Hello my name is Jordan Fruitman, I recently obtained my honours bachelor of science degree specializing in human biology at the University of Toronto. I first started volunteering at SAAAC back in 2018 and had continued since, playing a vital role at the skills development program as well as SAAAC CARES during the COVID-19 pandemic. In my spare time I like to build plastic models and enjoy the great outdoors – fishing, hiking, all that kind of fun stuff! My future goal is to become a physician; working with people on the autism spectrum at SAAAC has fuelled my passion in learning about mental health disorders; the field of psychiatry sounds pretty interesting to me! Fun fact about me: I own a chinchilla 🙂

Q: Why is working with the ASD population important to you?

A: There lingers a lot of stigma around autism. Society often believes that people on the autism spectrum have a disorder that needs to be “cured”, and that these individuals cannot enjoy the same quality of life as others … I do not think this is true. There needs to be a change in perception towards the ASD population. By promoting development of daily-living skills supported with an abundance of social interactions with family and friends, I believe that individuals living with ASD have the capacity to live fulfilling, meaningful lives.

Q: Your overall experience volunteering at SAAAC

A: “Defeat ignorance, embrace difference, conquer stigmas”; this vision statement declared by SAAAC resonated with my core values. I wanted to be part of a team that spreads awareness to help families understand autism, and to help individuals living with ASD reach their fullest potential. As a volunteer at the SAAAC skills development program, I helped children and young adults living with ASD reach and maintain desirable goals for speech, social interaction, and motor skills. Although reaching these goals takes a lot of effort and time, with challenges all-along the way, a huge sense of accomplishment flows through my body when I see students from this program develop daily living skills and achieve fitness goals; nothing makes me more happy than spotting joy in the caregivers’ eyes when they observe their loved ones living with ASD grow into a better version of themselves.

Q: Why did you want to be a part of the CARES team? And what have you learned?

A: Parents who received the autism diagnosis for their child may develop constant fears about their child’s safety and future, produce feelings of anxiety by thinking about adverse judgement, and so much more. These chronic stressors and negative thoughts can take a toll on the body and mental wellbeing. If we provide a safe space for caregivers to share personal experiences supporting their loved ones with ASD, we can help these parents develop a shared sense of identity and self-compassion. I wanted to facilitate the connection of caregivers and provide useful stress management strategies, which has led me to join the SAAAC CARES team. During these sessions we foster trust by allowing participants to feel heard and respected by others – validate emotions so that caregivers understand that they are not alone in their struggles. By volunteering with SAAAC CARES, I have learned that to take care of others you also need to take care of your own mental health. During difficult times such as the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to generate feelings of empathy towards ourselves, take action to do something kind to ourselves and others, and to enjoy life by appreciating what we currently possess. Furthermore, it is always a good idea to avoid common thinking traps such as catastrophizing or black-and-white thinking, and practice mindfulness exercises to promote muscle relaxation.