Jeanette, 42.

Hi. I’m Jeanette. I’m an author, a public speaker, blogger and quite a lot of other things. I’m also a proud Autistic woman.

I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in 1994. Throughout my childhood and teen years I was bullied because I came across as somehow different. I experienced violence and abuse and hated myself. I never told anyone what was going on in my life as nobody told me I should. By the time I was diagnosed I was a very angry and traumatised person. I spent around five years in the darkest of places, making poor and self-destructive choices. I didn’t accept my Autism diagnosis because to me it meant that I was weird and would never have a friend.

Thankfully I made some changes. I started to think I might have a future. I reconnected with my family, who became a core part of my own personal I CAN Network. I had aspirations of gaining an education and working in a professional job. I enrolled in a university visual arts course and started on my path to a new life. To put this in perspective, I started my university course just over twelve months after being released from prison and less than six months after leaving a residential program for people with serious mental illness. All throughout university I lived on the disability pension and in supported housing.

I was so keen to achieve all my aspirations that I got myself a casual job washing dishes in a restaurant. I definitely wasn’t ready for paid work. The result was that I became so anxious about making an error at work that I became very unwell with mental illness, had to quit the job and could very easily have dropped out of university. Being unwell and studying was incredibly hard. Instead I reflected that although I couldn’t work at that time, I would aim to work in the future. I took on a number of incremental challenges around work and independent living. In 2005 I wrote a book – an autobiography about living with undiagnosed Autism and being victimised by every bully and predator I came across for 25 years. I was very generously mentored in the writing process by Autism world legend and author Donna Williams. The first publisher I sent it to published it.

By 2006 I had an internationally published book, a Masters degree and a lot more self-confidence than I ever had before. I knew I was ready to apply for professional roles and put in applications for two public service graduate jobs. Lots of people, including my psychiatrist at the time, told me just how and why I would not be successful in my applications. Apparently the jobs weren’t ‘Autism friendly’, I had a shameful past filled with poor choices and legal sanctions, and I wouldn’t be able to navigate all the unwritten rules and ‘hidden curriculum’ of a professional job. I was shortlisted for one of the jobs and successful in the other. I moved to Canberra in 2007 and started work as a graduate officer in the Australian Public Service. I was probably the most unlikely new public servant in the country but I absolutely loved my job from the first week. I still do ten years later, and I have been promoted twice. In 2013 I received an award from our Secretary (CEO) for my leadership around disability and inclusion at my workplace.

I have also been actively involved in Autism advocacy for almost twelve years. These days I am quite well-known in the Autism community. I am now an author three times over, have a blog which was recently named one of the best Autism resources on the Internet, and I have a long list of conference presentations to my name including TEDx Canberra in 2013. I am the owner of a little apartment called Whimsy Manor which is a popular destination with my Canberra Autism world ‘family’. Anyone who knows me either in person or on social media, will know my beautiful and quirky black cat Mr Kitty, who friends – and their kids – often make a special trip to visit! I am so proud of being an Autistic person in the world, of surviving through immense challenges and now supporting others to achieve their goals and dreams through my advocacy work.

To achieve all these apparently improbable accomplishments, I trusted myself to make a difference in my own life. Oddly enough, while I was – and am still – quite insecure, I also have a degree of confidence and willingness to ‘have a go’ and take on new challenges. I remember all the times I was resolutely thinking to myself ‘yes I CAN’ when others were saying ‘no you can’t’.

I think people can benefit greatly from building their own I CAN Network to support them in their journey. As Autistics, a lot of people only tell us everything we apparently can’t do without any focus on our strengths. This kind of doubt and negativity makes it a lot harder to trust in yourself. It is better to focus on your strengths and surround yourself with supporters and positive enablers. There are few things more affirming than showing yourself that you actually CAN.

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