I’m Kyal. I’m Autistic, dyslexic and for the past three years, I have mentored hundreds of Autistic students through the I CAN Network. I am also a huge history buff. I love contemplating things like “Why did the Roman Empire fall?” and what we can learn from that period in time. Even though school was not easy for me, I’ve always had the hunger to learn more.
My own personal history includes a really dark period. For most of my school years, I was totally misunderstood inside the classroom – my teachers simply believed that “Kyle needs more discipline” – and I suffered social abuse and violence at the hands of my peers. I was very angry and filled with self-doubt.
There’s a lot of garbage floating around about Autism, and garbage is what sticks unless someone offers a more accurate and compelling view. It’s really important that people – especially Autistic young people – see examples of self-pride, confidence and success. If we don’t know what these things look like, it’s hard to know how to get there.
A big turning point came when my mum helped me transfer schools to a place where negativity wasn’t accepted, the amazing staff believed in me, and the bullying stopped. I got involved in drama and video production, which helped me start to move outside my negative headspace, see that I was good at something and that I was worthy of having friends.
The other big turning point in my personal history was getting connected with the I CAN Network in 2016. I often tell people that “I CAN gave me my ‘me’ back.” At I CAN, we prove that Autistics CAN run the business, CAN influence the education system, CAN be great communicators, CAN make an impact on how young people see themselves and CAN change the way society views Autism.
If I could go back in time and tell my younger self something, it would be “You are going to be OK. You are going to find a place where you feel safe.” My personal I CAN Network – my mum, my partner, my grandparents, my I CAN teammates and of course my mentees – makes me feel safe and continues to give me the confidence to take on life.
When I was younger, I didn’t see any benefit in being different. Now I see Autism as a strength, especially when society is willing to make adjustments to support us. My world is noisy and vibrant, and I can’t imagine being any other way. If someone offered me a magic pill to make me “normal”, I would tell them where they could stick it! Many of the greatest innovations and creations in our history have been shaped by Autistics. But even if we aren’t the next Leonardo da Vinci, we all have something unique to contribute. Our world would be much duller without Autism!
For anyone who wants to help make our world better for Autistics, here is my advice: seek out primary sources, just as you would if you were studying history. When it comes to Autism, the primary sources are people who are Autistic. Get in touch with I CAN, follow Autistic bloggers, connect with Autistics in your community. Ask questions, keep asking questions, challenge the stereotypes, move outside your comfort zone, learn more so that you will know and understand more. We’re all in this together, and we still have work to do to make our world more inclusive.
When I think about what a world that embraces Autism would look like, I can’t help but consider it in terms of history. My greatest wish is that someday soon, when I am telling my mentees about my experiences growing up, they will have no point of reference. I hope they will say, “Wow, Kyal, you must have grown up in the Dark Ages”, because things like low expectations, bullying and negativity surrounding Autism will be totally extinct.