Abbie, 25.

I have Aspergers. I also have the part of my brain missing that joins the left and right hemispheres together, called the Corpus Callosum. I have a few other serious chronic and rare health conditions that I was born with. When I was two years old, my parents were told I would never learn to read or write, but I proved everyone wrong. I have completed school, finished TAFE, and I am now studying a Bachelor of Social Work at Victoria University. I have support from my personal ‘I CAN Network’ including my mum, my brother, the I CAN Network, university staff, some medical professionals, and my dog Scout. With persistence and resilience, I always try to think ‘I CAN’. My mum is my biggest supporter and fighter for me, and with me.

Autism to me means just having a variety of people who do not conform to what is considered ‘normal’ in our society, but rather stand out and make the world interesting. It also means having something and somewhere to belong where you otherwise would not, if Autism did not exist. Individuals on the Autism Spectrum are just different from what is expected in society. We do not need to be changed or fixed, just made aware of, accepted and supported.

If I could tell one thing to my 10-year-old self it would be to not let people brush you off when you ask for support, awareness or understanding, just because you look fine.

In most settings I have been in throughout my life, instead of including me and aiming to support me, people have said that I CAN’T do things. I was told to leave school in Year 9 and go to TAFE as I would not be able to manage VCE, but I did. I am often treated with hesitation and told I will not be able to do things. I have learnt that I CAN do whatever I need to. I just sometimes need extra support, acceptance and understanding.

I overcome the negative culture and stigma that society places on Autism by asking questions or making comments that politely reflect assumptions back onto others. Our societal systems do not cater to invisible disability or ‘different’ circumstances that don’t fit within our neat boxes. People on the Autism Spectrum battle these societal structures every day, but we do pick battles and we do battle them. Otherwise, we would be accepting what society expects us to accept: poor quality of life, low opportunity, and declining health and personal growth.

If I could tell one thing to my 10-year-old self, it would be to not let people brush you off when you ask for support, awareness or understanding, just because you look fine. Don’t push people away or think you can do it all on your own, because that is one thing you can’t do. No one can. We all need to work together to achieve more inclusive societies.

The inclusivity of our schools and workplaces really depends on the people within them. The systems, rules and regulations in each institution are the same. It depends whether the people working in them are willing to look outside of these rules and regulations sometimes to include humans on the Autism Spectrum. If Neurotypicals are willing to include, be aware of, and support people with Autism, then society, workplaces, schools and universities can be inclusive. If people with Autism are perceived as the problem, we will never achieve inclusivity because society is trying to change the unchangeable. There is a long way to go before many people adapt inclusive thinking in all aspects of our society.

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Abbie is creating a world that benefits from embracing Autism through her work as a mentor at the I CAN Network. Although students on the Autism Spectrum are often under-supported and excluded in education, Abbie celebrates the individual strengths of the Autism Spectrum in our I CAN Schools mentoring program, ensuring that students on the Autism Spectrum are empowered and celebrated. Like Abbie, you can support the education and inclusion of people on the Autism Spectrum.

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