Although Liam told he was not comfortable with public speaking, toward the end of last year he went on to present a paper at a major international conference in Sydney. This article tells of Liam’s experiences speaking at the conference along with his day-to-day life working at the RAC in Joondalup. He shows how the help he has received throughout his employment has enabled him to be successful at work—success which flows over to other aspects of his life, his increasing independence and ultimately the confidence to speak in front of a large audience. Liam recalls a lot of talk at the conference about the need to focus on people’s strengths rather than weaknesses—a message frequently conveyed throughout the Association’s books and articles.
On my birthday, there was some good news and bad news. The good news was that I was going to the Asia Pacific Autism Conference (APAC) in Sydney (I love Sydney). The bad news was that I had to present a paper to an international (and domestic) audience which was scary. My paper was called ‘In Search of the Ordinary’ because I have had to work really hard at achieving ordinary goals such as getting a job and buying a house. I should explain that I have mild Cerebral Palsy and mild Autism.
My presentation was on a Saturday and RAC allowed me paid leave so I could attend the entire conference, which was between Thursday to Saturday. That gave me the opportunity to meet other autistic people and their families. It was a very big conference. There were about 1600 delegates and 300 papers being presented. Most of them were at the same time as others. Mum and Dad showed me how to read the programme and decide what to listen to as well as finding out which room to go to. The venue was a huge convention centre with three levels, located in Darling Harbour.
The conference started well. The keynote speaker said employers should give autistic people high expectations with high support so they can use their strengths, skills and interests. He said, “Everyone with autism has something to contribute”. I agree and that was really what my paper was about.
In recent conversation with Liam, he acknowledges the help he has received from the Association’s AIM Employment Services, since beginning work at the RAC in 2012. It was recalled how the support from AIM was ‘high’, in those early days. As confidence grew and Liam was given more and varied tasks the workplace support from AIM has gradually been reduced. Currently, he receives a fortnightly visit from Rebecca, his AIM Employment consultant for the past year. Liam works primarily on computer inputting—this is important data for the RAC. He also helps with laminating and printing; and over the past year he has assisted in the Reception area where he is allocated lots of different tasks. Rebecca tells how Liam lets her know that he is busy when she is there; however, he appears to appreciate her visits. Rebecca maintains contact with Liam’s supervisors, as have other AIM consultants who have supported him in the past.
Back to Liam recalling the conference:
My story was about how hard I worked from preschool to now, to get to the point where I can be independent. Sometimes, at school and TAFE, there wasn’t enough support or understanding of my disabilities and strengths. That changed when I started working at RAC. They researched autism and asked me what help I needed. They kept giving me more responsibility, but also found ways to work with my disabilities. They made adjustments for me, but they didn’t make a big deal of it, or focus on my disabilities. I am a huge Dockers supporter and RAC has always treated me like, “That’s Liam and he’s a huge Dockers fan,” not, “That’s Liam and he’s disabled.” My bosses at RAC warn me when there is going to be a change so I can prepare myself. They give me jobs on the computer because I am quick with technology and give me written instructions. These strategies can really help. I finished my paper by talking about how my job at RAC has given me the chance to live independently. My sister and I have decided to build a house.
It was scary presenting the paper because I’m not comfortable with public speaking. Dad said I did it with one breath, which I don’t believe. After giving the paper, some parents congratulated me. They said, “You’ve given us hope, you made us cry and you’re inspirational,” so I believe it went really well.
Overall the conference was exciting, stimulating and motivating. There were a lot of research papers, which were very difficult to understand, but there were some papers from autistic people talking about their own experiences. I was impressed by autistic people who were able to advocate for themselves and others, achieve university degrees, travel and live independently. There was a lot of talk about focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses.
I look forward to attending future APAC conferences so I can meet with autistic people and their families.
Acclaim must go to Liam for his conference presentation also for his success at work which has led to him being granted permanent status, from the end of 2016—a status that many aspire to during their working life. We also wish him joy with the house building project—plans are underway. Liam’s search for ‘the ordinary’ is certainly reaping reward
N.B. We have learned that Liam is not a ‘one-eyed’ Docker’s supporter and we like his sentiment—he supports WA. He is quite happy for the Eagles to win as long as they not playing against the Dockers.
If you would like to know more about the Autism Association’s support in finding the right work for people with Autism and the help that’s provided to enable them to retain their employment, visit our Employment page by clicking on the button below.