Daniel, 27.

When I was young, I had limited verbal communication and I started my schooling in a special developmental school setting, which was targeted at people with greater support requirements. My family worked toward the goal of enabling independence by transitioning me to mainstream education. It was a gradual transition, as for several years I had dual enrolment in special and mainstream education. I was dependent on my integration aide during my primary school years. With the help of my family and my aide, I finished school and I now work part time as a graphic designer and photographer in Bendigo. I appreciate the opportunity to use my gifts, skills and talents in meaningful employment. I’m interested in not only advocating for my fellow people on the Autism Spectrum but advocating for the needs of people with disabilities in general. I sit on a number of disability advocacy groups for the State Government and Local Government, including in the area of public transport.

I’ve got a particular soft spot for trains. My grandpa used to repair train carriages for his work. Once, we went on a family trip to the footy with my grandpa, and he was telling us how the carriage we went on was built in the 1950s. During my spare time, I’d then go on rail websites to look at the statistics on when the different train carriages were built. Despite how much I love trains, when I used to visit Melbourne, I was terrified of navigating the public transport system. I was scared because it was busy and there seemed to be so much to do and so many things to think about when catching public transport; such as having to not only buy, but also validate a ticket, and having to remember the best route to take. It was also difficult for me to try and work out all of the social etiquette to follow, and a lot of the time I couldn’t get it right. When people told me to ‘get a wriggle on’ as I was trying to overcome these barriers, it made me feel like I was never going to be able to get around Melbourne independently.

I was able to overcome these challenges by just encountering people here and there who encouraged me and told me that I was doing a good job – people who would help me to break down big processes into little steps. My family have really encouraged and enabled this to happen, and these days I manage to navigate public transport not only in Victoria, but also interstate. I look forward to seeing how I go when I embark on my first overseas adventure this month. Now I advise on disability access in Victorian public transport systems with the State Government to ensure they address not just the physical challenges experienced by people living with a disability while on public transport, but also ways to navigate changes and chaotic processes that might cause distress.

I have just been on my first overseas trip to Bhutan (in the Himalayas near Nepal) and presented on the topic of self-advocacy at the International Conference on Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders. I immensely enjoyed taking in the culture of Bhutan and meeting members of the Autism community from around the world (and being affirmed by them). I also enjoyed getting to meet the Prime Minister of Bhutan who specifically came to listen to the self-advocacy session. My father joined me on my first overseas experience, and I was able to successfully adjust to the new experience of an international trip – both the processes at the airport and adjusting to the culture – with his support.

One thing I’ve learnt about myself is that when I have a dream, it’s better for me to take smaller steps. If it had of existed when I was growing up, the I CAN Network would have been great in helping me to set some small challenges to achieve my goals – to have people around with a non-judgemental attitude to help me to work through adversity. To me, Autism is not a walk in the park, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I feel it actually gives me certain advantages, like a unique way of seeing the world through my photography. Autism is a way of thinking that can benefit others if channelled in the right way, and if the support is provided to allow people on the Autism Spectrum to thrive. Don’t underestimate what people with Autism can achieve, given the right supports.

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