A life lesson in acceptance (Original article posted at The Standard)
I CAN South West is the regional branch of the broader I CAN Network; a not for profit organisation created and run by autistic people for autistic people. They provide mentoring and support for young people on the autism spectrum, catering also for a wide range of learning, social and emotional differences or difficulties.
The aim of the program and the network as a whole is to enable a world which embraces and accepts autism. They are achieving this thanks to mentoring programs and community efforts through fundraising, advocacy and consultancy. These efforts help to build a network around participating young people through the inclusion of school communities and positive family relationships.
The vision for I CAN South West came from Lisa and Anthony Boyle, who live in Mepunga and wanted to make the I CAN program accessible to young people across the region. Their idea inspired the I CAN team to create a regional mentoring strategy, choosing south west Victoria as I CAN’s first regional pilot.
The network believe there needs to be a re-think towards autism and a greater acceptance of neurological diversity. The backbone of the I CAN mentoring model is its strength-based approach, which celebrates the incredible gifts which an autistic mind presents.
At the same time, they understand the difficulties young people may have and collectively build resilience to such hardships. This is a grassroots educational movement, one which requires ongoing community support and engagement.
The program is delivered fortnightly through various modules which focus on personal strengths, teamwork, confidence, leadership and communication. A flexible learning structure ensures the sessions are adaptable to individual students and learning needs.
Currently, I CAN South West provides four mentoring programs which benefit more than 40 young people from 7-18 years old, representing 13 schools across the south west region. These efforts have only been attainable through ongoing support from local school networks, families and community involvement.
Looking to the future, the network hopes to expand and cover the entire south west region, and hopes to build positive and constructive relationships with all schools within that area, with the benefit of our young people always forefront in their minds. This can be achieved through an open dialogue with our local members, schools, TAFE/universities, businesses, media and community groups so that as a community, we can grow the program together.
With continued support, I CAN hopes to realise their vision and together create a south west which embraces and accepts autism.