Expanded program equips future leaders in autistic pride

Posted 5 years ago by Nicole Pope
The Future Leaders 2018. Matthew (back row, middle), Melanie (back row, second from left), Dylan (middle row, first on the left) and Liam (middle row, last on the right) Source: Autism CRC
The Future Leaders 2018. Matthew (back row, middle), Melanie (back row, second from left), Dylan (middle row, first on the left) and Liam (middle row, last on the right) Source: Autism CRC

A new expanded program developed by The Co-operative Research Centre for Living with Autism (Autism CRC) has come a long way in help adults on the autism spectrum develop leadership, advocacy skills and autistic pride, since its first instalment in 2013.

The Future Leaders Program, by Autism CRC, is a three-day holistic leadership capacity building program developed by adults with autism and the first of its kind in Australia.

Autism CRC’s Chief Executive Officer Andrew Davis is looking forward to seeing how the program will continue to empower autistic pride among its participants.

“Autism CRC’s vision is to see autistic people empowered to discover and use their diverse strengths and interests,” he says.

“Our Future Leaders Program is designed to assist participants to become leaders in their communities and it’s an absolute honour to be part of their journeys.”

39-year old Melanie Heyworth from Sydney says there must be a societal shift in attitude towards people with autism.

“Autistic pride gives us the opportunity to speak freely of the joys and beauty and the strength and the gifts of autism. It gives us a moment to indulge who we are in its intense and passionate delight.”

“So often we judge people on their contributions to society. Often autistics are criticized and ostracised because our contributions to society are difficult to measure, or at least are not conventional. Autistic pride reminds us to be proud of autism because it is who we are, both beautiful and valuable as we are,” she says.

“This message of pride is exactly the one I want to amplify through participating in the Future Leaders Program.”  

Melanie’s passion lies in helping parents of children with autism accept, respect and embrace their child’s disability.

25-year old Dylan Totos from Adelaide is looking forward to meeting new friends through the program.

“I am hoping to meet people who think like myself or outside the box and find a place to belong. Improving my ability to advocate for not only others but myself as well is hugely important and something I am hoping to improve upon in the Future Leaders Program,” Dylan says.

28-year old Liam Dow-Hall from Fremantle says he is hoping to change society’s views of autism, especially employers, through his participation in the program.

“I’ve applied for hundreds of jobs, all of which I was well qualified for and I was interviewed several times. I believe that I didn’t get the jobs because the employers didn’t understand autism,” he says.

“I’d like employers to be more aware of autism, understand what it is and what it isn’t.”

He says there are advantages of hiring employees with autism.

“We’re loyal, punctual and we notice detail that other people miss.”

27-year old Mathew Townsend says his biggest hope is to be employable and meet new people.

“Building confidence and motivation is all part of the program, as well as pursuing passions and talent through leadership.”

Autism CRC’s Future Leaders Program has also been praised by fellow autism support and advocacy groups.

“Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) has been proudly supporting the Future Leaders Program since its inception in 2013 and we are delighted to see it continuing to evolve,” an Aspect spokesperson says.

“We believe that this is great example of a program that recognises people on the autism spectrum and the valuable contributions they make to our society.”  

“We applaud the involvement of people on the spectrum in the development of this program and we hope the Future Leaders Program can continue to expand and progress.”

The Future Leaders Program involves online training modules, a 3-day residential workshop, a volunteer placement with a community or corporate organisation, mentoring by leaders with autism and a graduation event.

The much-smaller program was first held in 2013 and specifically focused on helping a group of adults on the spectrum to better engage with and participate in the 2013 Asia Pacific Autism Conference in Adelaide.

The 2018 program is being held from April to November 2018 across Australia.  

For more information on disability support and services, please visit DisabilitySupportGuide.com.au