I CAN South West is the regional network of the broader I CAN Network- Australia’s first social enterprise founded by people on the spectrum, for people on the spectrum. My name is Fabian Storer, and I am the Network Leader for I CAN South West. Currently, I provide mentoring to 21 young people from Brauer College, Emmanuel College, Warrnambool College, Kings College and Warrnambool Special Development School. It has been an experience which has given me great joy, whilst opening me up to new ways of thinking. So it goes when working with people on the spectrum. The joy of opening oneself up to new experiences and ways of thinking is a notion which the I CAN Network promotes, inadvertently at times, simply through the positivity it is built on.
I have always had an interest in those with special needs, and those who think differently. I have completed a Bachelor of Psychology/Psychophysiology and am currently doing my Masters in Primary Teaching. Currently I am working as an Integration Aide at Brauer College, and am a musician in my leisure time. I was fortunate enough to become involved with the I CAN Network in the early stages of its South West development. Since late 2015/early 2016 we have established two mentoring programs, running at Brauer College and South West TAFE. The feedback we have received so far from the young people and parents has been fantastic. Although the programs are in their early stages, the sense of ownership surrounding the program and respective diagnoses alike are in constant growth
For me, personally, my journey with the I CAN Network has been one of great growth, and one which has changed my pre conceptions for the better. I have been exposed to the great gifts possessed by the young people with which I work, and our society’s potential to squander them. There is undoubtedly a stigma surrounding issues of mental health in our society, however, recent times indicate a shift within our collective thinking. There is still a long way to go here, however, we are riding this shifting wave and we push for the inception of new ideas. The more I work with people on the spectrum, the more I seem to uncover preconceived notions and judgments of what Autism is that have resided within my thinking without my noticing. The idea that Autism is a rare and debilitating condition robbing people of emotional connectedness has been smashed apart. The truth is, for me, Autism presents itself in myriad forms and is a a natural expression of oneself. For a long time, the focus has been on understanding what and why Autism is. In this process, much focus has been placed on the deficits that Autism presents, the things that are wrong with being on the spectrum. It is true that the cognitive processes of many people on the spectrum are at odds with the way our society operates (education, vocation etc), however, this represents not the deficits of Autistics, but rather highlights the exclusive aspects of society. We must become more inclusive of those around us who think differently. Of course, living with Autism may present difficulties for individuals and families alike, however, at the I CAN Network, we choose to focus on the strengths that come with it.
The deficit model of Autism is to become a thing of the past, and the I CAN Network aims to bring about a strength-based model. This is done through I CAN’s mentoring programs, camps and speakers agency which promote education and advocacy. A great need for this organisation within the South West district has become evident, and a great opportunity has presented itself. I have witnessed and felt the passion and the caring capacity of the parents/caregivers of the young people with which I work. It has become evident that these parents/caregivers are, and will continue to be, the true driving force behind this movement. We have a chance, as a community, to create a world that benefits from embracing Autism.