MEDIA RELEASE: April 2, World Autism Awareness Day


Young Victorians with Autism are the big winners this World Autism Awareness Day with the Department of Education and Training (DET) providing seed funding to the I CAN Network. The I CAN Network is Australia’s first social enterprise founded by people with Autism, and the DET’s seed funding will power the delivery of I CAN’s mentoring program in three mainstream government high schools.

The DET’s support will directly help young people on the Autism Spectrum, like Anthony Hay, who has experienced first-hand the magic of the I CAN Network’s unique approach.

Anthony, aged 19 and from Ballarat, was told “he couldn’t do things” by many people who assumed his diagnosis was a deficit.
Through sheer determination, Anthony took all the opportunities that came his way, including participating in a camp run by the I CAN Network in October 2014.

The mentoring organisation run a unique program that pairs mentors on the Spectrum with mentees on the Spectrum. The group saw potential in Anthony to be a mentor to other young people.

During his Year 12 Anthony returned to an I CAN camp as a mentor and demonstrated his abilities in this area. He is now employed by I CAN to deliver mentoring programs at Ballarat High School.

Thanks to DET support, the I CAN Network will start mentoring at three government schools – Brauer College in Warrnambool, Ballarat High School and Coburg High School. This brings the total number of schools I CAN is working with to 18, meaning its mentoring is reaching more students like Anthony, helping change the way they approach their lives and prove what people with Autism can do.

Chief Enabling Officer of the I CAN Network Chris Varney said: “The difference with this program is it is seeking to create school cultures that benefit from embracing Autism.

“We see success when the students report feeling happier that they’re on the spectrum. Their pride in their strengths has benefits for everyone in a school.”

Minister for Education James Merlino said: “We are proud to be supporting the I Can Network’s mentoring program so that more students like Anthony can succeed – at learning and at life.”

“The Andrews Labor Government is delivering the Education State because our fundamental belief is that with the right teaching and support every student can learn and succeed. We are also delivering our nine-point Special Needs Plan for Victorian Schools to promote inclusive practices in schools so that all students are supported, including those with disabilities and special needs.”

The school mentoring programs that the funding will support are a signature part of the I CAN Network’s suite of programs and are designed to assist students, their teachers and parents to see the strengths of the Autism Spectrum. Guided by mentors who are on the Spectrum themselves, students with Autism are empowered with an ‘I CAN’ attitude – a positive attitude to life and increased self-confidence. The program has seen strong results in primary, secondary and tertiary institutions, with parents, teachers and students alike praising the program and the way it makes a real difference in the lives of those it touches.

The agreement, announced this week, is the result of several months of consultation and recognises the vital work that I CAN conducts in Victorian schools. This grassroots organisation is barely two years old, but already it is creating community-level change with its innovative programs driven by people with Autism, for people with Autism.

It is hoped that the Government’s endorsement of the program will encourage other schools to commit funding to I CAN mentors for the benefit of their whole community.

Mentoring in the three new schools will commence in May.




I CAN Network Mentor Anthony Hay is available for interview about his experience as both a mentor and mentee under this unique program. To arrange an interview with Anthony please contact Danielle Kutchel, Marketing Manager, on 0400 147 472.

I CAN Network CEO Chris Varney is available for interview and comment about the I CAN Network’s unique and acclaimed methods. To arrange an interview or to request further information from our Network and associated partners, please contact Danielle Kutchel, Marketing Manager, on 0400 147 472.

ABOUT THE I CAN NETWORK: The I CAN Network is driving a rethink of Autism, from ‘I Can’t’ to ‘I CAN’. We mentor young people on the Autism Spectrum to live life with an ‘I CAN’ attitude. We bring out the ‘awe’ in AWEtism through education, advocacy and providing opportunities. We build networks across schools, universities, TAFEs, communities, businesses and governments.

Together, we are Australia’s first social enterprise founded by people with Autism. You can read more us in our Game Change Report.


Follow our movement.