I’m 33, I just got my own apartment in a Melbourne suburb and work for the AFL Umpiring department. I love sport, especially AFL/VFL, cricket, netball and horse racing, which led me to study journalism at university. Other hobbies of mine include reading and writing – further reasons why I studied journalism. I have covered a range of sports for both print and online publications, and I have also worked in the media departments of both Netball Australia and Moonee Valley Racing Club. I was diagnosed at age ten, back in the 1990s, when Autism wasn’t really discussed much or understood that well.
My strengths are social/professional networking, remembering facts and figures and not being afraid to approach anyone. What makes me unique is my sense of style, and I love being well dressed, especially when I am out with friends. At the same time, I am enjoying living on my own and not having to share my space with anyone, although I don’t mind being with other people in some settings.
There is a myth that Autistic people don’t like to socialise, which is not true for me personally or for a lot of my friends. We simply like to socialise in environments that we are comfortable with. For some people, that might be a small group or online; for me, it’s nightclub, pub and bar settings. I love music, I love dancing, I love a few drinks, and for as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed meeting new people and hearing their stories. Rather than getting sensory overload, I get energised. The fact that I enjoy socialising in this way often leads people who don’t know me well to assume that I couldn’t possibly be Autistic. I wish the world understood how diverse we are as a group.
I didn’t always feel as comfortable with my peers, particularly when I was growing up. I was targeted by bullies for virtually all of primary school and well into high school. It was really hard, but as I became more self-aware and more accepting of myself, things started to improve. By Year 9, many kids started to realise, “Hey, this guy might do things differently or interact differently, but he’s actually all right.” I wish I could tell my ten-year-old self it does get better, and that’s what I tell younger Autistic kids now at my speaking engagements or when I mentor them. You will continue to become more self-aware and more comfortable with who you are, and there will be people who will like you for who you are, I promise.
I feel very strongly about promoting positive messages and accurate information about Autism. The negative comments and misconceptions – whether they come from someone famous or someone in your peer group – can really hurt, especially for those kids who are already having a hard time in their school environments. I admire self-advocates, including several of my friends from I CAN, who are working hard to change the way society views Autism. I CAN as an organisation is important because it shows what people on the Autism Spectrum can do and this helps to break down the negative stigma and inaccurate stereotypes that tend to surround Autism. For me personally, it was a great boost to my self-confidence when I first got involved and realised that I could make a difference in how Autistic young people see themselves.
My advice to anyone who wants to help make our world a more inclusive one is this: don’t judge or treat someone negatively because they have a disability, including Autism. Throw away any assumptions about Autistic people and look at each individual as someone with skills, talents and interests, just like everyone else. Be prepared to make reasonable adjustments for those of us with Autism so we can fully participate in school, workplaces and the community. I appreciate the efforts that a lot of sporting organisations are making to create inclusive teams and facilities. Finally, take some initiative in learning more about Autism – read, read, read! – especially things by Autistic people and allies who do amazing work. (I am a big fan of Steve Silberman.) It’s been more than 20 years since my own diagnosis. In that time, I’ve seen a lot of positive changes that give me hope for the future, but I still think we can do better.