“You are more capable than you think you are.”
Since 2014, mentor Max Williams has been at the core of our I CAN team, mentoring hundreds of Autistic young people over the years and never failing to share his distinctive sense of humour, strength in the face of adversity and pride in being Autistic.
In this video interview, Max shares his insights on overcoming hurdles in life, adjusting to university life, the importance of Autistic strengths and how he manages to remain optimistic amid challenging times.
More insights from Max:
On embracing Autism: Autism is a core component of who we are, and as such casting it as a negative can lead us to feel like we are fundamentally broken. On the other hand, a positive outlook on Autism allows us to feel empowered and capable. A world that embraces Autism would be a world where we are not seen as diseased or defective versions of ‘normal’ people, but as valid and valued versions of ourselves. Autism acceptance has grown in leaps and bounds within my lifetime, but we’re still a long way from complete inclusion. It’s a work in progress.
On career aspirations: When I was four years old, I wanted to be a steam train driver, but then once I learned how to write that’s all I wanted to do. I’ve wanted to get books published and be a novelist since I was five. In my twenties, I came across the I CAN Network and discovered Autism advocacy and realised, “Wow! I also find this incredibly meaningful and incredibly valuable.” I still want to get that book published. And I will get it published. I’m working on it!
On preparing for the workplace: For me, volunteer work was an invaluable stepping stone to a full-on job, because it allowed me to get a feel for the way a workplace works without there being as much pressure. It’s also absolutely worth doing in its own right, I can’t recommend it enough.
On learning to say “I CAN”: There have been so many times when I’ve thought “I can’t do this” or “That is something I will never be able to do because I have these limitations or I have these disabilities”. When I was 15, I thought that I’d never be able to leave home or go to university or live independently or have a job, and now at 31, I have all those things. I didn’t think these things were possible even when I was 18 or 19, and well, here we are!
It’s been a running theme in my life. Every time that I’ve thought that I couldn’t do something, my amazing network — my parents, my teachers, my friends — have really propped me up and pushed me to push myself and try things even if I don’t think I am able to do.. And in nearly every case they are right – I can do them!
On being a role model: When I was a kid, I didn’t have access to older Autistic role models to tell me that I wasn’t broken and that things would get better. That would’ve made a world of difference for me, and so I want to provide that support for those growing up on the spectrum today. That to me is the essence of I CAN.
At I CAN Network, we believe in the power of storytelling. Since 2016, we have been running an annual campaign called Humans on the Autism Spectrum, through which we celebrate the personal stories and insights of Autistics in our network. Over the years, we’ve had the privilege of highlighting many Autistic voices, including young people who are new to our I CAN mentoring programs, those who have been with us for years, mentors, teachers and advocates.
In 2020, we are especially proud to be partnering with the NDIA to deliver Humans on the Autism Spectrum: School Leavers.
From early April to mid-June, we will be showcasing experiences, insights and advice from ten Autistic members of our team who are navigating post-school life, including TAFE, university, the workplace and community. Their stories contain messages that are relevant not only for younger Autistic peers but for anyone wanting to understand Autistic lived experience.
About I CAN Network
We are a proudly Autistic-led and predominantly Autistic-staffed organisation – the largest of our kind in Australia. We deliver group mentoring to thousands of Autistic young people ages 9-20 across the country via school programs, online group mentoring and community events. We share our Autistic insights through personal stories, professional development and consultancy work and offer free webinars worldwide. And we provide paid employment opportunities to dozens of Autistics who help design and deliver our game-changing programs.
Our I CAN team and supporters are driven by a shared vision of creating a world that embraces Autism.
Our vision needs everyone. We invite you to join us – subscribe to our newsletter.