Tim, 21.

I have severe Autism, and face the associated challenges of hypersensitivity, constant overload, difficulties with control of my body, i.e. voluntary movements, dyspraxia, issues with speech (or lack of as I am nonverbal), and developing independence in daily living. Intensive work, and faith and support from my social network, especially my mum, have enabled me to learn, to communicate by typing, to engage in social activities, and to participate in different ways. I am a high school graduate, and doing a transition course on gardening. I love to read inspiring books and about inspirational people. I am writing a collection of short stories on those who have inspired me. I dabble in poetry writing which I use as an outlet for my inner world, emotions and thoughts, which seldom get an airing, given that I do not have speech.

I have learned to persevere, to find my inner resources, the strength of will and heart, to overcome the many hurdles.

Living with severe Autism means being in the lions’ den, facing constant challenges both internally with my recalcitrant body, and externally with people who don’t understand or accept those who are different.  When I get overloaded, I do a lot of things, all considered weird, to manage my anxiety, like obsess with soil and water or I take a branch and whack trees and things. Afterwards, I type to say that I am sorry, and help people understand that this is how I try to keep calm. When I get the chance, I also talk to people to get to know them better, and for them to know me as well. I think if we take the initiative to reach out and bridge this gap of understanding, it will help  the general public to know more about Autism and to accept that we, those on the Spectrum, are very similar to other people, just trying to go through life as best we can with our particular challenges.

I have learned to persevere, to find my inner resources, the strength of will and heart, to overcome the many hurdles associated with severe Autism. Despite being non-verbal, I have learned to communicate by typing with support, to attend and successfully graduate from mainstream high school, and to participate in the social life of family and friends. Life can often be difficult in mainstream settings and I often feel out of place and alone at times, because Autism is not well understood, but I have tried to use these setbacks as opportunities to push my boundaries with the aim of developing self-acceptance and confidence with what I am capable of. I guess what I like about myself is that I have faith I will be able to achieve my goals in life despite being dealt an abysmal deck of cards.

I am nonverbal, but I learned to type with support at age 9. I would say to my 10-year old self, or someone just like me, be happy with the way you are, and don’t make excuses for not doing the things you want to do. For me, it is never ever giving up on finding a means to communicate, and always be open to opportunities to talk to people and get to know those around you. Never give up on yourself, it is the difference between living a life being limited by your own limiting beliefs or living a life that gives you back the control you’ve always wanted to achieve. Accepting who you are and persevering means that you will be able to accomplish your goals and your dreams of doing something worthwhile, not just wasting your gifts and innate resources on wishing that things could be different.

Since meeting Chris in 2013 and joining the I CAN Network, I have found ways to contribute by telling people of my experiences, especially how meeting my challenges helped me to become stronger and more resourceful. With the I CAN Network, I have met people and made friends with people who experience similar challenges, and are driven by the common goal to turn Autism into a journey with many rewards and gifts. I have been inspired to work on my goals of becoming an advocate for those with a disability. It is very touching and inspiring to see the I CAN Network team reach out to help those with Autism who are still struggling to find themselves and accept their gifts. My life has been changed for the better because of the I CAN Network, by being able to collectively face our challenges and develop self acceptance and confidence in our individual strengths, so that we may achieve our goals.

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Tim has found his “inner resources” and “strength of will and heart”, which is what we try and instil during our mentoring programs. We need your support to mentor more people on the Autism Spectrum. When it comes to creating inclusive schools, workplaces and communities, our program works.

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