Humans on the Autism Spectrum – Shadia, 18

I am a proud non-binary Autistic advocate. I am the founder and owner of my own business, and enjoy presenting and mentoring. I am currently studying a Bachelor of Speech Pathology with the hope of providing animal-assisted therapy for Neurodivergent individuals. I have a very special connection with animals. I have always been drawn to them and relate to them more strongly than humans.

Autism is my life. Autism makes up who I am and so many of my friends and loved ones. Autism has gifted me with greater connectedness to the world around me and a voice for animals and others like me. Whilst there are challenges that come with this, ultimately my sensitivities give me unique insights on life that I have been able to turn into my strengths.

I am very lucky to have a huge support network, which includes the mentors and friendships I have made through the I CAN Network. Autistic mentors have been so important in helping me see my potential and worth and in making me feel less abnormal and alone. I have an amazing mother who continues to support me and advocate for me in those moments when I cannot, and encourages me to stand up for my rights and follow my dreams. My grandfather has helped me learn to believe in myself and was my main inspiration for becoming an Autistic advocate. I also have a pretty eclectic and wonderful friendship circle, full of outcasts, Neurodivergent individuals, and the occasional Neurotypical.

I gravitate towards those who embrace who I am and who listen to our tribe and our voices. I surround myself with positive like-minded people and try to contribute what I can. I hope that this will create a flow-on effect and reach the right people. I share I CAN’s belief that a better world is possible and achievable, but I also think society still has a long way to go before it is truly inclusive of Autistics.

I believe most people are aware of Autism, but the question is, do they understand it, and, most important of all, do they accept it? Ironically, despite some claims that Autistics are not very empathetic, I believe society at large should try more to put themselves in our shoes and understand what it feels like to be in an oftentimes noisy and overwhelming world. We only have to look at the low employment rates of Autistic people to see that there needs to be more understanding of our strengths as well as our difficulties, and how valuable we can be if we are included in the workplace environment.

If I could give my younger self – and all Autistic young people out there – one piece of advice, it would be: love yourself. Self-acceptance and self-love are some of the most vital things to develop. As Autistics, we are going to face challenges, often significant ones, but if we believe in ourselves and our self-worth, we can achieve truly great things. Sometimes life is painful, but life can also be rewarding and exciting.

For parents, teachers and other influential people in our lives, my message is this: it’s really important to highlight our strengths and give hope to us Autistic young people. Demonstrating the positive aspects of Autism helps us accept and love our Autism and have a positive Autistic identity. This is vital for our mental health. We already know how we struggle, so it is far more helpful to show where we can succeed and what ways we can contribute to society.

And lastly, if I could deliver one take-home message to the world: Please listen. We all have our individual perspectives of Autism, and there is often a lot more that occurs under the surface. We want to be heard. We want to be loved. We want to and deserve to be included. Every step is a step, great or small. This could be as simple as allowing us to use technology in the classroom, providing sensory spaces, or working out what mode of communication suits us best. You find us in all walks of life and at all ages – we are students, artists, scientists, teachers, parents, and more. Please listen to our voices.

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