Penny, 34.

As a child, I wasn’t able to be understood due to my unclear speech. I had lots of speech therapy from kinder to Year 8. Finally mastering the “r” sound made me proud of myself and helped to build my self confidence. However, I started getting panic attacks in the school assembly hall during Year 12. My heart started racing and my palms were sweaty – despite sitting down in the auditorium, so no reason to “fight or flight”. I felt better after I’d left the room. Luckily, when I was growing up, my parents and Grandma always focused on what I could do, rather than what I couldn’t. I think this is a big part of why now, fifteen years later, I’m able to give lectures to over 400 university students in a lecture theatre at a time!

I was diagnosed with Aspergers when I was 14 (in Year 9 at school), but it wasn’t until almost 5 years later that I met someone else “like me” with Aspergers during my first year of university. I was jumping up and down with excitement in the campus centre! Now I know lots of others like me, and I regularly communicate with them – it helps to know I’m not alone. This is why I share my story with others and why I’m involved with many Autism groups – I want others to feel less alone. These days, I’m an ambassador and speaker for the I CAN Network, ambassador for Yellow Ladybugs and volunteer for Aspergers Victoria as live “Twitter Queen” of guest speaker events. I’m also a Lecturer in Biostatistics at Monash University.

The I CAN Network supports people on the Autism Spectrum and their families to overcome the negative expectations of others by enabling speakers to share their personal experiences, and therefore making sure that parents of children on the Autism Spectrum know that their kids will achieve in their own time. I CAN also allows kids to meet others just like them, and gives them mentors to look up to – something I didn’t have growing up.

Autism – and sensory sensitivity – is just part of who I am. My sensory sensitivity has gotten worse over the last couple of years as I’ve gotten busier, but my confidence to use strategies to reduce the impact on me has increased because I’ve had a supportive and enabling network of people around me. This includes my workplace – it’s accepted that I’ll wear my cap if I’m having a “bad lights” day – enabling me to continue getting my work done and be productive! I jokingly used to call the seminar room “headache room” – now I always wear my cap in there after a colleague suggested it. A flexible workplace with open communication has enabled me to work to my full potential. It is important that all people on the Autism Spectrum are given the same opportunity to thrive.

We need your help. 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.

Subscribe to I CAN's mailing list

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.