Just a few short weeks ago, I received an email from Jaclyn Johnston at the Truro Mall.

The contents of that email immediately grabbed my attention and within minutes, I found myself sending her a reply.

Johnston’s email shared details on the fact staff from Truro Mall along with employees from some of the stores located in the mall would be participating in an autism training session.

The goal of the training was to educate participants on autism and give them a better idea on how to identify whether someone could be autistic.

It is also a tool employees in the mall can now use if a person with autism goes missing, much like the case last November.

During my journalism career, I’ve done a variety of stories on autism but this was the first time I had ever heard about an actual training session. Yes, there have been information sessions and support groups but the fact the Truro Mall felt this was important intrigued me.

Little did I know, that was only the beginning.

Working on this story, I eventually came across the young lady responsible for leading this training session.

Her name is Courtney Mills and when she was in Grade 6, she was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. Asperger’s was one of several previously separate subtypes of autism which now all fall under the single diagnosis autism spectrum disorder.

Courtney was also the person who found the missing autistic girl hiding under a table in the stock room of Rossy last November.

Recognizing some of the signs of autism, Courtney coaxed the young girl out and returned her to her anxiously awaiting mother.

It was a story I couldn’t ignore. Who better to teach a training session on autism than someone who lives with it every day and can speak from experience?

When I finally had the chance to sit down and talk with her, the entire time I was conducting the interview, all I could think is, ‘more people need to know her story.’ I was amazed.

Unfortunately, we still live in a world where misunderstanding a syndrome like autism leads to stigma and the mistreatment of anyone who happens to be autistic.

To no one’s surprise, the majority of that stigma is built up around the fact many people simply don’t understand autism and the many faces it portrays.

Yet, despite the stigma and the fact she could be treated differently, here’s a young girl who refuses to let the ignorance of others slow her down.

She’s a firefighter and since starting her training program with help from the Autism Nova Scotia, she’s stood in front of hundreds of first responders in our province educating them on how to recognize the signs of autism and what they can do to assist someone with autism in an emergency situation.

Incredible! We all hear about barriers … well Courtney is kicking them down one by one. She’s making a huge difference in so many lives by simply educating people.

She’s played a role in bringing the Silent Santa program to the Truro Mall for kids with autism and special needs and the same will be happening this Easter.

She will also be front and centre at an autism open house at the Cobequid Fire Hall. It’s designed to take the fear out of some of the equipment firefighters use and wear.

Today, one in 68 children will be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. At first, that number might be alarming.

But once again, Courtney shows the numbers really don’t matter. She’s accomplished so much in her young life and with 15 training sessions on the books over the next several months, she has no plans of slowing down.

The only question remaining is, what will she accomplish next?

Jeff Gill