Autistic Consultant & Independent Researcher, Wenn, leading by example to empower autistic individuals and promote quality co-produced research

Key Achievements

When I think of words such as 'key achievements' my first thought is 'becoming a grown-up', that was quite an achievement. At age 2 in 1954, I was thought to be intellectually disabled and was delayed in many areas of my life. Growing up and surviving childhood was a major achievement. The years between 15 (when I left home to attend a college far away in another town & was billeted out for 2 years) and 17, were key for me but were also quite troubled. At 17 I first attempted suicide and this began a very long history with Mental health institutions. In 1972 I married age 20 and went on to have 4 amazing children. Believe me birthing a child is a major achievement!

1990-91: Going back to school and qualifying for university

Throughout my growing years I wasn't expected to do much, but I eventually gained a Highschool education (by age 38) (after major health scares and years of hospitalisation for physical and mental health conditions) and reached a high enough VCE (Victorian Certificate of Education) score to qualify to attend the Australian Catholic University.

1991-93: University study and autism diagnosis

During my first undergraduate degree course (Psychology & Pastoral Care) I worked as the volunteer editor for the University Newspaper. Who'd have thought it possible for an autistic late bloomer!

My mental health labels (schizophrenic, depressive, socially phobic) were who I was known as, but these didn't define me. Gaining further insights down the track (age 42) eventually allowed assessments which saw me, in 1993 achieving a diagnosis of autism, attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity (ADHD) dyslexia and dyspraxia. Although no label can fully describe who we are as humans, these fitted my take on life and enabled me to explore richer ways to interact and make better sense of myself and of life in general.

1998: Becoming a published author

I'd always loved words and writing, even though this was difficult for me due to being dyslexic. I used to write on table napkins, make letters in the air with my fingers, write on walls and anything else that was handy. My first book 'Life behind glass' was published in 1998, but this was after submitting the manuscript to over 50 publishing companies, who all turned it down. However, the university press closed-down shortly afterwards. I was so excited when a London publisher 'Jessica Kingsley' took the book over and published it under her name in the year 2000. I remember walking down a busy London street in the rain and, as I passed a young 'street lady' seated upon her cardboard cushion against the elements, I tipped the loose change from my pocket into her outstretched cupped hands. I had more than 10 pounds in sterling coins, which was a lot of money for me at that time, but, I felt so enriched by life at that moment, I wanted to share my good fortune with her.

Jessica had told me that even though this was my first book, I would be writing many others! Her words were true, since that time in 2000 till now in 2017, I have either written or partly contributed to more than 20 books.

2009: Awarded PhD

Getting through my PhD was one of the hardest things I'd ever done, but it was an achievement I could only have dreamed at many years earlier. It took me 10 years to format, from the beginning of the thought process and start of the journey till getting through the 4 years of part-time study with Deakin University in my home town of Warrnambool. Almost every day I wanted to give up! With the support of family and friends I hung on in there and finally, on the 15th. of August, 2009 I heard officially that I had passed.

Wow, what an amazing thing to hear... just over 50 years earlier they said I was intellectually disabled.... I couldn't speak or communicate well. As I have said so many times, not being able to speak is not the same as not having anything to say!

In 2011 my PhD was made into an accessible book: The Passionate Mind: How individuals with Autism Learn. The book's aim is to increase understanding and lower frustration for us all, whether on the AS or NT spectrum.

2016: Becoming a participant of the Autism CRC

Joining with the Autism Co-operative Research Centre was an amazing moment for me. I view this organisation with the utmost respect and could hardly believe that my participation would be seen as valuable. I'm still amazed (I know, I use that word a lot) that others see me in this light. It takes only a few short years in a child's life to establish a poor sense of self with a low self-expectation but, it takes a lifetime to undo such deeply seated learnt values.

I'm now married to my off sider and better half since 2007, when we joined together in a Civil Union, then in marriage in 2015. Our relationship, of more than 30 years, is an ongoing achievement that daily amazes me. Relationships are tricky things that take constant attention and renewal. Beatrice has (and continues to) travelled with me through moving countries, the divorce of my first partner, the growing of my four children, the death of my middle son, coming out as a 'same-sex' couple, then the physical growing into my true gender as a man and building our ongoing lives together in a country town beside the sea in south Western Victoria, Australia. She supported me during all my studies, the writing of my books, the research into aspects of autism and attention, the various book and lecture tours and the ongoing commitments of life in these domains, as well as sorting her own journey as an autistic adult. Achievements may come and go, but our legacy and value to others continues on.