Speakers Agency and Professional Development Workshops

SPEAKERS AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT AGENCY

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.

Experience/Achievements
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)

Experience/Achievements
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)

Gabrielle Breheny

Gabby is a psychology student at Monash University, Rotary Youth Leadership Award recipient, dog enthusiast, and while she’s not on the spectrum herself, her younger brother is. Seeing him bullied and unappreciated in school motivated her to get involved in autism advocacy with the I CAN Network.

As well as being a speaker, she’s our People Director and Chair of the Strategic Enablers (I CAN’s Board). She’s also worked as a mentor and co-convenor on multiple camps we’ve run, and helped manage our media channels. In each of these endeavours, her dedication and enthusiasm has been a great asset to our cause.

Student, currently undertaking a Bachelor of Psychology (Monash University)

Experience/Achievements
Rotary Youth Leadership Award (2013)
Vice Chancellor’s Access Monash Scholarship (2013)
Doxa Youth Foundation Cadetship (2013-present)
Sir John Monash Scholarship Program: Monash Scholarship for Equity and Excellence (2013-present)

Intern at ATO for 3 years in Human Resources.

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

Experience/Achievements:
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.”

Nick Fava

Nick is Enablers Director of the I CAN Network and a director on our Strategic Enablers board. His brief is to provide an empowering society for people on the Spectrum, and in this he excels.

His passion for youth mental health, research, campaigning and fundraising make him instrumental in building our movement. He has worked with a number of other organisations, both in youth mental health and Autism.

Nick is currently undertaking a Master of Public Health (University of Melbourne).

Experience/Achievements
Youth Research Council at Orygen, The National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health
Youth Participation Officer at the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre.

Paul Micallef

"With the right support network, nothing is impossible!"

Paul completed a double degree in Mechanical Engineering and Aerospace Technology from Monash University in 2007. He subsequently worked 5 years as a structural stress analyst for Boeing in Port Melbourne and Seattle, before leaving engineering behind to pursue a career which makes use of his natural talent for communication and emotional intelligence.

Since discovering he has Asperger’s in March of 2015, he has turned his focus to Autism advocacy. He is currently working as a Business Analyst for the I CAN Network, and also studying a Masters of Theology.

Achievements

Won a silver medal for Taekwondo at the 2005 Australian University Games, and earned my black belt in 2007.

Double degree B.E.(Mech)/B.T.(Aerospace) from Monash University in 2007 (graduate with a high distinction average – 90%)

Monash University Malaysia Scholarship Award (2004) – to study in Kuala Lumpur for 6 months

ExxonMobil Achievement Award (2004)

Golden Key International Honour Society (2004)

Esso and Mobil Honours List (2003)

Completed a Facilitation Training Course with the Groupwork Institute of Australia (2015).

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.

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

Experience/Achievements
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)

Experience/Achievements
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)

Will Rosewarne

With his background in Law and the Australian Defence Forces, Will brings a fresh perspective to his role as a speaker.

His knowledge has been invaluable in the I CAN Network’s transition from a volunteer group to a company, and he is living proof that people on the Spectrum can lead a successful career. Will has found his Autism to be a powerful asset rather than a limitation, an outlook that he is keen to share.

Will works in Corporate Governance/Legal Services, and has completed a Bachelor of Commerce (Deakin University), Juris Doctor (University of New South Wales) and Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice (College of Law).

Experience/Achievements
Grand Finalist/National Representative in mooting, (University of New South Wales)
Thesis in comparative securities fraud class action litigation
Former soldier in the Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery

“The prevailing societal attitude towards autism is overwhelmingly negative. I believe that changing this perspective is the first step towards helping others on the Spectrum reach their full potential.”

Carla Burn

"Confidence can open you up to many abilities, you just have to believe in yourself."

Carla’s characteristic sense of humour and raw honesty make her both insightful and entertaining, not only in her speaking engagements, but also in her blog, Endeavour to Live.

A generous humanitarian, Carla is passionate about helping others. In addition to her work as an autism advocate, she’s also involved in aged care and social work.

Her distinct style adds a unique flavour to the I CAN Network smorgasbord.

Vital statistics

Profession: Student

Education: Studying certificate 3 in aged care, bachelor of human services, and masters of social work

Experience/Achievements: Ambassador at Melbourne Autism Expo

Position at I CAN: Mentor

Location: Melbourne

Speaking topics: Autism and families, The Rethink on Autism, My personal I CAN story.

“The I CAN Network is important because it allows people on the Spectrum to embrace their capabilities. We can contribute great things to this world, and we deserve to be opened up to these great opportunities.” – Carla

Elise Muller

A true rising star, Elise has amassed a plethora of impressive achievements at a young age, including the Aspect Inspiration Award for Individual Achievement and the Victorian Indigenous Young Achiever Award 2016.

Elise found I CAN Network through our first camp for teens on the spectrum. We knew immediately to expect great things from her, and we were thrilled when she decided she wanted to be part of our team.

Once told that she would never make friends or gain a qualification, her persistence and will to succeed exemplify the “I CAN” mindset that is our mantra.

Vital statistics

Profession: Student

Education: Certificate 3 in education support, studying Certificate 4 in fitness

Experience/Achievements: Aspect Inspiration Award for Individual Achievement, Victorian Indigenous Young Achiever Award 2016, played in Premier League soccer and State level AFL

Position at I CAN: Mentor

Location: Melton

Speaking topics: I CAN Schools, Autism and families, The Rethink on Autism, My personal I CAN story

“Give people a chance, don’t judge, don’t assume, don’t limit, don’t hold them back. Let them know that they can do anything. .” – Elise

Daniel Giles

Daniel has worked extensively in autism advocacy for several years now. At five years of age, he was classified as having an intellectual disability, yet he was able to defy this label by graduating from University, living independently, and gaining employment.

A tireless campaigner, Daniel devotes an immense amount of his time and energy to helping others in need.

Vital statistics

Profession: Graphic Designer and Photographer

Education: Bachelor degree in Graphic Design, with honours (La Trobe University)

Experience/Achievements: Young Citizen of the Year for City of Greater Bendigo (2008)

Position at I CAN: Ambassador

Location: Bendigo

Speaking topics: Autism and families, The rise of I CAN Network, The Rethink on Autism, My personal I CAN story

“And we need to celebrate the talents of all on the Autism Spectrum, including people who appear to be non-verbal or may have an intellectual disability. I was classified as having an intellectual disability at 5 years of age, required special education initially, but am now living independently, working part-time and have achieved a university degree.”

Jeff Segal

As a Primary School teacher and the father of a child on the spectrum, Jeff brings an abundance of wisdom to his role as mentor manager at I CAN Network.His gentle guidance, sense of humour, and boundless positivity are infectious, and empower both his students and his colleagues to push themselves and achieve.A word of warning; don’t engage in a pun contest with him. You will almost certainly be defeated.

Vital statistics

Profession: Primary School Teacher

Education: Master of Teaching, (Monash) Bachelor of Applied Science: Human Biology and Chinese Medicine (RMIT)

Experience/Achievements: Parent of a child on the spectrum, experienced teacher, mentor at I CAN Camps and schools, speaks six languages, pun master.

Position at I CAN: Mentor Manager

Location: Melbourne

Speaking topics: Autism and Education, Parenting and Autism, Professional Development

“I am proud and honoured to be part of the I CAN Network. Encouraging and being part of an AWEtism rethink is my personal and professional passion.”

Austin Wyatt

Even before his own diagnosis in his late teens, Austin was already involved in autism support via his younger brother, who is also on the spectrum.
As a member of I CAN Network, he oversees our school, university, and business networks, and has created partnerships with Victoria University and Swinburne University of Technology. His determination and knowhow have already earned him a formidable list of achievements, and we’re proud to have him as part of our team.

Vital statistics

Profession: PhD Student – Australian Catholic University

Education: BA (Security and Counter Terrorism) (Hons) – Swinburne University of Technology

Experience/Achievements: 2.5 years as Funding and Grants Officer at a large NFP Disability Employment Service Provider in NSW, held a senior leadership role in the Australian Army Cadets for three years, two scholarly articles awaiting publication, National Finalist – Bond University High School Mooting Competition, (2011) NSW State Champion Team – Bond University High School Mooting Competition, (2011) Academic Achievement Award – Policing Systems and Practice (2015)

Position at I CAN: Networks Director

Location: Melbourne

Speaking topics: I CAN schools, I CAN TAFEs/universities, Quiet Magic Taster, Autism and families, Harnessing Autism for your business, The rise of I CAN Network, The Rethink on Autism, My personal I CAN story.

“I CAN Network is driving a vital change in how Autism is approached. The world will benefit immensely but more importantly young people like my brother will be encouraged to pursue their ability, not held back by a deficit model.”

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.”

Jeanette Purkis

Jeanette is an author, public speaker and autism advocate, and like most of our speakers, she’s on the spectrum herself. She has worked full-time in the Australian Public Service since 2007, she is the author of three books on autism, she hosts an internet radio show, and has spoken at many conferences and events, including at TEDx Canberra 2013. Jeanette also facilitates a support group for women on the spectrum in Canberra.

Vital statistics

Profession: Author, Consultant, APS Officer in the Australian Government Department of Education and Training

Education: Certificate IV in Assessment and Workplace Training 2005, Master’s Degree in Fine Art 2006, Department of Employment and Workplace Relations Graduate Program 2007, Cognitive Edge Complexity Theory and Facilitation course 2012

Achievements: ACT Volunteer of the Year 2016, had three books on autism published

Position at I CAN: Speaker

Location: Canberra

Speaking topics: Resilience, Autism and Mental Health, Employment, Education, school to work transitions, my I CAN Story, Autism and Gender

“You are the CEO of your own life. It’s you making the decisions.”

Shannan Eksteen

Mother to a young son on the spectrum, Shannan’s I CAN journey began in 2013, when she attended a conference where our Chief Enabling Officer, Chris Varney, was a keynote speaker.

After years of being told about her son’s “deficits” and “limitations”, she was inspired by the positive, strengths-based approach on which I CAN Network is built, and has since joined our team, bringing with her an extensive and valuable background in administration and professional development.

Her firsthand experience with the spectrum is backed up by years of tertiary study on the subject, combining a parent’s insight with an academic’s knowledge.

We’re proud to have her on board, and to be a part of her and her amazing son’s journey.

Vital statistics

Profession: Postgraduate Student and parent

Education: Bachelor of Arts (ANU) Majors Sociology and English Literature, Minors in Psychology and Linguistics, Masters in Autism Studies (Griffith University)

Experience/Achievements: Parent of a child on the spectrum, experienced in administration and professional development

Position at I CAN: Training coordinator

Location: Essendon, Melbourne

Speaking topics: Autism and parenting, professional development

“All behaviour is a form of communication. Decoding conversations with children with autism allows us to build more positive, fulfilling relationships and to set up more opportunities for success, agency and self-confidence.”

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

Stephen Bakogianis

From a young age, Stephen has leveraged the strengths of his autism. As a child he was fascinated by systems of transport, and used to read street directories. As an adult, he has pursued and harnessed this passion and is now studying to be a civil engineer.

Some observers expressed doubts as to whether he would be able to succeed at school or University, yet through persistence and guts, he was able to prove the naysayers wrong. Stephen is a prime example of the power of an “I CAN” attitude.

Vital statistics

Profession: Retail Worker and student

Education: Completed Year 12, currently studying Civil Engineering

Position at I CAN: Speaker

Location: Kyneton

Speaking topics: Harnessing Autism for your business, The Rethink on Autism, My personal I Can story

” of the literature about me said that I would have to attend special classes. I was able to outsmart the odds by picking a pathway and being focused on it. I beat the odds to get into university, where others thought I would not be able to make the step up. When you focus on what you are passionate about, you can do amazing things with the abilities you have.”

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”

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