I am an Autistic self-advocate, a lifelong Beatles fan, and the inspiration behind an Autism-related meme that has been shared all around the world. I am also a public servant within the Victorian government.
Earlier this week, I took my first trip to Canberra to present at Specialisterne’s event entitled “The Future of Employing Autism and Diversity”. That opportunity represents an exciting development in my Autism advocacy work, and I have to thank the I CAN Network for lighting that initial spark. I served as a mentor with the I CAN Network’s young adult camp in June 2017, and that marked a turning point for me. As a camp mentor, I felt incredibly fulfilled, and had a sense of purpose, as I guided young people out of their comfort zones and helped them develop their sense of self. I realised that I needed to use my voice and my experiences to help make our world more understanding and embracing of Autism.
I am particularly passionate about enlightening people about the value of Autistic talent in the workplace and dispelling the many myths and stereotypes that surround Autism – including the stereotype that all Autistic people must be maths savants or tech geniuses! Some of us are, although we are just as diverse as any other group of people. I’ve always been interested in English, creative writing and languages; prior to my current role, I taught English as a second language.
What I do have in common with so many other Autistic people is that I’ve been underestimated many times in my life. In high school, I was told by school careers counsellors, in no uncertain terms, that I would never finish Year 12. Not only did I pass with flying colours, despite their warning, I got into university and passed that with flying colours as well! I earned a bachelor’s degree, Honours and a Masters in Education – as well as my diagnosis!
I am one of eight people on the Autism Spectrum employed by the Victorian government via a cooperative project between Specialisterne and the Department of Health and Human Services called the RISE program. Landing this position was unlike any other job interview process I had ever experienced. Instead of a long series of face-to-face interviews, I took part with other candidates in a three-week training workshop. We were put into teams to solve various challenges – there was lots of LEGO involved – and the process was very transparent.
Companies and organisations that seek out Autistic talent appreciate the benefits of having a neurodiverse workforce. Autism is a different processing system, not a disorder, and when we harness the capabilities of Autistic people, we can change the world for the better. Autism can enable one to hyperfocus on tasks and interests and find solutions to problems that other people might miss. Autism can make one particularly honest, transparent and conscientious. I know these are qualities that I bring to my workplace every single day.
While I think there is still a long way to go until we become a truly inclusive society, I’ve seen things improve over the past 20 years since I was in high school. I feel that awareness and more importantly, acceptance of Autism is growing each year, thanks to companies like Specialisterne and organisations like the I CAN Network – something I couldn’t have even dreamed of as a young person! Those adolescent years are difficult ones for many people, but can be especially challenging for those of us on the Autism Spectrum. I CAN is doing great work to empower these kids with the support, strength and confidence to emerge as future leaders, thinkers and achievers.
I am also energised by the number and diversity of my fellow advocates who are taking control of the narrative on Autism and by the allies who support our voices. We’re all in this together; we all advocate in our own way.
My Autism journey has been an interesting one. I was diagnosed quite late, relatively speaking, at the age of 24, so I didn’t have all the supports as a teen. Nonetheless I have achieved amazing things in my own time. Life now, as a public servant and advocate, is more intriguing than it has ever been before! I encourage people reading my story to get involved. Consider what issues you’re passionate about and let that drive your advocacy. Get involved in the Autism community. Be a mentor. Be a blogger. Speaker. Amplify Autistic voices. Whatever tickles your fancy. Since diving into the world of advocacy head first, I have felt very fulfilled. I’d like to think that I am making a lasting impact on society by changing the perceptions of Autism for the better.