Caitlin, 19.

I live at home with my parents, my 2 cats and my dogs. Despite having Dyslexia and finding school difficult because of my sensory issues to do with Autism, I am a mentor with the I CAN Network and I am studying part-time at Victoria University. Ever since I was a little girl my ‘thing’ has been music and dancing. Other kids had a security blanket or a teddy bear, I had music! I never liked to keep still.  My mum says that I had an unnatural level of energy, and never tired of anything.

Autism is just a word that describes people who are different and unique, all with individual needs and talents. Just like everyone else, I guess. My experience of Autism, common to others with Autism, is sensory issues and challenges with communication at times. My Autism has helped me to understand myself, and to connect with others on the Spectrum in special ways.

Autism is just a word that describes people who are different and unique, all with individual needs and talents. Just like everyone else, I guess.

School was a very difficult time for me, I didn’t find the I CAN Network until I was in year 12. I was always aware, or was reminded about the things I couldn’t do at school. Apart from my small family, I didn’t get much encouragement. I do remember one special teacher, Miss Pretto, who helped me a lot. She gave me so much support and encouragement when I needed it. With her help and the help of my mum, my written work improved, so much in fact, I wrote an essay that surprised everyone, including me. It was on my special interest at the time, of course!

I think schools and workplaces can create an inclusive space if they understand the unique abilities and needs of the individual. When everyone is more aware, more inclusive, people on the Spectrum and anyone with any disability will feel empowered to reach their full human potential and fully participate in the workforce and society.

When I was “forced” to go on an I CAN Camp back in 2014 by my mother, I still lacked an understanding of what Autism was, I was still in denial that I even had it. I just thought I would be hanging out with a bunch weird people for a weekend. After the camp I realised that I was okay, everyone on camp was okay, and really there was nothing wrong with me. For the first time in my life I actually felt “normal”.

I remember a time at school when my classmates found out I was on the Autism Spectrum. One on my friends said to me, “Oh I thought Autism was when you can’t talk?” I was confused because, it was clear by everything he said, that he had this idea that Autism was like a debilitating disease. He made me remember that’s how I had thought, when I was was first diagnosed. At the time he said this, I had already been on the I CAN Camp, so I wasn’t embarrassed. I don’t hide my Autism, if there is an opportunity to help people understand, I can explain a little, it’s just a part of me, but it’s also not just who I am.

It’s important that people talk about Autism in a positive way because you can’t change or fix it, so society has to just accept it. So many positive things can arise from educating and embracing people who have Autism. Some of the greatest thinkers in the world have had Autism, that says something.

There remains a void in the understanding of Autism in schools and society. The I CAN Network has the potential to reach many people young and old, helping them come together and improve the wellbeing and confidence of absolutely everyone.

Join us

Over the last two years, Caitlin has transitioned from mentee to mentor, ensuring that schools are an inclusive place for people on the Autism Spectrum. We need your support to continue empowering young people on the Autism Spectrum with paid employment.

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