Tasha Rankin doesn’t always have a lot to say, but that hardly matters. She seems to leave a mark wherever she goes.
Locally, Tasha already has quite the following. She is a popular student at St. John Bosco School in Barry’s Bay, and has turned heads with her amazing abilities in art, writing, and music.
She also has autism.
Society seems to finally be at a place where we view autism not as a debilitating condition, but as a window into a unique soul, often accompanied by breathtaking talents to go along with some of the challenges autism can create.
Many people in the personal care field who assist with the day-to-day challenges of young people with autism call these talents ‘superpowers.’ One of Tasha’s main superpowers is her ability to draw compelling pictures, often of landscapes and animals. She also began to show her educational assistant signs that she was conveying her understanding of emotions through her artwork. For some, autism disguises the emotions that the individual may feel, but Tasha’s detailed pictures revealed not just a talent for art, but also gave a glimpse at how much she understands emotion, without her necessarily displaying the emotions herself.
I first met Tasha in 2018 when I was asked to judge a spelling bee at St. John Bosco School. While she did not win, she did very well, and I was struck by both her courage to participate, but also the immense support she received from classmates and teachers.
At the Madawaska Valley Public Library where I work as the Assistant Librarian, Tasha’s talents were displayed for months in our special features cabinet via her various picture books she has created. Each book was created entirely by Tasha, and featured beautiful stories accompanied by succinct storytelling that impressed everyone who had the privilege of reading them.
In person, Tasha is lovely. She half smiles a lot, loves to sing songs, and is seen regularly by her educational assistant, Sharon Yandernoll. Sharon’s background is in early childhood education, but she has been working with Tasha for four years, fostering not just a professional relationship with Tasha, but also a personal one. Tasha’s mother, Dr. Ann Burkart, credits Sharon with helping Tasha surpass many of the milestones some of the doctors who have seen Tasha said she would never complete.
Sharon has been a complete lifesaver. If Tasha can make the kind of progress she has made, then nothing is impossible.
Autism is a spectrum disorder, and so it can be very different from one case to the next. The families of autistic children face different challenges depending on where the child lands on the spectrum. In Tasha’s case, she has demonstrated a cognitive ability to consistently improve how she communicates, and her obvious talents are being nurtured and encouraged, which could have a transformational impact on her confidence and creative abilities.
At one point Tasha slid a piece of paper in front of me, and there on the sheet was a drawing of yours truly, broken glasses and all. (inset) Without even trying, not only did Tasha impress me with her creativity, but also with her sense of humour.
The stigma of autism has largely been lifted in 2019, but we still have a long way to go. Through people like Tasha we should get there in no time.
Photo at top: Tasha with her drawings. Her Grade 7 teacher, Jordan Norris, explained Tasha created character sketches of the actors in the podcast Mars Patel. Since the students only heard the character voices and descriptions, they had to infer what the characters looked like. They wrote character sketches for Tasha and she brought the characters to life.
All photos submitted.