By Camille Cusset
You won’t find a trace of sadness, fear or self-pity in Gabriel’s eyes. This 24 year old’s eyes sparkle with an inner flame. His hands are covered with red splotches. Who knows if these red marks are just burns from his job as a cook, or caused by winter cold or skin irritations. The question remains open, just like the mystery in Gabriel’s eyes.
Apart from his eyes, Gabriel is distinguished by something else. He has been saddled with a Language Development Disorder (LDD) since birth. Also called dysphasia, this brain problem manifests itself in significant language impairment issues. People so afflicted have trouble expressing themselves, and understanding others.
Gabriel’s not the only person in this situation. LDD shows up at birth. “You’re born with it, and you die with it,” says Richard Cleroux, director of the Association Dysphasie +, created to defend the rights of LDD sufferers. This organization offers stimulation and development activities for children from ages 3 to 5, and for teens from 13 to 17. Activities take place in Laval and Montréal. “We also help parents (whose children have LDD) accept and understand,” he says.
With a background in administration, Cleroux decided to devote himself to accompanying LDD sufferers as well as those close to them: “I like working up close with people. The human side of things is very important to me,” he explains with enthusiasm.
“I know I’m capable of doing things,” says Gabriel. This courage and confidence may come from his parents, or from his employer, Bertrand, co-manager of the restaurant Cabotins (literally, show-offs, or playboys) in Montréal’s Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district. Gabriel has ended up in the right place: “I’ve been working at Les Cabotins for five years. I love to cook,” he confides.
Asked for his impression of Gabriel’s passion for his profession, his employer tells this story: “One time at the Salon du Livre, I had the chance to see his face light up when an author asked him, ‘What do you do for a living. Are you a student?’ ‘No, I’m a head chef!’ Wow,” says Bernard as he recounts this memory.
When Bertrand and Gabriel met, Gabriel was training to be a chef. His parents were frequent diners at Cabotins.
Two years after he’d finished his studies, Gabriel still hadn’t found a job. Bertrand and his associate decided to contact Gabriel’s social worker to find out how to hire him. “We’ve never regretted our hire,” he says. “He brings a joy and energy to his work, which makes the tasks easier, and on top of that he has talent.”
Despite his undeniable ability to adapt, life isn’t easy for Gabriel. He admits that LDD has consequences on his family life as well and on his scholastic life. While he was in school, Gabriel had help. He had to battle depression as a teenager.
Gabriel describes himself as someone who is “nice, responsible and sociable.” You can also add “dynamic” to this list. You could be easily led to believe that his daily difficulties stem from his LDD. That would be a mistake. His greatest enemy is his fear of having nothing to do. “What scares me most is boredom. I find it difficult to stay home and do nothing,” Gabriel says.
According to the Québec Association of Speech Language Pathologists and Audiologists (QASLPA, or AQOA in French), 7.5% of the population is affected in some way by this disorder. LDD is more widespread than attention deficit disorder or spectrum autism, according to QASLPA.
The director of Dysphasie + thinks that the real percentage among the population could fall between anywhere from 7.3% to 9.4%. “Since so many people suffer from LDD, it’s a wonder why we don’t talk about it more,” says Cleroux. His Association receives funds for the defense of LDD sufferers as well as for the stimulation activities they put on.
Gabriel has come to terms with his LDD. He’s hit obstacles along the way, but he’s chosen to never give up. The gestures and speech of this young chef who sometimes has to search for his words exude a simplicity and a calm that we can almost envy. It’s probably the result of all he’s learned on his life’s journey.
For all those who have to experience the same thing, his advice is: confront your fears and don’t hesitate to ask for help. Humans are very resourceful, and Gabriel is living proof of that.
– First seen on the Reflet de Société website December 17th, 2021