Good morrow, fellow hominids!
In this edition of Grapevine, we’ll be meeting yet another remarkable young person on the spectrum; Mr Josh Evans, who at 16 years old is already an award-winning expert on Alpacas. It’s not every day you meet one of those, so we recently sat down with Josh to discuss this interest, his experience of autism, and how he got where he is today.
Take it away, Josh!
Max Williams, Editor
My name is Josh. I love animals and farming.
I work with alpacas in a breeding program and I also train alpacas for competitions. I have competed with my alpacas at regional shows throughout Victoria and this year I will also be competing at Nationals.
There are 2 parts of these competitions. One part is called Showmanship and this is where we need to work with our animal and be familiar with the science side of things. In this part of the competition I need to have knowledge about the animal’s confirmation, possible health issues, breed and fleece. I also need to know where the alpacas originated, why we breed them here and what you would look for in an alpaca if you were going to start a breeding program.
The second part of the competitions is taking my alpacas through various stations set up in a course. All these stations are things you might find on a farm, for example a gate, an uneven surface, stairs, a float and through bushes and trees. I need to have a bond with my animal to do that. If an animal does not trust its handler, it will refuse to do the things that you ask it to do. You should never force an alpaca to do anything, you need to work with it and build trust together. I never tell my alpacas to do anything, instead I will always ask them and we will do it together as a team.
Last year I won every competition throughout the whole of Victoria and became Supreme Champion at the Royal Melbourne Agricultural Show.
This interest started for me when I studied Animal Husbandry and Animal Awareness in Year 9 at school. I had always loved animals and so mum enrolled me at a school that offered a farming program. I had never been good at anything at school before, but suddenly I found myself being able to relate to the animals and understand them far better than I ever did people. I really enjoyed learning about them, and then applying the theory in a hands-on way when I worked on the farm.
After Year 9 I wanted to pursue a career in the animal / farming field but the school did not offer this after Year 9. So instead I entered adult education and studied both VCAL and Animal Studies. As I was not at school 5 days a week I was able to spend a day a week volunteering on the farm back at my old school. Throughout this time I was able to work in their breeding program, train the animals for competitions and also mentor the younger students who were completing the animal husbandry course. I also volunteered on the farm on weekends and school holidays.
After doing that for a year, I also started working in a volunteer capacity on another farm. Here I was able to do general farm maintenance and also work with the animals. During the school term this year I have also been working in their Farm School Program. This program has allowed me to work with young children who come to learn about farms and the animals that we have. I have also worked with their parents teaching them about what we do with the children and why we teach them particular things.
Having completed so much volunteer work, I was recently approached by Chesterfield Farm, who offered me my dream job.
Whilst I struggle with social communication, I find I have a natural strength working with and understanding animals. This has allowed me to quickly pick up problems that the animals may have, that others have missed, which is very important with Alpacas, as when they are sick, they tend to not show obvious symptoms until it is often too late to do anything.
My autism also allows me to be very focussed, which means that when I commit to something I can offer complete reliability and dedication. When I am working my autism does not allow me to take shortcuts, so I will always do anything that is asked of me properly.
I also enjoy mentoring as I feel this is a strength that I have. My autism helps me to be very precise when I am sharing the knowledge that I have with others. I struggle relating to my peers, however I am very good at sharing my knowledge with those who are younger than me and also with adults who may wish to learn more about Alpacas and may want to buy their own animals.
When it comes to things like vaccinations, my autism helps a great deal as you have to be very precise with dosages otherwise the animals can become sick.
My autism has also allowed me to be very empathetic, which is the opposite of what you often hear or read in books. This has helped me to come as far as I have.
When I was at school I found that I never really fitted in, so life was quite isolating for me. I was bullied a great deal by my peers and the vast majority of my teachers were constantly reminding me of all the things that I couldn’t do, rather than focussing on my strengths.
Rather than letting all of this get to me, I chose to simply be myself and if people didn’t like me for me then they obviously were not meant to be in my life.
My mum has always been my rock and strength. She has always encouraged me and supported with everything I have ever wanted to do. When I was only 2 years old, the doctors told mum to give up on me, to have no expectations of me and told that I would never amount to anything.
Instead of doing that she has always lovingly pushed me to be the best person I can be. She has been the most amazing advocate I could ever ask for and has never given up on me, even when things were difficult.
I have also been determined to work hard and follow the goals I have set for myself. I found my place in the world when I left traditional secondary schooling. Adult education has been so much better for me as my teachers believed in me from day one and although all the other students are much older than me, we have all experienced hardships of one kind or another, and as such we all help each other.
Josh Evans, 16