Brandon, 17.

I’m Brandon John but I prefer to be called BJ. I’m 17. I was formally diagnosed with autism when I was 4 years old so I don’t remember it at all.  Mum knew that I was somehow different but knew nothing about autism at this time. At 3 she had trouble finding a kindergarten that would take me due to my different behaviours.  Luckily she eventually found an understanding and accepting kindergarten teacher who recognised that I showed traits of Autism. It was this teacher who started the process for us.

I try not to go into too much detail as that can be quite personal I usually just tell them that my brain works differently compared to a neuro typical brain. When I was younger I wanted to know why I was different, why I had Autism, but now being autistic is just being me. As I have grown older I have developed a confidence in myself. Being on the Autism Spectrum has provided me with many challenges but it does not define me. At times it allows me to think creatively “outside the box” and provides me with a great memory for the things I am interested in. Being different and experiencing other peoples intolerance has taught me not to judge people just because they are not like everyone else and to treat all people the same. Everyone deserves the same respect from the cleaner to the Headmaster.

My favourite movie character is Mad Max – I like the apocalyptic theme of the movies and Mel Gibson as the actor. Mad Max is strong and doesn’t give up.  He shows great courage in the face of adversity.

My family, especially my Mum have been my major support. My high school has also made positive changes to support me and other students on the Autism spectrum.

I am a Year 11 VCAL student at Nagle College in Bairnsdale. I love Anime, Play Station and YouTube, I also love music and play bass, guitar, drums, keyboard and sing. I am a part of the choir and a member of the Nagle College I CAN mentoring program run for students with an ASD. Outside of school I am a member of the Bairnsdale Wood Turners Association and the Bairnsdale Army Cadets. I am also an entrepreneur and run my own small wood turning business called Dead Wood Carpentry.

I have many talents but at the moment my special interest is wood turning. I just decided I was going to do it. The first wood lathe I had was made from bits of old timber and an old electric drill I bought from the tip shop. Calling it an actual lathe is a bit of a stretch but using this crude machine and an old chisel, I made small items such as chess pieces. After my parents realised I was probably not going to cut my hand off and that I was not going to let the fact that I did not have proper tools stop me from wood turning they found and purchased an old bench wood lathe for me to use. With practice I have just got better and better.

I have managed to turn my interest into a thriving small business where I sell beautifully hand turned pens and bowls made from recycled and reclaimed timber. Apart from selling my pens and bowls at some small markets, they are sold locally in a store called Foundry which is an artist collective in Bairnsdale who stock an incredible range of handmade, locally-created and environmentally sustainable goods. I have also entered a local art show at the Bairnsdale Art Gallery where my one of my pens was displayed and subsequently sold. I have also sold pens both interstate and overseas to such places as America, New Zealand and Saudi Arabia. What I love about wood turning is the fact that I am in control. I have the ability and imagination to construct whatever I like. Cocooned within the motion, sound and vibrations of the lathe, the outside world does not exist. My wood turning has been a way for me to experience success and to strive for excellence. I believe my autism allows me to focus and to think logically which helps during the creative process. I watch a lot of You Tube clips which help to show me different techniques to try and products to make. I also get lots of help and ideas from my wood turning group. I have experimented with other materials such as bone, antler and crushed mineral inlay but I prefer to work with recycled and reclaimed timber.

Although it was very different when I was younger and I was bullied a lot, I actually quite like the world I am in now, where the challenges you endure can help to shape you. Maybe in a perfect world I would be taller – but I’m saying I CAN be myself

The I CAN Network creates a world that embraces Brandon’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.
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