I am one of out five children and I am a mentor with the I CAN Network. I recently finished my university studies to work with young children, and someday I’d like to work in a kindergarten or childcare setting.
School was not always easy for me, especially since I am also dyslexic, but I did have some wonderful teachers who encouraged me. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was already preparing for the I CAN Network back then. Whenever someone would tell me that I couldn’t do something, it made me want to show them, Yes, I CAN! The only person who should say what I can and cannot do is me.
I am also an example of how someone can go from being a mentee in the I CAN Network to actually becoming a mentor. I was first introduced to I CAN by a teacher’s aide when I was in Year 12. Prior to I CAN, I had a small group of friends, but I didn’t always have an easy time socially. Growing up, I found a lot of the unwritten social rules to be confusing. How close should I stand? Should I be looking them in the eye? What should I talk about?
Although the thought of change and new places can make me uncomfortable, I soon found a safe place with I CAN. It felt good to be among people who really understood me, including many who shared some of my interests (art, reading Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, anime and overseas travel).
Being encouraged to develop from mentee to trainee mentor really gave a boost to my confidence. It signalled that other people recognised my leadership potential and how good I am with kids. One of my strengths is that I am open and naturally optimistic – I always see the light at the end of the tunnel. I see the good in people and I appreciate all of the things that make them unique.
There are a lot of rewarding things about being a mentor, most of all witnessing how our mentees can grow in confidence over time. I’ve seen mentees who have started our (school) sessions feeling quite disconnected and not being comfortable engaging with others. By the end of the program, they are taking part and having fun with their peers and with us mentors. We see that same magic happen at our camps, which is why I love them. It makes me feel proud that I can have a positive influence on our mentees, and that drives a lot of my confidence to try new things.
Before I joined I CAN, I didn’t really have any Autistic role models or Autistic peers. Now I am surrounded by a great community of friends and teammates from I CAN and beyond. One of my wishes for a more embracing society is one that appreciates just how different Autistic people are from each other. There’s this really unhelpful stereotype that all Autistic people are a certain way, and I can tell you that that is not true. When I look at my I CAN team, we all have vastly different personalities and profiles.
I’d also like to see society create more Autistic-friendly spaces where we can get a break or retreat for some quiet time. We often feel and perceive things more strongly than other people, and when we feel more comfortable in our surroundings, we are better able to show the world what we can do.
My involvement with the I CAN Network has taught me that it’s okay to be different. In fact, it’s more than okay; it’s a positive. How boring would our world be if we were all the same? I want to use my voice and my skills as a teacher to help create a world where we are all valued for being who we are.