Derek Ivany: A Brother’s Quest to Find Help

January 24, 2023 8:29 am Published by

Growing up with my brother was unlike anything else. While other children had siblings to play and joke around with, I had a brother who seemed like he lived in another world entirely.

I never really understood why he always stared at the ceiling or preferred to wear winter jackets in the summer. He did understand words and could communicate, but it felt like there was so much more going on inside his head that I couldn’t access no matter how hard I tried.

As we grew older, my mother began taking him to therapy sessions which eventually led us all to learn that my brother is autistic. This revelation helped me understand better why he acted so differently than me and why connecting with him seemed so difficult sometimes. Raising us was no easy feat for my mother. It was the life of a single mom – working full-time and attending night school to make ends meet.

Derek Brother-v2

When I was around seven or eight years old, my brother’s condition become more difficult for everyone. He couldn’t express himself and his emotions were often misunderstood by those around him. This would lead him into bouts of frustration and anger, which he wasn’t able to control and led to him doing things like repeatedly banging his head against walls or punching them in fits of rage. It would always take a toll on our mother who felt helpless watching her son suffer like this every day while also having to deal with all the other stressors life had thrown at her.

Every morning, my brother and I would cozy up on the couch together to watch Inspector Gadget, while sipping our juice boxes. Then one day, everything changed. My mom revealed that my brother had gone to live with another family; leaving me reeling in confusion that lingered for many years.

Time flew by and memories of my brother slowly faded away. I would get the occasional call or postcard around the holidays from the group home, and I vaguely recall visiting it a couple of times, but our connection soon felt like a distant memory. I later found out that he was adopted into another family while living at the group home.

As I grew older, the thought of visiting my brother lingered in my mind more and more and I often wondered if he would remember me. One day, out of the blue, I found out that my brother’s adopted parents would be moving to California and it would be difficult to have my brother integrate with them and so the opportunity to take him back was on the table. I jumped on it immediately and set up the plan to go and get him. When I arrived, he had a big smile and gave me a hug – he knew I was his brother.

Eventually, I took custody of him and started to learn more and more about him, his routines and what makes him happy or sad. With autistic people, it’s often about trying to find that balance. You want to make sure you do right by them and that sometimes means things they do not like. My brother hates the dentist, it’s an absolutely terrifying ordeal for him. These little things that we take for granted can be major ordeals for people with autism. My brother goes to Tim Hortons each day on his own, but he has mapped out a route that is a trek of zig zagging and small passages through side streets and parks that add an extra 20 minutes to the journey. But it means him avoiding cars and stop lights – he simply cannot cross the road where cars are stopped at a light. In fact, when I bought the house for him that he now lives in, I had to strategically find a home that would give him the ability to get to Tim Hortons without the need to travel through any major traffic lights.

All of these experiences have made me to realize that there are certain traumas and things that go on within an autistic mind that we can’t fathom. When I was working in the cannabis space, I was watching the remarkable things that were happening in the world of CBD and, specifically, a strain that ended up being a commercialized treatment for people with epilepsy. The strain was named Charlotte’s Web after the little girl it was originally developed for. I was intrigued by the whole story of nature and medicine coming together and went on a quest to find out whether or not cannabis could help my brother. Researching this space and speaking to leaders in the field, led me to the science of psychedelic mushrooms, or psilocybin. That’s when I approached Dr. Marvin S. Hausman and asked if we could put together a research program for the field of autism. At the time, envisioning the many approvals and orphan drug status we’ve achieved seemed like a dream. Today, I am so excited and confident about what the future has in store.

Our quest with Nova and our psilocybin drug is not about curing autism, it’s about improving social interaction and creating the behavioural changes that we’ve demonstrated in the lab and with our studies. The therapeutic potential is tremendous and can make a considerable difference in the lives of people with autism and their families. If we’re able to lessen triggers or emotional symptoms, we can open up a new path of opportunities and experiences. Ultimately, we want to give families new treatment options to help untangle some of the pathways in the autistic mind that prevent people like my brother from reaching their highest potential.

– Derek Ivany, Nova’s Executive Chairman