Blue Line

News
New Challenge For Service Member


December 8, 2015
By Kevin Masterman

604 words – MR

New challenge for service member

by Kevin Masterman

Andrew Stewart fulfilled a life ambition in November when he began working with the Toronto Police Service Parking Enforcement Unit, an achievement made all the more impressive by the many challenges he has overcome in his young life.

“I don’t want to be the best disabled employee, I want to be the best employee,” said the 28-year-old, who has pervasive developmental delay caused by autism, obsessive compulsive disorder, Tourette Syndrome, attention deficit disorder and a significant learning disability.

Stewart was hired as a temporary clerk and assigned to Parking Enforcement West.

“I’ve always wanted to work for the police. As I got older I realized I’m not going to be an officer but I can help in some way,” he said.

His story of overcoming the challenges was featured as part of the National Film Board documentary, <OCD: The War Inside.> Stewart talks in the film about his struggle to cope with his OCD, which left him feeling compelled to perform rituals such as touching a wall or flicking lights on and off.

He has handled his diagnoses through medication, therapy and the support of his father David, mother Jan and sister Ainsley.

Because of his disorder, Stewart sometimes has trouble speaking and readily admits he is anxious and impulsive at times, and often has trouble picking up on social cues, such as when people use sarcasm.

“I don’t always get things right away. If you explain it again and give me a chance, I can do it.”

It’s also not his first job. He worked for many years as a Loblaws cashier and was often stopped on the street by his customers.

“People will often stop me and say ‘you’re the best cashier’ and I have no idea who they are,” said Stewart, noting he was on a flight to New York City in one of those instances. “I don’t let my disability affect my job. I’m dedicated and professional.”

His road to working with the parking unit began after meeting Chief Bill Blair four years ago. His father had asked if the chief would take some time out to meet Andrew, who often reached out to police officers over social media.

Fast forward to a few months ago and Chief Mark Saunders was thrilled to see Andrew follow through and apply to join.

“He has the potential to be a great member of our team and I have no doubt that Andrew will be giving every task 110 per cent,” Saunders said.

Stewart’s mother Jan said her son has had a great reception by members in person and on his social media accounts (Twitter: @andrewstwt).

“He’s had nothing but positive interactions with the police” she says, noting that he has also had a lot of acceptance by most people he meets.

“He’s really a joy to most people. They understand he’s disabled, he doesn’t hide it and I think that sends a positive message.”

Stewart said he enjoys being an advocate and educating others about his disabilities. “I want to get rid of the stigma,” he said.

“I was always taught you don’t hide from it, you shout about it.”

Stewart is also passionate about the Toronto Blue Jays, noting they were a calming influence, allowing him to focus on watching batting practices and games without being overcome by his OCD symptoms.

He’s quick to give a hug — “people say I’m overly friendly” — but very much respects people’s boundaries if they don’t want the attention.

He’s also very excited to join the Toronto Police Service, saying “it’s a dream come true.”