It began with a crazy conversation. I Can leader James Ong and I met up at the Monash University Den in May 2013 and started dreaming up the I Can Network. We talked about bringing Autistic young people together through strengths-based networks that could span schools, universities and training institutions. We said that the springboard for these networks would be ‘I Can Camps’ run by Autistic young people for Autistic young people. That was our intent. That’s what we delivered in April 25-27 2014.
In every way, the I Can Camp was a transformative experience. When people arrived on the Friday evening the level of apprehension was high. When people left on the Sunday evening, this apprehension had turned into a sense of ‘beginning’. People were asking if they could stay another night! The camp facilitators were mere strangers to each other in February. By the end of the camp we had become a family. Personally, I have never experienced a more challenging, yet enriching weekend in my life.
There were many highlights. So many participants commented on the strong ‘I Can’ attitudes of speakers Tim Chan and Jim Anderson. People enjoyed learning about opportunities for them in I Can Network, such as mentoring. The combination of our quirks in the one camp provided for great entertainment. No one will ever forget Christian Tsoutsouvas’ (Schools Leader) tribute to Frozen’s ‘Let It Go’. Above all, the camp became a community which is precisely what we set out to achieve.
Participant Daniel Giles (and leading Autism speaker) aptly summed up the impact of the camp in this testimony: ‘The I Can Camp gave people on the Autism Spectrum an opportunity to learn about their strengths and realise that Autism can be used as a strength. The camp also enabled people on the Autism Spectrum to enable others to say ‘I Can’ to life’s opportunities, all from the horse’s mouth!’. We continue to collect testimonies from the camp and would love it if you can write your testimony for us to share.
We are so grateful for everyone’s investment in us during the process of planning and delivering the camp. So many people were part of the camp story: our terrific facilitators Chris and Max (Red Group), Penny, Steve and Sam (Yellow Group), Damien and Christian (Blue Group), Gabby and James (Green Group), Jayson, Kate and Marian; our speakers Tim Chan, Jim Anderson, Julia Wake, Brigid Canny, Ruth Cornell and Lyndel Kennedy; our supporters including Gilwell Scout Park, Aspergers Vic, Amaze (Autism) Victoria, UN Youth Victoria, Karen Hodgkins, Evans Printworks and Lisa Anderson; our promoters including Robyn Gild and Cristina Isaac. THANK YOU for everything you all did.
We have built a strong foundation and positive legacy for all the I Can Camps to come. Our next priority is to run a camp for teenagers on the Autism Spectrum aged 15-18 years. We are receiving expressions of interest.
In other news, since our last update in January 2014 we have seen some terrific advocacy for young people on the Spectrum. Isabelle and Kerrie Curtis were thankfully successful in their campaign for Brighton Secondary College to allow Isabelle to participate in a World Challenge trip in Africa. The Kabir family were also successful in their appeal to Immigration Minister Scott Morrison to not be denied residency because their son has Autism. We also supported I Can Enablers Tim and Sarah Chan with their advocacy on facilitated communication to the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication.
Lastly, it’s been great to see the team almost living in their I Can hoodies! I get such a buzz every time I see someone wearing one. Enabler Ruth Cornell has worn hers everywhere and has found it has provoked lots of positive ‘I Can’ conversations with people about Autism. If you would like to order a hoodie, they’re really warm!
Keep spreading ‘I Can’!
Director, I Can Network