Hello, my name is Camilla. I’m 21 years old, and I am a daughter, a sister, an educator, a wife and a mumma to be. (My first baby is due next month!) I’m massively cat obsessed and also Autism obsessed. For people who don’t know me, well, I pass for “normal”, but really, I’m a person who uses my understanding of the neurotypical and neurodiverse worlds to connect with others, educate everyone on the importance of embracing uniqueness and think outside of the box.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt different, and I could sense that the other kids viewed me and treated me differently as well. When I was diagnosed at age eight, I couldn’t wait to tell my peers. I remember thinking, There is a reason you find me weird, and feeling very validated to have confirmation of my Autism and ADD. Still, this self-knowledge didn’t solve the social challenges I faced in primary school. Even when I was “included” physically, I was excluded because people didn’t really get me. It wasn’t until Year 7 that I found a small circle of “my people”, one of whom is still a dear friend and was at my baby shower this past weekend.
I faced other challenges at school, including the fact that I was my own worst critic. Since my neurodivergent brain absorbed things differently to most of my peers, I felt that I had to work extra hard. I pushed myself to the brink in everything and wanted to prove that I was capable. I became an expert at masking at school and then would melt down regularly moments after arriving home.
As a young person, I was very fortunate to have an extraordinary personal “I CAN Network” supporting me, including my main aide in high school from Years 7–12, Kerry Shiels. I can still hear her voice telling me, “You are smart, capable, energetic and lovely. You can do anything you set your mind to – you might just have to do it differently.” My dad, who was and remains my best friend, has always been brilliant about encouraging me and keeping a positive attitude.
Despite this amazing support, there have been some significant challenges. I have battled anxiety and depression. As an older teen, I fell into a relationship that soon became toxic. My boyfriend at the time didn’t understand Autism and blamed me for any and every issue that arose in our relationship. As an overachiever, I already had the tendency to blame myself for things and want to please other people. I feared change. Every time I was ready to walk away, my boyfriend would do something “nice” to make me second-guess ending the relationship. If it hadn’t been for the need to move in order to attend university, I fear to think how my path could have unfolded. As it turns out, I met my husband about a year into my university studies. We were both novice powerlifters at a local gym and hit it off immediately. My husband is the epitome of a “nice guy”, who is so open and accepting of everyone.
I try to use my influence to promote understanding and acceptance, especially of people whose brains work differently from the norm. As a society, I think we are far too quick to judge a book by its cover. I cringe whenever I see assumptions people make when they hear the terms “Autism” and “ADHD”, particularly the way society tends to limit children with these labels. When a child receives a diagnosis, that shouldn’t be an invitation for the rest of the world to make assumptions. Rather, it should be a call to action for adults to better support that child and help peers understand and appreciate that child. There is still too much negativity about Autism, especially on social media. We Autistics often feel out of place as it is. We are already vulnerable. When the negativity grabs hold, it can really prevent us from living our best lives.
What gives me hope for the future? Without a doubt, it’s the young people I mentor through the I CAN Network. I primarily work with Years 3 and 4 students, and I just love everything about it. I love being able to use my personal experiences to help them navigate the often-rocky paths of life. Sometimes that means helping them figure out a good way around a massive mountain that is blocking their path, and other times, it means saying to them, “I will help you climb that mountain!”
Seeing the positive growth in these kids – watching their personalities, acceptance of others and self-identity develop – fills my heart. Kids represent our future. They will be the ones who shape our country and our world. If they have open minds and learn to love themselves and accept others, there is no limit to how much they can change the world. I hope my baby grows up feeling the same way.