hopes to expand outreach to the Indigenous communities in the region, and have neurodiverse Indigenous people lead the future of neurodiversity.
“I hope that Neurodiversity YMM can be an instrument of good policy-making as our region becomes a place where everybody finds acceptance, respect, and access to everything they need to live well,” he said.