I’m a young man living with Autism, and I was diagnosed at the age of 2 and a half years. I had limited verbal communication as a child and started school at a special school. My parents and so many others (my personal “I CAN Network”) helped me to transition into mainstream education. I have continued in mainstream education and completed a degree in graphic design and photography. I now live independently and work part time as a graphic designer and photographer. I’m about to go on my first overseas trip and am involved as a mentor and ambassador for the I CAN Network.
To me, Autism can be both a strength and a challenge, but I would not live life without Autism. Autism to me is largely a different way of seeing the world, and that’s something we need to embrace. I have a unique way of taking photos that comes from having a unique perspective. I’m resilient, I give things a go, and strive to live life to the fullest.
I think we’re working towards inclusivity in our society for people on the Autism Spectrum, but we’re not there yet. In my personal experience, schools have generally been inclusive, but I feel that less visible conditions such as Autism and behavioural problems are often dealt with through disciplinary action rather than working with people’s special needs.
We have so many barriers in the workforce that require people with Autism to apply for jobs in the same way as their non-Autistic counterparts. You have to show your social skills in order to get a job via the conventional job interview. I believe that recruitment processes for jobs should be modified to make it easier, especially for people with special needs, to apply for jobs without being judged on their ability to perform in an artificial job interview environment. On the whole, I feel included in my wider society, especially in my youth group at church and in my social groups. But there are occasions when I am patronised in the wider community. I deal with that by challenging them. And educating. And forgiving. As hard as it is sometimes, I try to see the good in everyone.
Often when people on the Autism Spectrum are experiencing challenges, society puts up barriers rather than taking the time to explore ways to work through the challenges. It’s very easy for well-intentioned people to wrap me up in cotton wool. It’s important to acknowledge their love and concern for me, but to also challenge them and say I CAN do this. It is important to talk about people with Autism in a positive way because we’re human beings and we should all be treated with respect and dignity.
If I could tell my 10-year-old self one thing it would be to give new things a go, and even if it is hard, it’s important that you try. You might have Autism, but that does not stop you from contributing to the world, and you don’t have to sit in the back seat all of your life.
The I CAN Network has helped me to create my own rethink of Autism from ‘I CAN’T’ to ‘I CAN’. It has helped me to celebrate the strengths that come from living with Autism, and the gifts and talents people with Autism have. The I CAN Network challenges people to move beyond the deficits, to the strengths of the Autism Spectrum. It’s about celebrating the gifts and strengths of living with Autism, and it challenges you to think in that mindset. Sometimes I find myself thinking life would be easier if I wasn’t on the Spectrum, but the I CAN Network enables me to get back up again every time I have set backs.
A world that embraces Autism is a place where the gifts and talents of everyone are celebrated and people are seen for their strengths rather than their weaknesses. It is a world where workplaces and schools embrace all employees and students equally and remove barriers that make it harder for individuals to participate.
If you take only one thing away from reading my story, let it be this: Focus on what people, not only with Autism but with other disabilities CAN do, rather than on their deficits. If a person wants to take on a big challenge, question less whether they can do it or not, but rather work on ways to help that individual achieve their dream.