On Saturday 26 October, Reframing Autism was launched at the Now and Next Family Conference. The following blog is the speech given by Reframing Autism’s CEO and founder, Dr Melanie Heyworth, at the launch.
A few years ago now, I had an idea. It was embryonic. It was small. It was limited. It was something about parents of Autistic children, and education, mentoring, and support.
Over the years, my idea became a vision. A vision for the Autistic community, and a vision for our families and allies.
The vision evolved as my family settled into its authentic Autistic identity.
It evolved as I met more Autistic families, and learnt what they had experienced. And what they needed.
It evolved as I researched and learnt. I read more and more about the mental health of Autistic children and adults. I read more and more about the mental health of the families of Autistic children.
Did you know that Autistic children are more than 30 times more likely than their non-autistic peers to contemplate suicide?
Did you know that around 50 per cent of Autistic youth experience clinically significant anxiety and depression?
Did you know that more than two-thirds of Autistic adults in Australia have a mental illness? That, in Australia, mortality rates for Autistic individuals are 2.06 times that of the general population?
Did you know that research suggests that a leading cause of premature death in the Autistic population, is suicide, with Autistic adults more than 9 times more likely to die by suicide than the general population?
Did you know that parents of Autistic children find parenting their Autistic children uniquely challenging, and that families of Autistic children have significantly worse mental health and family quality of life outcomes than families of children with other disabilities?
My vision evolved as I determined to change these statistics.
We know that lifelong exposure to discrimination, stigmatisation and exclusion, not to mention the push to conform to and perform within non-autistic social norms, are all leading causes of Autistic mental illness.
It is not Autism, but people’s reaction to our Autism, that damages us.
And limits us.
Did you know that unemployment rate for Autistic Australians is 31.6%, three times the rate of individuals with other disabilities, and nearly six times the rate of individuals without disabilities?
Many Autistic adults have never had paid employment, many have only part-time or casual employment, and many more are employed in jobs that do not match their qualifications or skills.
As an Autistic mother of Autistic children, it is my passion to change these statistics and to achieve genuine acceptance, inclusion, respect and understanding of Autism for my children, for myself, for my community, and for our families.
Reframing Autism is a social initiative driven by that vision, and by the collective passion of my amazing team.
It is driven by our passion to make the difference, to provide the educational framework that will empower not only the Autistic community, but equally its families and allies, to effect social change so that Autistic identity is nurtured, and Autistic culture is celebrated.
So that we, as Autistics, can live as active and self-determined citizens within our communities.
So that we can live happy, healthy, meaningful and safe lives feeling valued by the world in which we live.
It is driven by the passion of Sophie Ralston, my friend and our chair. By the dedication of Sharon Fraser, my friend and our treasurer. By the fervour of Deb Boyd, my friend and our secretary. By the foresight of Ginny Grant, my friend and a director. By the engagement of Kristen Callow, my friend and a director. And with the measured guidance of Tim Chan, my friend and a director.
It is driven by the passion of our Autistic collaborators who work with us: Wenn Lawson, Katy Reid, Emma Goodall, Cadence, and William just today, and so many more.
My deepest thanks to you all. Without you, there is no Reframing Autism.
Reframing Autism provides parents of Autistic children with relevant supports to parent their Autistic child with acceptance and respect.
We train and employ Autistic individuals to use their experiential knowledge to mentor parents of Autistic children.
And we provide other educational activities such as an Autistic-led parent retreat, regular webinars, podcasts and workshops, conferences and the development of resources.
We invite you to join us on our journey to acceptance, to joy, to hope, to mental health, to happiness.