The Future Leaders program, and in particular the residential workshop, is more than the sum of its parts. It's really difficult to describe what it is, how it works and the potential it contains without physically being a part of it.
The workshop brought together 14 autistic adults aged 25-40 and 8 project team members (5 of whom are established autistic leaders) from around Australia to a hotel in Brisbane for three and a half days of training, sharing and learning from each other’s experiences. We also had a few other Autism CRC staff members and guests come along for parts of the workshop to experience and share some of their time with us and lend us their knowledge and skills.
The training, mentoring and practical activities are what we are able to write on the timetable. These have been co-developed and delivered with autistic adults who are passionate about and committed to imparting knowledge and tools to a new generation of their peers. Individuals who know what it takes to work hard to find themselves and pursue goals which benefit themselves and others. These individuals share a desire and willingness to invest in the hope that those who come after them to be able to find their tribe earlier in life and be equipped and empowered to navigate the world with hope, self-belief, purpose, insight, community-mindedness and the knowledge that they are not alone.
The components of the program have been developed with care, wisdom and purpose. When placed into an experience that brings a community together, they are important tools that allow us to create an environment that fosters growth, change and an honest appreciation of the human potential that we all share.
We sometimes refer to this environment as autistic space, but it's a human-centred space at its core. You don't have to be autistic to feel welcome and connected. The program bring people together to find both an individual and shared purpose in a space that's governed by identity, belonging and hope. Everyone who comes into that environment seems to leave it changed.
This was the experience that I hoped that people would be able to be part of. It has been a privilege to be a part of it, and to see the program, and most importantly its participants come to life and unfurl (or in some cases explode) in a stream of passion, vibrancy and light.
For me, the understanding of what a program like this can do is personal. Before Future Leaders 2018 there was another program called Future Leaders which ran in conjunction to the 2013 Asia Pacific Autism conference. That program wasn’t the same as this one. It didn't have as much training or resourcing, but it was orchestrated by passionate people and had the same heart and spirit as this program.
I know it had the same spirit because I was one of the young people chosen to be part of that program. I was 25, quite new to having a diagnosis and hadn't had much exposure to the autistic community. In the five years since, I have seen the growth and change not only in myself but in many of the other 22 young people who were part of that experience. I count some of the mentors and champions of that first program as my friends. I have worked with some of them, and continue to do so, in seeing this current program become a reality and the people who are part of it rise up as a new wave of diverse and community-minded leaders.
That shared passion and spirit has prevailed and remained strong within a small and committed group along this five year journey. Now that it has been given a new chance to shine and be shared, we can only hope that it will continue to grow and multiply.
This program isn't Future Leaders because its participants might be leaders at some point on the future. They all demonstrate leadership in different ways and forms today. I believe that the result of us watering those diverse and innumerable seeds of potential that people already have inside themselves will be a community which is better for everyone. They're Future Leaders because they are part of a movement of neurodiverse people who will make our future society a brighter place which celebrates difference and is inclusive of all.
Project Coordinator - Future Leaders 2018