I have spent the last few days having a wonderful time giving presentations about Autism and resilience, education to work transitions and mental health and Autism to a variety of audiences in Adelaide, South Australia. I had the absolute privilege to meet some students in a transition centre. They were there because they had become disengaged from education. They had struggled to stay in school and were at a critical point in in their life journey -would they became disengaged from society as adults or would they work towards a life where their full potential was reached – whatever that may be? My audience yesterday was about eight young men. I think they were all Autistic. With presentation to kids and teens I am acutely aware of the fidget factor – you can tell when you start to lose them to boredom and at that point it is best to either change the format or to stop altogether. I had prepared a bunch of content but didn’t think I was going to end up using much of it.
It turned out I had assessed this situation a bit pessimistically. The young people were a wonderful audience and they participated and listened for at least a hour – although some took attention breaks for a bit, which was fine. Most of them asked questions and as I only presented a little of the prepared material, most of the session involved a conversation on employment and further study driven by the teachers and me. At the end, three of the boys wanted a copy of my employment workbook. I have never had teens wanting my books at events. It is usually their parents who buy a book and then presumably convince their kid to look at it. I was told that one student got on public transport from his school and travelled to the centre to attend my talk, despite not having been there before and knowing none of the other students. That is a big feat for any kid but for an Autistic student who was experiencing difficulties at school, that demonstrated a high level of commitment to a talk which (hopefully) would impact his future.
The purpose of this rather lengthy reflection is to frame the concept of a ‘why’. These students who were at risk of not completing school demonstrated a very strong motivation to see a presentation from an Autistic adult who works full-time in a professional job but has come from some very difficult and dangerous places prior to that employment journey. The teachers I spoke to afterwards were all incredibly impressed by this response from their students. Having given a lot of school talks I am aware the level of engagement at the presentation yesterday was quite unusual. So what makes people do something out of the ordinary like that? I would suggest that this was based i a sense of ‘why’ or as it is often called, motivation. These students may not have had that strong why to do their usual classes but an Autistic adult speaker presumably piqued their interest.
Motivation is a topic which interests me, mostly because I have a ridiculous amount of it. I have worked in my current workplace for over ten years. Apart from when I have taken sick leave, I have never – not once in ten years – woken up and thought ‘oh, I don’t want to go to work today.’ I ALWAYS want to go to work. I literally jump out of bed and get ready and go and when I am waiting for the lift in my office building think ‘gee, I am the luckiest person in the world to have this job.’ My motivation in Autism related things is also quite significant. I have made a daily meme for social media most days since 2014, I write at least one blog post a week and often some additional articles, I have a radio show, I am writing three books at the moment – and possibly soon to be four – I do a lot of media activities, I facilitate a womens group and host a movie night, and this year I have already given a bunch of presentations and have more to go. I work full time as well. And that isn’t everything I do. For me a holiday involves giving presentations in an interesting city!
I think i have a handy combination of motivation, positive attitude and energy. Like everyone who is motivated, I have a basic ‘why’ – a driving passion which propels me to do all that I do. My current why stems from meeting a young Autistic man who lacked independence and resilience. I was horrified to see how his life was so limited, If this is what getting an early diagnosis meant, I thought, we need to rethink how that works.
Not many people know this, but before I met this your man I had not been very interested in Autism advocacy. I wrote my autobiography in 2005, under the mentorship of the magnificent Polly Samuel / Donna Williams. I was enthused when the book came out but over the next few years not much happened in terms and my work in the Autism community, By the time I met the young man who spurred me into a need to change the world just a bit, I thought I would always be the author or a good but little known book about navigating a bunch of challenges as an undiagnosed Autistic woman. I had no great wish to be an advocate for an activist. Was was the point? I had a nice job and an apartment filled wiht art. I had overcome many of my demons. I was actually quite surprised at how enthused I became to change things after meeting the young man.
Within months of my adopting my ‘why’ of advocacy things started to shift in terms of my work in the Autism community. I might even say that without that motivation, the kind of work I do would be impossible, We need our whys if we want to get things done!
Here are some thoughts on motivation and ‘Whys’:
- Autistic passionate (‘special’ ) interests represent a pretty significant Why for most Autistic people. This is almost always a good thing
- A why should not be viewed as an obsession. That denigrates it to something negative. It also makes the person whose Why it is feel bad about doing their great love and passion, which isn’t very helpful
- I don’t think anyone can instil a ‘Why’ in another person except maybe be modelling it and the person becoming inspired
- If young person is not interested or motivated to pursue a course or a job, they are unlikely to do well at it, or do it at all. So those students at the transition centre were told about my presentation by their teachers but if they had not been motivated to attend their level of concentration and engagement would have been completely different
- Your Why is the point from which the motivation comes. It is less a case of ‘I want to make this thing happen which will be good because…’ and more ‘I absolutely LOVE this. In order to make it happen I will do this, that and those…’