I am a husband with an autistic wife, a parent of two autistic adult kids and a grandfather to three autistic granddaughters. I happen to be autistic, trans, a psychologist, lecturer, writer and poet.
Growing up, I wasn’t expected to learn and get an education beyond Year 10 at high school; today I have a PhD. I wasn’t expected to find work or build a successful career; today I hold a senior position with the South Australian government as part of their Education Department’s “Disability, Policy and Programs” Complex Needs team.
Although it’s different for each person, for me, my autism means I have unique strengths and challenges. I’m challenged with everyday things like social chit-chat, public transport and general organisational stuff. But my strengths with writing, researching and teaching give me “life” and a richness to my daily encounters that make it easier to accept my challenges.
I know I have limitations but these have stretchy edges to them. I accept support in many things, and I use it in positive ways to enable me, not keep me dependent. Learning how to be interdependent has been one of life’s biggest lessons for me. I’ve come to realise that it’s OK to need others and we can support one another with our differing abilities. If you took my autism away, my complete self would disappear! It’s being autistic, and older, that has given me my wings.
One of the most wonderful things about belonging to the autistic culture is together we are changing negative, stigmatising, societal ways and, as we do this, we help create new societal norms. We must be visible, out and proud! We have nothing to be ashamed of and no need to hide who we are. The more the world sees us and shares in our experiences, the better this world will be.
Likewise, it’s important to talk about autism in positive terms because being autistic is a positive thing. Autism enables us to think in the way we do, to notice important details others might miss. Without autism, we would lose many of our engineers, architects, scientists, flower arrangers, chefs, librarians, car detailers, and so on. The world needs us to give a balanced, unbiased perspective on so many things. If you rubbish autism, you rubbish the world.
One of the challenges society faces with regards to autism is the gap between intentions and active support. To facilitate active support, society needs an understanding of autism. For far too long, society has viewed autistic people as “defective, broken and disordered”, which in turn, has driven the type of “support” we’ve received. For instance, I believe many schools aim to be inclusive. Unfortunately, they often haven’t understood that to be inclusive isn’t just about having autistic students present at school, it’s about adopting an inclusive curriculum, timetable and social culture that works with an individual’s autism, rather than trying to make us fit the typical way of doing something. This understanding also applies for our work and social spaces.
As an organisation, the I CAN Network is vital to supporting and changing the cultural mentality from “everything autistics CAN’T do” to “all we CAN do”. It doesn’t say that we won’t have challenges or that we won’t get it wrong; it says, it’s OK to mess up, let’s learn from it and find ways that enable us each to be all we CAN be. The emphasis is upon building positive self-esteem, confidence and carrying this out together. We are not on our own and it’s great to be part of the I CAN team! Autism is all about being “wired differently” and I CAN teaches us that difference and variety bring life to our world.
Individuals reading our stories can learn from our experiences so they can be more open, accepting and accommodating of difference. In doing so, their lives and experiences can only be strengthened and enriched as well. A world that embraces autism is a more compassionate, more productive and more all-encompassing place where difference and diversity enhance social and cultural communication. This recipe for a wholesome world can only take humanity upwards and lead us to a place of less pain, less mental distress and towards the real meaning of mutuality and inclusion.