Hello, I am Stephen and I was diagnosed when I was 25 years of age. I currently work at Woolworths Kyneton where I am able to take up to 38 hours of paid work. In my spare time, I enjoy making content and playing the game of SimCity 4, where I am working on a number of projects to enhance the game’s capabilities. I have always been fascinated with transport systems and would regularly read street directories in the backseat of the car when I was growing up. When I was in Year 9, I wanted to become a Civil Engineer which basically meant that I could help real world projects for road and rail.
I have very good spacial awareness and can rotate things in my mind to find solutions to things that others would find puzzling. I have always been good at geometry and like things to be aligned. I especially like looking at train tracks seeing how they geometrically flow. Local orientation is also a strength of mine, and I can navigate through any area by picking up landmarks. I am unique in the way that I can remember things from an early age, with my Autism journey visually looking like a gradient of colour. There are light and dark patches, but the future is looking a little brighter.
Autism to me, is basically a journey in which you discover the strengths of being different. I see the Spectrum as something where you are different from neurotypical people in a way that you possess some extra skill or knowledge in a particular subject. Autism should always be seen as a difference and not a disadvantage.
Because I was 25 years of age when I was diagnosed, I did not experience the direct social stigma that others did who were diagnosed earlier. But there was one instance in primary school where my handwriting was shown in front of the class and was derided by one of my teachers. For me this experience was very humiliating, and I am sure that many other people on the Spectrum have had similar experiences. When you have Autism and you have a target you want to reach, resilience is the key to getting to your goal. In my case, this was whether I was able to get into university. All of the literature about me said that I would have to attend special classes, and would not be able to achieve this goal. I was able to outsmart the odds by picking a pathway and being focused on it. I chose what I wanted to do and that set me up to get the score I needed to get into university. I beat the odds to get into university, where others thought I would not be able to make the step up. To overcome the social stigma and expectations people have of Autism, you have to believe in what you can do. Sometimes it takes a bit of self discovery, but it can be done. If I was able to transform to be 10 years old again, I would tell myself to ‘keep hope of what you are passionate about. You can do amazing things with the abilities you have.’
It is important for people to talk about the abilities of Autism in a positive way to break down the stigma and to give people a chance. Being negative only enhances the stigma. People have regularly made comments to me like, “I read somewhere that there is a cure for Autism”, which is WRONG!!! ‘Curing’ Autism would mean changing your brain in a functional way– a brain transplant, if I may. It would change who I am and what I am able to achieve. Autism is a difference, NOT a disorder! People with Autism should be given time to find their feet and become confident in their abilities. Society should not discount them and pass judgment.
Our society is not inclusive because there is too much emphasis on the negatives of the differences that Autism brings. We need to focus more on inclusiveness and creating pathways to allow people on the Spectrum to collaborate with neurotypical people. Autistic characteristics can be beneficial, especially as we enter an age where abstract knowledge can lead to new discoveries. Put a person with a particular passion in an occupation where that passion is relevant, and the individual will shine. People with Autism want and are able to contribute to society. Regardless of all of this, I still would not put the fact that I have Autism on my CV, because unfortunately society is not ready to see Autism for all of it’s potential just yet.
The I CAN Network is a step in the right direction to showing schools and employers that there are many things that people with Autism CAN do. It is amazing what people can do when their Autism is nurtured, and they given a chance at things they would like to achieve. The I CAN Network has helped me get a greater understanding of other people that are on the Spectrum, and the abilities we all have to create a more welcoming and inclusive society.