ABOVE: Evan Howarth

ABOVE: Evan Howarth

Nelson teen scoops international award

An autistic Nelson youth who holds a black belt in taekwondo has been honoured with a 2012 international Yes I Can! award for athletics.

An autistic Nelson youth who holds a black belt in taekwondo has been honoured with a 2012 international Yes I Can! award for outstanding achievement in athletics.

Evan Howarth, 18, received the award from the Council for Exceptional Children at a ceremony in Denver this month.

“He was blown away,” says his mother Nadine Bakas. “He was so composed and really excited.”

Evan’s autism challenges his language skills. It’s hard for him to pick up on subtleties of communication, although patterns and routines help.

Since 2004, he’s trained with Kootenay Christian Martial Arts, and exceeded everyone’s expectations by earning his black belt and passing an instructor’s course.

He received the provincial Yes I Can! award in Vancouver last June, and then Jennifer Tong of the council’s BC chapter nominated him at the international level.

“Being involved in [taekwondo] has given Evan a sense of accomplishment but, more importantly, an opportunity to demonstrate to himself and others that he can not only do things, he can do them extremely well,” Tong says.

Each year, the council — made up of special needs educators — honours students with disabilities who have reached extraordinary heights in a variety of categories.

Evan was one of three Canadians and 29 children overall, chosen from hundreds of nominees, who received a trophy and certificate before a crowd of several hundred.

Council president Margaret J. McLaughin said Evan “exemplifies the spirit of these awards” through his hard work.

“I’m very proud of my son for all of his accomplishments,” Bakas says. “I’ve learned through him what courage and perseverance truly mean. He won’t let his autism stop his dreams, his hopes and his desire to make a difference.”

Bakas adds she’s grateful to Dean Siminoff and Kootenay Christian Martial Arts for the “inclusionary setting that has been paramount in Evan’s achievements and progress.”

Siminoff said he was “overjoyed to see Evan recognized for who he is and for some of his accomplishments. He is a key part of the black belt club.”

While it’s believed Evan is the first autistic youth in Canada to receive a black belt, Bakas says at the Denver ceremony, they learned of a Florida boy who holds a third degree black belt despite severe birth trauma.

“I was very surprised he made it to third degree, because he seemed physically challenged. That’s the wonderful thing about taekwondo — you train within your capacity.”

The latest award has only inspired Evan to go further. Bakas says they’ve been asked to do a presentation on autism and inclusion at a special educators exposition at UBC next year. Evan will also test for his second degree black belt this fall.