Ben, 31.

I’m 31, live in Hillside, am proudly on the Autism Spectrum, and am in my second year as an I CAN Network mentor. I also work for the AFL Umpires as Training and Property Assistant, and have worked as a freelance journalist covering sport at various stages in the past.

Throughout the entirety of my primary schooling until around year nine at high school, I felt pretty isolated – everyone viewed me as the easy target when it came to bullying. It made me feel extremely upset and frustrated, I would often come home crying asking my Mum why the kids decided to make fun of me rather than any other kid at school. I wouldn’t have gotten through this very rough period in my life had it been for the continual encouragement, support and unconditional love of my family. I think the reason why I copped it so much from the other kids was because I was “different”. But in my opinion, there is no such thing as “normal” because everyone has differences, Autistic or not.

The feelings of isolation started to disappear when people began inviting me to parties, and the kids at school started to see that while I may be a bit different and unique, I wasn’t that bad after all. A girl named Megan Denko befriended me and could see the good in me rather than all the negatives that others saw. She made sure I was included in a lot of social things away from school, and I still keep in touch with her today. I remember it got to the stage that I had to choose which parties I wanted to go to because I was invited to so many!!!

But even despite this, others continued to see only negatives rather than realising my potential. I vividly remember being told that I wouldn’t be able to complete a journalism degree after finishing school. After completing a Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing at TAFE, I wanted to progress further with a view to pursue a possible media career and decided on doing a journalism degree. It ended up taking me a little bit longer than some, but I got there and successfully completed it. What helped me to prove that person wrong was the fact that I had plenty of support from my family, in particular my Mum, who is my number one fan and biggest supporter of everything that I do. Also the Disability Liaison Unit at RMIT University provided me with advice, encouragement, and ensured that I had all the supports I needed to complete my degree.

The major way that the I CAN community drives a sense of inclusion and confidence, and celebrates people on the Autism Spectrum is by being non-judgemental. We are non-judgemental at I CAN because we recognise that everyone on the Autism Spectrum is unique and being unique is a good thing. The I CAN Network enables people on the Autism Spectrum to overcome negative expectations and prove people wrong by teaching them how to be confident, professional and passionate, with a strong work ethic. We smash a lot of stereotypes. Since becoming a mentor with I CAN, I have found my confidence levels to have increased significantly and this has helped me in many areas of my life.

Nowadays, I’ve developed a reputation as a special regular patron at The Saint Hotel in St Kilda, I am a regular on Sunday nights and also go on other nights as well. I love socialising and meeting new people, the world is an interesting place with so many different people around. For those who say those with Autism can’t socialise, I buck this by being a regular on the social scene and love nothing more than a drink, chat or a dance. When I tell people that I am Autistic they are amazed because we are not meant to like social situations; I think it all comes down to just being yourself. Eventually people will come around to your uniqueness and appreciate you for it more than anything.

Autism doesn’t define who I am but it is a major part of me and helps contribute towards my uniqueness as a person. Being unique has helped me a lot in social circles, people like having someone around who isn’t like everyone else.

Through his mentoring, Ben is creating a better world for people on the Autism Spectrum. You can too. Join us by donating or giving monthly. Together, we can create employment opportunities for people on the Autism Spectrum, and can support schools and workplaces to celebrate their individual strengths.

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