A racecar was parked outside of West Langley Elementary on Monday morning to raise awareness for autism.
The driver of the bright green Nissan Micra is Ontario’s 19-year-old Austin Riley – an autistic teen who’s been racing go-karts since he was eight-years-old, and more recently, cars.
Accompanied by his dad, Jason Riley, Austin travels across North America and sometimes to other continents, to give school presentations with the goal to educate, inspire, and empower each person the father-son duo speak in front of.
At the racetrack, Austin’s dad Jason and cousin Shane Riley are his pit crew.
“I started Racing with Autism after Austin’s career in karting and decided to go public with his disabilities to inspire other kids like him, or other kids not like him that aren’t brave enough to follow their dreams, that anything is possible,” explained Jason.
In front of students in Grade 4 to 7 at West Langley Elementary, Jason explained that he convinced Austin to try go-karting after a flyer arrived in the mail.
According to Jason, Austin grew up with a fixation on cars – he loved watching them drive by, and could identify any kind of model.
“We just wanted to find something that would give him something he hadn’t had at that point in his life, and that was acceptance. We had no idea where it was going to go or what it was going to lead to.” explained Jason.
And despite obstacles along the way, such as dealing with anxiety, long trips, meeting new people, and even his kart getting run over, Austin has found his place in the world of racing.
One of Austin’s most recent career highlights was finishing ninth overall in the 2018 Nissan Micra Championship.
“I’ve won four championships in the past 11 years,” Austin said.
“It’s important for people to know that people with autism are different, but it doesn’t mean they can’t do something amazing.”
Austin said the fastest speed he’s hit during a race is 190 kilometers an hour.
“It’s pretty scary, and also really fun.”
This year’s Racing with Autism tour is the first time Austin and Jason have brought the presentation to the West Coast.
“We firmly believe as the adults in the building – and we try to have the kids believe – that anyone can do anything if they put their mind to it and have the right supports,” added Sean Oliver, West Langley Elementary principal.
The school kids had the chance to get signed cards from Austin, check out the racecar, and watch a highlight reel of Austin’s inspirational journey.
Prior to the presentation, scones and coffee donated by Cobs Walnut Grove and the Watershed Arts Cafe were handed out to volunteers and visitors.
Staff members and visitors were also invited to try out the Autism Reality Experience trailer that simulates what it’s like to live with autism.
“It doesn’t matter if the kids are disabled or not, if they believe in themselves and work hard at something they love to do then they will be successful. They spend most of their school life with their head downs trying to fit in, and only when school’s finished do they realize to be successful in life they need to stand out,” added Jason.
Two more Lower Mainland stops are also planned at Chalmers Elementary School in Delta, and Walnut Road Public School in Surrey.
For more information on Racing with Autism, visit facebook.com/racingwithautism/