I Can Network program aims to inspire Victorian students on the autism spectrum (Original article posted at ABC)
By Cheryl Hall
A new pilot program to help inspire students on the autism spectrum and change negative stereotypes will be trialled in Victorian schools.
The I Can Network, which sends mentors into schools, was officially launched in Melbourne this week.
Marymede Catholic School in the city’s northpiloted the program, which is set to expand to 10 schools across the state in 2016.
Senior school head Julia Wake said the program had already made a big impact in a short amount of time.
“We need to know each child better. A child with Asperger’s or on the spectrum is more vulnerable and needs more care and understanding so they are included,” she said.
Student Elise Muller, who has been mentored by the program and attended an I Can camp, said in the past she refused to tell people she was autistic.
“I previously had a code word and I called it ‘tree’, that was for my mum to use if I needed to talk to the school,” Elise said.
“If something came up, [with me] stuffing up or smiling at inappropriate times, I learnt that was because of autism. All the things with it were negative.
“It wasn’t until I went to this I Can camp when I was surrounded by all these positive people. It was a very social bunch. Everyone wanted to talk and speak about their journey.”
She said she is now a much happier person.
“If someone says I have autism I’d jump in and say ‘Yeah I have it too’,” she said.
I Can Network founder Chris Varney said he always knew he was different.
His socks were pulled up, his shirt was tucked in, his top button done up and his hair was plastered over his head.
“One thing that mum use to say when I was more at terms with being on the spectrum and proud of it was that men are from Mars, women are from Venus and autistic people are from Pluto,” he said.
His mother, Lisa Anderson, said she knew when he was born that he would face extra challenges.
“I set out to deliberately create a network around him and what I learnt in a very short amount of time is the community can judge you and they can also send up these beautiful offerings your way,” she said.