I was diagnosed with Asperger’s about 10 years ago, in my mid-thirties. I had started work as a support worker not long before that. At the time I remember thinking that I was probably the only one (support worker with an Asperger’s diagnosis) in Australia. Now I find that thought somewhat self-indulgent, however at the time it felt that way.
As you probably know it’s really only in the last decade or two that you have been able to mention the term and not have some one look at you and go “I don’t have a clue what that even is”. I would go as far as saying that now, more people know something about it than know nothing about it, and most know the term at least.
Anyway, at the time it seemed a crazy thing to be working as a support worker with Asperger’s. My experience was that the disability sector back then was very ignorant and prejudiced toward me. The thing is I had a huge PR problem. No one wanted to listen! I was and still am acutely aware of the awesome connections between myself and the literally hundreds of ASD clients I have supported over a decade or more. But there was a big problem with getting other people to understand what I had difficulties with.
The support worker gig has been tough and at times hard to hold down a job, especially as I lost most jobs not through incompetence or lack of skill, but usually through bullying by management and overzealous advocacy that offended organisations I was trying to reason with.
As if by magic, discovering the I CAN Network has turned my advocacy on its head. Before I just told people about my own opinion, that older Aspies mentoring younger ones is the answer. Which for years never got a good response, unless I was talking to ASD mums, which is like preaching to the choir.
But now I can point to the I CAN Network and say “don’t just believe me? There is this growing social enterprise down south that is employing people like me to drive a rethink of autism.” Suddenly, I have more credibility at work; I can tell them what workplaces are going to be like in 5 or 10 years, and that they might as well get on board now.
I look forward to helping share the I CAN rethink up here in Queensland.
Thank you for your time.
By Simon Edwards