Speakers Agency and Professional Development Workshops


The I CAN Network provide talks and professional development to a wide audience. With many of our speakers on the Autism Spectrum, we share our voices to create a society that embraces Autism.

Chris Varney

"We don't have the label
'Autism Spectrum' for people to be saying 'I Can't'. We have it so people can say 'I CAN'."

Chris Varney (BA, LLB (with Honours)) is Founder and Chief Enabling Officer of the I CAN Network and a director on the Strategic Enablers.Chris is a 28-year-old with Asperger’s Syndrome. Chris grew up with a group of mentors who pushed him to think ‘I CAN’. This was further ingrained in him when at age 9, Chris’ tough-minded grandmother Margaret gave him Alan Marshall’s “I Can Jump Puddles”.

Chris has a background in campaigning, public speaking, facilitation, management, training and consultancy. With World Vision International and World Vision Australia, Chris worked in human resources (2008), was co-director of youth movement ‘Vision Generation’ (2008) and manager of youth supporters (2014). In Australia’s youth sector, Chris has held senior roles at Youth Affairs Council of Victoria, The Foundation for Young Australians and was Australian Youth Representative to the United Nations (2009). UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote this message after Chris’ tenure at the UN.

It was as Youth Representative that Chris encountered the the stigma-induced ‘I Can’t’ talk in young people on the Autism Spectrum. This compelled Chris to envision The I CAN Network, modeled off the network of mentors he enjoyed as a young person with Asperger’s. Chris later founded I CAN in September 2013 with the support of James Ong and Penny Robinson.

Chris studied law at Monash University.

Monash Student Alumni Award (2011)
National Award for Youth in Advancing the Rights of Children (2012)
Future Justice Medal (2012)
Monash Social Inclusion Award (2014)
Aspect National Recognition Award (2015)

Christian Tsoutsouvas

"All over the world, people with all kinds of differences are telling you what they need you to do to include them, and what they can offer the world. If you listen well, open your mind to a different way of experiencing the world, and learn as much as you can, the journey towards becoming an inclusive society will finally be clear and attainable."

An artistic chameleon of prodigious ability, Christian’s talents range from the performing arts to linguistics. He has starred in theatre productions and independent films, he has an office in the disabilities department of the Melbourne University Student Union, and he has hosted four radio shows.

He likens his autism to a cherished family member; one that often entertains him, sometimes annoys him, but has always been precious to him.

Keen insight, lively wit, and vibrant creativity are just a few of the wonderful qualities that Christian brings to the table.

Christian is a student who is currently undertaking a Bachelor of Arts (Melbourne University)

City of Whitehorse Young Person of the Month Award (October 2013)
SYN Award for Best Interview (2014)
Commendation for the 2015 Foundation for Young Australians Game Changer Award (2015)

Max Williams

"It's important to believe in ourselves, but it's just as important to support our friends, our family, and our peers, so that they can believe in themselves too."

Max was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum at age 19.

Despite facing considerable anxiety issues, he was able to travel nearly 400km away from his tiny country hometown to go to University in the city, and in 2011 he graduated with a Bachelor degree in Social Sciences, followed by a Postgraduate Diploma in Journalism in 2013.

Max’s autistic superpower is his witty, punchy way with words, which is a staple of both his work with the I CAN Network (as both Speaker and Editor in Chief) as well as his blog, which has over a hundred and fifty followers.

Profession: Writer

Education:Bachelor of Social Sciences, Postgraduate Diploma in Journalism

First short story published at age 12, highest mark in the State for his age group in the Australasian Schools Writing Competition aged 14, won Mental Health Week Poetry competition (Victoria division) aged 15, Middle School Art Prize and English Prize aged 16, and scholarship to study abroad in Japan aged 17.

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that life on the spectrum isn’t just about minimising the negatives, it’s also about maximising the positives. I no longer see myself as disabled, I see myself as differently abled. Everybody’s good at some things and not so good at others; those of us on the spectrum just tend to be a little more specialized.”

Penny Robinson

"Aspergers is part of who I am. There was a time that I wondered what it would be like not to have Aspergers Syndrome, but then I came to the conclusion that if I didn't have Aspergers Syndrome, I wouldn't be me. Therefore, I am glad that I have Aspergers Syndrome. Besides, I don't know life any other way."

At the I CAN Network, we know Penny as the Human Calendar. She can tell you what she was doing on the 16th of April 1997 in vivid detail. Of course, there is much, much more to her than that. Penny is one of the original three founders of the I CAN Network, an assistant lecturer at Monash University, and one of the most efficient and hardworking people you’re ever likely to meet.

Her inspirational journey to independence and a career serves as a fine example to young people on the spectrum that their autism does not preclude them from achieving these goals.

Bachelor of Biomedical Science (with Honours degree), Masters of Biostatistics, Graduate Certificate in Academic Practice

General Achievement scholarship at Firbank from 1992 – 2001, (Year 4 to Year 12) Monash SPHPM Tutor Award, Monash SPHPM Best Early Career Researcher Paper Award,

~25 publications in 5 years of research work

Tim Chan

Tim may be non-verbal, which led many to underestimate him when he was younger, but give him a keyboard, and the most eloquent words flow forth, revealing his rich intellect and compassionate spirit.

Defying the limited expectations that even some professionals had of him, Tim has been widely published and interviewed, given a talk at TEDxMelbourne, completed a Diploma of small business management, and provided a powerful voice for those who are so rarely heard.

Tim is a student in Kevin Heinze Grow Transition Program (2014 to present), and has a Diploma of Small Business Management (2014)

Panellist on Facilitated Communication – No Limits on Channel 31 (2013)
Presented at TEDxMelbourne (2013)
Anne McDonald Right to Communicate Award from Communication Rights Australia (2014)
Presented at the Senate Inquiry on Current Levels of Access and Attainment for Students with Disability and the Impact Associated with Inadequate Levels of Support (2015)
Published in DARU (2011), ABCRampUp! (2012), Listen Up! (2014), and Centre News of the Jewish Holocaust Centre (2015)

Ben Carbonaro

Coming from a background in sports and journalism, Ben has a style and energy all his own. His can-do attitude has proven immensely useful in his work as both a speaker and a mentor for I CAN Network, and he excels in obliterating many of the clichés and stereotypes regarding people on the spectrum.

Vital statistics

Profession: AFL Umpires Training and Property Assistant/Freelance Journalist/I Can Network Mentor

Education: Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing RMIT University, Bachelor of Applied Communication (Journalism) RMIT University

Position at I CAN: Mentor

Location: Melbourne

Speaking topics: Autism and Sports, Autism and Employment, The Rethink on Autism, My personal I Can Story, I Can Schools

“Being on the Autism Spectrum isn’t a deficit, its a positive and I haven’t let it stop me from achieving amazing things”

Wenn B. Lawson

Psychologist, counsellor, researcher, author and poet, Dr. Wenn Lawson, has worked tirelessly to increase the understanding of autism and various learning differences for many years. He was originally mis-diagnosed as being intellectually disabled, then in his teens as being schizophrenic, then finally in 1994, appropriately diagnosed with autism.
Wenn’s youngest son is also on the autism spectrum; along with two of his granddaughters. Having studied, researched and lived autism, Dr. Wenn is passionate about the rights of those who so often haven’t had a voice of their own. One of his books, ‘The passionate mind’ explores autism from a positive perspective, in the hopes of ultimately building the type of future we all hope for.

Vital statistics

Profession: Psychologist, Lecturer, Researcher, Author

Education: PhD, Chartered Psychologist, Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society

Achievements: Fourth place Australian of the Year in 2008, had multiple books published

Position at I CAN: Speaker

Location: Warrnambool, Victoria, Australia

Speaking topics: Dr. Wenn speaks to a number of concerns experienced by individuals on the spectrum. His particular interest is in portraying and imparting an understanding of autism to allow individuals, families and professionals to develop a confidence in working with and supporting those on the spectrum. His topics range from the latest appreciation of autism research to practical outcomes for all concerned. This looks at pre-school, school, college and tertiary settings, family and relationship development, sex, sexuality and gender, autism and aligned learning differences, mental health associations in autism and much more.

“Living, loving and respecting myself and others, allows me to live honestly and with integrity. Accepting and welcoming who I am is the beginning of every sunrise; storms may come but the sun still shines.”

Kyal Kay

Kyal is one of the pioneers of I CAN South West, the branch of our network that oversees operations in Warrnambool and the surrounding areas. Diagnosed at the age of 14, following a misdiagnosis at 6, he has firsthand experience of how the workplace and jobs market can be for people on the spectrum.

Vital statistics

Profession: Sales assistant, I CAN Network mentor

Education: Graduated Kings College Warrnambool 2014

Position at I CAN: Mentor

Location: Warrnambool

Speaking topics: The Rethink on Autism, My personal I Can Story, Autism and Employment

Lana Wheatfill

A high school student on the spectrum, Lana offers a raw, powerful, and invaluable insight into what it’s like to be an autistic teenager in today’s world. Her courage and determination in the face of adversity serve as a shining example that people on the spectrum should not be underestimated; with advocates like this up and coming, the future for autism looks bright indeed.

Vital statistics

Profession: Student

Education: Currently attending secondary school

Experience/Achievements: Volunteered in disability support, travelled overseas unaccompanied by family, Bronze Medal in Lifesaving

Position at I CAN: Speaker

Location: Melbourne

Speaking topics: I CAN Schools, The Rethink on Autism, My personal I Can story, “Coming Out” as Autistic

“Autism is a part of me but it doesn’t define me. With the right help and support, I CAN do anything.”

Rebecca Sharrock

Rebecca was diagnosed with autism at 15, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder a year later. Her anxiety was so severe that she was told that she’d never be able to work. In 2013 she was identified by the University of California as having HSAM. (Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory) Due to her HSAM Rebecca can remember every day of her life from the time when she was a newborn infant. Recently the Queensland Brain Institute have also began studying Rebecca’s unique mind. Being involved in HSAM research has also given her the opportunity to appear in worldwide media stories.

Rebecca has always had a passion for writing and public speaking, and her goal since she was 15 has been to become an advocate. Rebecca has gathered experience by speaking at various seminars, and is now ready to make a career out of doing her talks. In her speeches Rebecca’s aim is to express how autism is not a disease, to encourage her audience to never lose hope in life or give up, and to send the message that autistic people are not alone.

Vital statistics

Profession: Writer and Speaker

Education: Boronia Heights State School from Grades 1-7, Calamvale Community College from Years 8-12

Experience/Achievements: Participant in the University of California research study of HSAM (Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory) since 2013. Appeared in several worldwide media stories including Good Morning Britain, Sunrise, 60 Minutes Australia, Woman’s Day, Take 5 Magazine, Logan Magazine and more. Participant in a case study for the Queensland Brain Institute.

Location: Hillcrest, Logan

Speaking topics: Autism & Mental Health, Autism & Research, The Rethink on Autism, My personal ‘I CAN’ Story

“In life people say that they desire a wide range of things; yet in truth all that we ever desire is happiness”

Lisa Anderson

Lisa is a mum of four, which includes I CAN Founder Chris Varney and Network Leader Marian Varney. Lisa talks about being consistent with boundaries and direction as a parent. She has given her career to nursing whether in hospitals, aged care facilities, schools or to teaching aged care in TAFEs. When Lisa realised Chris’ differences she made a pact she would always support him. When Chris was diagnosed with Asperger’s, Lisa used her closest friends, in-laws and parents to build an ‘I CAN Network’ around Chris which helped her family’s experience of Autism be as positive and enriching as possible. She outright rejected the deficit language in Chris’ diagnostic report. Lisa’s humanity with her journey as an Autism parent, including her good days and hard days, will make you laugh and make you cry.

Vital statistics

Profession: Registered Nurse, TAFE Teacher

Position at I CAN: Speaker, company member

Location: Melbourne

Speaking topics: Surviving Chris, The Rethink on Autism, Autism & Parenting, I CAN Network

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