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Breaking the Stigma: Embracing Autism and Empowering Lives with Janet Walmsley and Jenny Story #137

In a recent podcast episode of "You're Blank, What Now?" with Marci Nettles, we delved deep into a heartwarming and insightful conversation about autism, the stigmas surrounding it, and the importance of education and understanding in society. This episode featured remarkable guests, Janet Walmsley and her daughter, Jenny Story, whose inspiring journey highlights resilience, determination, and triumph in the face of adversity.

A Mother's Determination: Janet's Story

Janet Walmsley's life is a testament to resilience and transformation. Born and raised in Manitoba, Canada, Janet spent 27 years as a dental assistant and hygienist before transitioning to a head marketer position at Norvand. Later in life, she pursued her passion for acting, becoming a professional working union actor, talent scout, acting teacher, and coach. Her accolades include a nomination for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy at the ISA Awards in Los Angeles and winning the Unlimited Woman Award for Creativity.

Janet's advocacy shines brightly in her role as a positive light for autism, inspired by her daughter, Jenny, who was diagnosed with autism. This journey led Janet to author "The Autistic Author and Animator," chronicling Jenny's story through her eyes. Janet is also a breast cancer survivor of eight years and a proud grandmother.

Janet's journey as a mother began with the unexpected joy of welcoming a daughter when she was 37 years old. Initially believing she was having a boy, Janet was overjoyed to discover she had a girl, completing her "million dollar family." However, Jenny's early years were marked by a sudden and severe illness following her second vaccination, which significantly altered her development.

Despite being initially dismissed by medical professionals, Janet's persistence led to Jenny's diagnosis of autism. Faced with a bleak prognosis from specialists, Janet refused to accept a limited future for her daughter. Instead, she embarked on a mission to provide Jenny with every possible opportunity for growth and development.

Janet assembled what she calls "The Dream Team" - a network of dedicated professionals, including speech therapists, play therapists, special education teachers, and more. This team, combined with Janet's unwavering support and advocacy, played a crucial role in Jenny's progress. Janet emphasizes the importance of being an assertive advocate for your child, researching available resources, and building a strong support system.

Jenny's Triumph Over Challenges

Jenny Story, born in Yellowknife and raised in Vernon, B.C., moved to Vancouver in 2011 to attend the Vancouver Film School, where she excelled as a 2D and 3D animator. Jenny's accomplishments extend to creating short animated films, illustrations, and her notable short film "Sparkles Loves Bacon." As an award-winning author, Jenny penned the YA fantasy fiction trilogy "Dysnomia," captivating readers with books one and two while working on the third installment.

Jenny's accolades include a literary award at the World of Autism Festival, the Autism B.C. Self-Advocate of the Year award, and a documentary film about her autism journey. Diagnosed at three with low-functioning autism, Jenny, now 31, is a high-functioning, inspirational figure determined to pursue her dreams and inspire others.

Jenny's journey is one of perseverance and triumph over adversity. Despite facing significant challenges, including being told she would never talk or do well in school, Jenny defied all expectations. Her achievements in animation and writing are a testament to her talent, hard work, and the support of her mother and the Dream Team.

Jenny's experiences with bullying in school were tough, but with Janet's guidance and support, she learned to stand up for herself and navigate these difficult situations. Janet's advocacy extended beyond Jenny's immediate needs, addressing systemic issues in the education system to ensure that Jenny and other children with autism received the support they deserved.

Understanding Autism and the Need for Education

Autism is often misunderstood, and the stigma surrounding it can create significant challenges for those diagnosed. As our guests pointed out, education is crucial in every system—schools, daycares, medical facilities, and even law enforcement. Misunderstandings can lead to inappropriate responses, especially in stressful situations. Janet emphasized the importance of educating everyone involved, from teachers and principals to speech therapists and public health workers.

Janet shared a personal anecdote about her initial ignorance of autism when Jenny was diagnosed 24 years ago. This lack of understanding is common, and only through widespread education can we create a more inclusive and supportive environment for autistic individuals.

The Impact on Families

Having an autistic child affects the entire family. The podcast highlighted the need to recognize and support siblings of autistic children. Siblings often feel neglected or overshadowed due to the additional care and attention required by their autistic sibling. Janet's son, Chris, exemplified the supportive and understanding role a sibling can play. His empathy and dedication to his sister, Jenny, were moving and inspirational.

The Importance of Self-Care for Caregivers

The discussion also underscored the importance of self-care for caregivers. In British Columbia, respite care services offer crucial support, allowing caregivers to take necessary breaks. This self-care enables them to provide better care for their autistic children. Janet shared how respite care not only benefited her but also helped Jenny become more independent and social.

Employment Opportunities for Autistic Individuals

Employment opportunities for autistic individuals are often limited due to prevailing stereotypes. However, the podcast shed light on success stories, like Spencer’s Place in Arizona, a coffee shop that employs autistic individuals. These workplaces demonstrate that autistic people can be valuable, hardworking employees who bring unique strengths to their roles.

Jenny’s Journey: An Inspiration to All

Jenny, the guest’s daughter, shared her own inspiring journey. Despite facing bullying and rejection, she pursued her passion for animation and writing. She encouraged others to follow their dreams, emphasizing the importance of perseverance and self-belief. Her success story serves as a powerful reminder that autistic individuals have immense potential and can achieve great things when given the right support and opportunities.

A Message of Hope and Inspiration

Janet and Jenny's story is a powerful reminder of the importance of parental advocacy, the potential within every child, and the impact of a supportive community. Janet's book, "The Autistic Author and Animator," offers valuable insights and resources for parents and individuals affected by autism.

For those interested in learning more, Janet's book is available at


In conclusion, Janet and Jenny's story is a beacon of hope, demonstrating that with determination, support, and a belief in one's potential, it's possible to break through barriers and shine a light on the path to a fulfilling and successful life. Thank you, Janet and Jenny, for sharing your incredible journey with us today.

The podcast episode was a heartfelt exploration of the challenges and triumphs associated with autism. It highlighted the need for greater education, understanding, and support for autistic individuals and their families. By sharing these stories and insights, we can work towards breaking the stigma and creating a more inclusive society where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.

- Marci

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