Andrea, 44.

I was diagnosed in 2017 – it was a huge weight off my shoulders as previously I had been diagnosed with a mix of PTSD (meltdowns!) Anxiety and Depression. None of that ever sat well with me and to finally be told that I was Autistic finally felt right. My Mum had been told when I was 12 that I was displaying traits back then, but as I was already accepted as the “odd child” it was never pursued.

I have learnt a LOT about myself, and I have also learnt that I am not alone in the way I feel and do things. I had previously met Autistic people and never really thought about it much to be honest, and initially it hit me for six, but now, I am relaxed and finally at ease with myself like I have never been before!

I just say to people I meet that my brain is wired opposite to theirs which means I am going to see and feel things differently to them. Fortunately, my circle of friends and family have always embraced my weirdness (something I am now very aware doesn’t happen very often for many people). I also point out that we are all different, so deal with it! It is a part of my core being, the reason I do what I do, how I act and everything about me.

Throughout my career I have always had very good attention to detail, and my black and white thinking is critical in my field of employment. I am also told how refreshing I am as a person who is a “straight talker” and my ability to just laugh at myself regardless of what others are thinking.

In my spare time, I ride mountain bikes, I used to race MTB until a couple of years ago (thank you older age!) I draw, watch anime (especially mecha based), skydiver, play Nintendo Switch, and a myriad of other things. I tend to be the person who does what I think looks like fun rather than saying “oh I wouldn’t mind trying that”, this resulted in my travels to the United States a few years ago to watch the last of the Space Shuttle launches, and eventually meeting astronauts, seeing the Space Shuttle up close, and many of the things I had dreamed about as a kid. I don’t know many people that can say they made their childhood dream of being an astronaut near reality except for real astronauts! My favourite character is Luke Skywalker – my Dad took me with him to the drive in to see Star Wars back in 1977 and Star Wars has been a total obsession ever since. How a kid who had no idea about what power he could wield in the future, from an average background ended up adventuring all over the galaxy. Plus he had a lightsaber!

My obsessions include: Star Wars, space (as in NASA etc), all things aviation, riding mountain bikes and cycling in general, and my cat! As previously mentioned, I draw as well and I think now that ability has been a neat little thing I can do thanks to Autism. I also love comic books, anime, Dr Who, Cartoon Network (too many shows to list!!) making things and restoring things found on hard rubbish, op-shopping, the internet and smartphones.

My I CAN network is my Mum, first and foremost as she has always let me be myself, and not once tried to change me; my best friend – he is my rock, and he is the one person who really understands and just gets me quirks and all; my extended friends circle, who have always loved me regardless of being the odd one out; my mentor, my boss who has seen my potential be something I am really good at now and make it even more.

I am currently a full time University student studying Aerospace Engineering, but I am also a qualified Aircraft Maintenance Engineer (trade) and have maintained constant employment in that field since 1993 when I started my apprenticeship. I have also just recently started an Aerospace Engineering Services business and already have an upcoming contract for a job for an international aerospace company.

At all the workplaces I have been at I have had very few issues. Being employed in a very male dominated industry has a different set of challenges in itself, but the times I have been in trouble in the workplace have been to communication issues – especially in the way I have spoken to someone, or have been seen to be far too blunt or even rude. Improvement could be made within the HR departments of trying to understand that not everyone knows how to correctly play “office politics” and that sometimes task switching and being able to be totally flexible can be outside the scope of an Autistic employee. I base most of my observations now however on hindsight as I have only recently found out just why I wasn’t able to understand a lot of situations.

I hate job interviews! I have also been the person giving the interview so that has since helped, but I do have the internal monologue regarding body language, that I need to engage with the interviewer, so on and so forth, so the process is very stressful. I have never had a problem securing a job however due to my qualifications and experience especially in my industry.

Attention to detail is a big advantage for businesses, however I can only speak for my own industry and the benefits it has. Punctuality is a big deal breaker for many companies I have worked for and I have never been late to work unless there was a problem outside of my control, I think this is the same for any Autistic person too. Truthfulness, honesty, and the ability to see a solution that others have not yet seen or would never have seen, to me, the list is endless as I think there are far more positives than negatives. Sure I get easily distracted, but take away the distractions and I am super focused and motivated! People should hire people on the Autism Spectrum because they are perfectly good working people the same as anyone else, with the added bonus of some of the above. So what’s not to want with an Autistic employee really?
In a perfect world, people would just be a lot less judgmental and happy for others. I want to tell other young people on the Spectrum, “do not give in, do not listen when others tell you that you can’t because you are Autistic. I have don’t some crazy things in my life that many people are amazed by, and if I can do this, anyone CAN. Be yourself, and never ever conform!”
I CAN do anything I want to do, I CAN have a successful career, an amazing group of friends and a positive life, and I CAN help others along the way.

The I CAN Network creates a world that embraces Andrea’s strengths. We need your support to continue creating a society that empowers young people on the Autism Spectrum. Join us by donating to our next venture: holding one of our acclaimed camps in Queensland.

Go to https://www.gofundme.com/ican-camp-qld to donate – any support is very much appreciated.
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