My name is Thomas Kuzma, I am Aspect’s Engagement Officer and Social Mentor. In my role as Engagement Officer I deliver talks about living with autism to schools, donors and media outlets. With COVID-19 here, I have started making videos to help Autistic people cope in these trying times. As a Social Mentor, I work at six different schools mentoring thirty-seven students across Aspect’s Western Sydney and Macarthur schools. I mentor these students in the fields of emotional regulation, social communication and respect and responsibility.
Not everyone on the autism spectrum is diagnosed at an early age, some of us are diagnosed later on. For me, it was after facing a horrible time in high school, being bullied, day in and day out. I know for many Autistic students, they face trials and tribulations from their peers, all from simply being misunderstood. Receiving my diagnosis felt incredible, because it finally meant I understood who I was. I was yet to meet the lovely people from Aspect, but I would start learning to grow and appreciate who I was as a person.
As I became an adult, I discovered the difficulties in finding work. You mention autism even once, and it’s as if the doors to employment have been closed. I had the skills, the knowledge, but because there was a lack of neurodiversity, people weren’t interested in working with me. I ended up learning about the politics of working in retail, and how intense filming boxing matches was in the streaming industry, but I didn’t feel like my work was making an impact, that’s when Aspect came in.
My journey to working with Aspect was a peculiar one. When I first started advocating for people on the autism spectrum, I met a man working at Aspect by the name of Anthony. He saw the potential I had and my skills in delivering talks. With his help, I managed to deliver talks across Sydney’s greater area and more. When I lost my other job because of an abusive boss, Aspect continued to offer me work until they hired me as a communications assistant. I wanted to work for Aspect because I knew about the impact they had on the lives of Autistic people, people like me.
It’s interesting to talk about hardships that happened seven years ago when the world feels completely different today. Between COVID-19, bushfires, Climate Change and other global issues, 2020 was one of the most turbulent years we have faced in a long time. Some students have told me that they just want to stop feeling afraid, while others try to carry a combination of the world and the school’s issues on their own shoulders.
I have worked with Aspect’s Occupational Therapists to help the students learn about the size of issues. In Pokémon terms, are we facing a problem the size of an intimidating gigantic Gyarados that could blast us to oblivion with hyper-beam, or a teeny tiny Pidgey issue that isn’t even about us? Most of the time, even if it’s a global issue, they realise it’s actually a Pidgey issue, rather than Gyarados. Making analogies for the students is one of my favourite parts of my role.
Aspect has a saying, that they are passionate about people, about being positive and about what’s possible. They see the talents and skills of Autistic people like myself and discovered the best way to channel our talents. Aspect hires Autistic people to help them build their organisation into an inclusive, supportive environment that continues to strive for the best for the autism community. I have seen this first hand with my work helping students to understand who they are, and through Aspect schools delivering the right educational tools to succeed in life.
So now, we turn to the future, one that feels uncertain. For many Autistic people, structure means everything. When you can’t tell what is coming up, and the fear of uncertainty settles in, all seems lost. That’s when Aspect comes in. We work as much as we can to help Autistic people grow, develop and find themselves, but Aspect can only do so much with their current means.
We need more staff and resources to provide the best for the minds of these wonderful individuals. It is the continued support of donations from the community that help us strive for that better, certain tomorrow. Like a muscle that needs to strengthen or a skill that needs to develop, when we have ongoing support, we will continuously be able to grow the minds of a community that really deserves it. You can learn more about the impact of making a donation here.
Thank you for helping us make Australia a place where Autistic people have a chance to thrive.
- Thomas Kuzma