By Ryan King
Community News Reporter
Blake ‘Crash’ Priddle is originally from Espanola, Ontario, but has been living in The Pas, Manitoba, for the past five years working as a news reporter and radio personality. He recently released a memoir titled ‘Good Morning Blake: Growing Up Autistic and Being OK.’ The book details his inspiring story of growing from a nonverbal autistic boy to a professional radio announcer.
The book was four years in the making and was just published last fall. It includes perspectives from 50 individuals, including Blake’s friends, family and teachers.
“I asked them what they remembered about me,” Priddle said. “Like how could they tell I was autistic? Did I do things that were different; questions like that. And they answered them and I used that for my book. It was excellent material.”
Blake was not fully verbal until he was four or five years old.
“I could talk at 18 months, but I could only repeat what I heard others say or repeat sounds. I couldn’t actually have a conversation with someone. That didn’t happen until much later.”
Once he entered the school system his parents had to fight for Blake to get the educational assistant support that he needed.
“There were times when they had to fight for me to get an EA (educational assistant) to work just with me. You know, that took years of fighting for. Didn’t get that until Grade 5, and occasionally we ran into teachers that weren’t willing to accommodate me.”
The struggle continued through Blake’s entry into the workforce.
“At first it was definitely a challenge to get the supports that I needed. That was another thing that my mother had to fight for when I was first looking for a job, and she managed to get some people to work with me when I got my first job at a grocery store in Grade 9. And as I got older I took part in a YMCA or YWCA employment test support program that helped me out a bit.”
In his current career, Blake has found the support he needs.
“I don’t require a lot of accommodations other than I just need a really quiet place to do my news first thing in the morning.”
Working in radio was something that Blake always wanted to do.
“My earliest memory was listening to the radio station every morning growing up, and listening to the announcers. And I thought ‘They sound like they’re having fun. I think that would be a great job to have,’ and I was right. I always wanted to have my own kind of show and well, so I figured radio would be one of the easiest ways to do that. That and podcasting, which I’ve taken up as of recently and I’m hoping to do more of that.”
Through his career in radio he has met a number of interesting people and even got the chance to interview some of his heroes.
“The first person I ever interviewed was Les Stroud, the Survivorman, when I was 15 in high school for a podcasting program that we had in 2009 called Spartan Youth Radio. That was the first celebrity interview I ever did. That was the first interview I did.”
He has also interviewed Lenore Zann, Stuart McLean, Lanny McDonald and Crystal Shawanda, just to name a few others. Blake said that he could not have gotten to this point in his career without several important people who helped him along the way.
“I think the people that really helped with my journalism career would be Mr. Stewart in high school, who was my English teacher, and media arts teacher, and was the head of Spartan Youth Radio, the podcasting program,” said Blake. “He really helped me to get there. Also my college professor, Craig Jackman, really was a really big mentor for me. Paula Todd, who is a journalist who used to have her own show on TV Ontario, she was my professor at Senaca.”
Approximately 85 per cent of people with autism do not have meaningful employment. Priddle said employers unwilling to make accommodations is a big factor in this.
“That has to change. Also when it comes to having an actual job interview, a lot of times employers, they’ll think little of someone that doesn’t make eye contact, or is flapping their hands, and that kind of thing needs to change. Employers need to understand that just because someone isn’t looking at you or somebody flapping their hands, it doesn’t mean they’re not interested. It could be autism related. So don’t judge a book by its cover. Those are issues that need to change. We’re making progress now as we speak. We’re certainly a far cry from where we were 20 years ago, but we still have a long way to go.”
Priddle said that it was gratifying to establish his radio career, and his first big break was with a radio station in Yellowknife.
“Well it was a long journey to say the least – getting my very first full time job. I had part time jobs prior to that. But when I got my first full time job in Yellowknife, prior to that I sent out literally hundreds of applications and only got maybe one or two responses and then nothing. But with that Yellowknife interview I got an interview with the employer there and next thing I knew I was hired, and it was an amazing feeling, and it certainly set the stage for my future.”
While his book is inspirational, it also does not shy away from the hardships he faced.
“Some of the issues I had were with discrimination, bullying. Bullying wasn’t a huge thing growing up, but there was some occasional incidents. I also had trouble with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is mentioned in my book. And my mother, who helped me to write, she wrote about her struggles getting me the accommodations that I needed too. While there were some ups and downs, I would say that for the most part the story is very positive and is very inspirational. In fact, just the other day I got an email from a grandma who has a granddaughter with what’s considered severe autism, and she was just randomly looking for inspiring autism stories, and she found mine. That just means so much to me that she thinks my story is inspiring.”
He said that communities like Port aux Basques are moving in the right direction.
“Any kind of thing in public that has sensory friendly shopping hours, with music turned down or turned off, or the florescent lights that are dimmed. Or even I heard about this nightclub in the southern United States that is sensory friendly for people on the spectrum or people with epilepsy. So having something like that without strobe lights can certainly be beneficial too; anything that could cause over-stimulation.”
Blake is currently working on an audiobook of his memoir in collaboration with his mother.
“Slowly but surely we’re going to get it done, and I’ve actually sent the first part of the recording I did to a professional actress for her advice.”
Blake recently started a podcast, which is about a popular 80s Canadian TV show.
“It’s for the Littlest Hobo fan page on Facebook called The Littlest Hobo Fan Page, where I interview some of the cast members of that classic show from the 80s. That’s where you can find it. It’s on SoundCloud but through a private link that you can only access on that Facebook page.”
Blake plans to visit Port aux Basques in the near future for a book signing.
“I’m really pumped to go to Port aux Basques now. I’m hoping this September.”