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April 2011



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School mural


MONTREAL – Grade 11 student Shaun Perrier usually keeps to himself at school. But on Tuesday he stood onstage facing 400 students in the auditorium at Laval Liberty High School because he had a message he wanted to share.

Poised and reading from a speech he wrote, Perrier talked about the challenges he faces and the obstacles he has had to overcome.

“I may not look it, but I’m very different from the rest of you,” Perrier said.

It’s because, he told them, he has Asperger’s syndrome, a developmental disorder.

Perrier, 17, is an honour roll student at the Chomedey school. He came up with the idea of talking to students, many of them classmates, about what it is like growing up with the autism spectrum disorder.

“Social rules are difficult for us to understand, and it’s hard for us to conform to the world around us,” said Perrier, 17. “It is kind of like when you learn algebra for the first time – you don’t understand its purpose or how to do it on your own.

“School can be gruelling for someone like me. Part of Asperger’s means you like things to be routine, structured and working smoothly. School is none of that.”

When he first came to the school, Perrier said he would have preferred if everyone were quiet, sitting down and doing their work instead of having to listen to students bad-mouth the teacher and throw a beach ball across the room.

“True story,” he said.

His mother, Debra Burger, and Leslie Klein, a psychologist who has worked with Perrier, later joined him onstage to answer questions.

Her son wants to raise awareness, Burger said afterward. He wants people to know that there are people with autism and Asperger’s in the community and mainstream schools who are able to succeed if they have a bit of help, she said.

“He wants to be understood, and he wants people to know why he is the way he is.”

Bullying has been part of Perrier’s school experience. When he was in junior high, for example, he had bathroom doors kicked in on him, Burger said.

But she praised staff at Laval Liberty and Laval Junior High School – they share the same building – for acting swiftly when something happened.

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