LivedX 2: Tim Chan - My Travels with Autism (Auslan)
Tim Chan - My Travels with Autism (Auslan)
- [Voice-over] Tim Chan , My Travels with Autism. would like to talk about my journey to become a disability advocate. Hi, I am Tim Chan. I would like to talk about my journey to become a disability advocate. [voice-over] I was diagnosed with autistic disorder at 3 with severe developmental delays in cognition, social understanding, and communication. I do not speak despite intensive intervention and speech therapy. Instead I have learned to use alternative and augmentative communication with my preferred mode as typing with support to communicate, a method which I was taught at 9 years old. I also have severe hypersensitivities, overload, movement difficulties, dyspraxia, information processing issues and very high levels of anxiety as well. My autistic challenges have brought on painful incidents of discrimination. One incident occurred in grade 3, when we students with disability were routinely assessed. The process was traumatic because I was unable to do any testing because I don't speak or type independently. The school psychologist informed mum that I was severely autistic. Right in front of me. But the psychologist never saw or acknowledged me as a person. Because I couldn't do any of the assessment tasks. I failed the test. and felt like an apology of a human being. And at 9 years old it's a heavy burden. In a subsequent report, the psychologist also labelled me as severely intellectually disabled. This report indicated that I would be unlikely to adjust well at mainstream high school. On the other hand, In school classes, I was able to work at grade level with the support of a fantastic aide, but this didn't count in the assessment. It was devastating because I went through years of home-based program, early intervention, speech and other therapy to help me learn. If the assessment had been based on my strengths, as a visual thinker, with good receptive language, memory and discriminatory skills. it would give me the hope necessary to work towards mastery of skills and become independent. Through intensive efforts from family and the primary school I was enrolled in a mainstream high school, but it was obvious from day one that the school did not understand nor support my complex communication needs. Furthermore, they did their best to persuade me to leave with constant reminders that I should seek dual enrolment with the special school or simply transfer to another school. In years 7 and 8, the school prohibited my typing to communicate. my Lightwriter sat in the aide's desk during school hours. They also segregated me in the resource room when I hummed or laid down to manage my sensory issues. I had resorted to splashing water to manage my overload and anxiety, and this was serious transgression in their eyes. My mum was called to pick me up early almost daily and I was suspended as well. Because I was unable to type to talk at school during this time, I felt extremely isolated and vulnerable. Furthermore, this restriction prevented me from participating in class work. I was often in the library or in the resource room doing preschool work like counting or colouring with my aid. I went through a very dark patch in which I felt completely isolated and alienated, and very much the outsider. I lost all motivation for going to school and for learning, with occasional thoughts of self-harm. The family arranged for mental health intervention and I was treated by a child psychiatrist over 6 years. Finally, through the strenuous efforts of mum and disability advocates in negotiating for reasonable adjustments, I was given permission to type with my aid in year 9. With the means of communication, I managed to complete high school with the support of empathic school staff. On the other hand, I wasn't able to do VCE under their strict assessment guidelines. Due to high anxiety, sensory overload, and motor difficulties. The school administration actually discouraged me by saying that VCE wasn't the pathway for me and instigated funding for post-school transition to disability programs. This funding provided alternative options for disabled school leavers and I went to Kevin Heinze grow, a horticultural program, to prepare for open employment. I felt that educators, other professionals, as well as the general public often judge me on the basis of my autistic challenges like lack of speech and sensory issues. My obsessive rituals like hand clapping and humming, the strategies for managing constant anxiety and overload, were unacceptable. There is a prevailing attitude of ableism with expectations to behave in conventional ways that are penalising people with disability. Because of our challenges, we are judged as disabled and lacking in the wherewithal to achieve what most people would take for granted, including mainstream education or taking part in community activities. I believe that with a different strength
- based approach and the right support, we can achieve our potential and work towards access and participation. In my case, I was lucky to have my mum who believes in me and her unconditional support. Mum never took the professional's gloomy prognosis seriously but gave her son the necessary resources to develop and participate, in school and out. Over the years, mum and my advocates took on the education and other institutions to give me the best opportunities to learn and engage with life. It has been a long, hard road but with the support of family, advocates, and others I feel I am making head way. I spent four years at a post-school horticultural program before summoning up the courage to go back to formal study. This is my third year of university, studying sociology and politics. I did a TED Talk in 2013, presumably the first autistic non-speaker to do so. I have also participated in conferences, focus groups, and committees. In 2019, my autobiography "Back from the Brink" was published and launched, and I joined the growing circle of autistic authors. Because I have had to push for my rights, I am keen to advocate for other people with disability. to give them opportunities which are routinely denied. Through the work of my advocates as well as organisations like CYDA I am learning about advocacy to raise awareness of disability and to make a difference. I have found advocating for people with disability, especially those without speech, very rewarding and I am grateful I can use my experiences to help others. My rocky journey has opened a pathway for me to help people in the same boat and to have opportunities for a meaningful life.