“I wanted to become an I CAN mentor so that I could be someone I needed when I was in high school.”
Since joining our team last year, Sam has become “that someone” for so many Autistic mentees by helping them feel understood, accepted and celebrated. Sam is also an integral part of our efforts to provide meaningful support for Queer (LGBTIQA+) Autistic young people.
In this video interview, Sam shares their experiences of navigating the ups and downs of high school, what fuels their passion for their current university studies and why identities can be so dynamic and exciting to explore.
More insights from Sam:
On their motivation to become a mentor: As a teenager, I didn’t feel there were a lot of people I could look up to or relate to. When I was diagnosed at age 21, I realised that there were a lot of things that would have really helped me earlier when I was going through high school. I wanted to become an I CAN mentor so that I could be someone I needed when I was in high school: someone who understood what I was going through, someone who would have listened, and someone who could have shown me that things would get better. I didn’t have a lot of faith in my future when I was in high school. I think it would have been really nice to have had someone there who had come out the other side and lived to tell their story.
On the biggest challenge of adjusting to university: The most challenging part about uni has been finding ways to cope with my mental health and support myself. Uni can be a stressful environment around assignments, deadlines and managing time. Especially during my first year, I struggled with organisation and sticking to a schedule. Reluctantly at first, I reached out the counselling service and to disability support at uni, where I was able to get some flexibility around deadlines and strategies for reducing stress. I was stubbornly independent at this point, but the experience taught me that seeking support from others helped me to gain better self-regulation skills. After first year, I also switched to part-time which meant I felt able to more fully engage in my subjects.
On exploring gender identity: Exploring your identity can be really empowering. The journey can take you all kinds of places. I have learnt so much exploring my Queer identities in the past few years and now I am able to help others going through the same thing and educate the wider public. Just because you don’t see your identity represented much in the mass media (yet), it doesn’t mean that your identity isn’t valid. Engaging in Queer content through social media, books, TV shows and movies helps me feel a sense of belonging in the world. Meeting other like-minded people is also incredibly important for feeling understood and confident in myself.
On the significance of Autistic community: I feel a really strong sense of belonging to the Autistic community. That was lacking for most of my life up until the time I got diagnosed at 21. Being part of the Autistic community, and being around other Autistic people, has played a big part in helping me accept myself. It’s the best thing ever. The Autistic community has faced discrimination for not ‘fitting in’ with societal norms, however we recognise that strength comes from diversity. The more that individuals are able to feel valued members of their families, communities, and cultures, the better we are able to enact the positive change we want to see in the world. The world is a complex organism, and if we all try to do the same thing it creates an imbalance. The Autistic community, for me, is important for us coming together from across the world and celebrating our contributions to it throughout history and into the future.
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.