Inspiring change

DANIEL Giles prefers to focus on ability rather than disability.

Reporter Hannah Knight speaks to Daniel Giles about an upcoming autism conference ...

The 24-year-old Bendigo resident was diagnosed with autism at the age of two and started his education at the Bendigo Special Developmental School.

With the support of his parents, who embraced the "I can" attitude, Daniel integrated into a mainstream primary school, completed secondary school and went on to study at university.

"Obviously we have to consider people's individual strengths and what the best solution is for the individual," Daniel said.

"But I'm a strong believer that everyone has to be given the opportunity to reach their full potential because I strongly believe that everyone has gifts."

Daniel is a freelance graphic designer, was the City of Greater Bendigo’s Young Citizen of the Year in 2008 and is an advocate for people with a disability.

Daniel will share his story of transformation at the Time to Rethink Autism Victorian conference in Melbourne next month.

"I'm really excited because I have the opportunity to spread to the understanding of what it's like to live with autism from an insider's perspective," he said.

"My presentation title is 'From special education to achieving Honours at university'.

"I will talk about my journey from when I was a little kid beginning with how I struggled with verbal communication skills, starting my education at the Bendigo Special Developmental School and through to integration into a main stream primary school.

"I'll then talk about how I went on to complete secondary school and then go on to university."

Daniel said people were too quick to label people.

"I can relate to that," he said. "In my own experience I had a teacher in Year 7 who thought, 'Oh, Daniel has special needs, we'll give him modified work'.

"While I was happy to take the easy way my parents knew I could do much better so they worked to put a stop to that. We have to move forward from assuming that, 'Oh, someone has a disability, we'll give them modified work'."

Melbourne’s Chris Varney will also speak at the Time to Rethink Autism Victorian autism conference.

Mr Varney is the founder of the rapidly growing 'I Can' network and will speak about the "I can attitude".

“When I was diagnosed, the experts fed my mother a negative prescription of a future in which I couldn’t do things. Mum somehow found the courage to have a rethink, choosing a path of ‘my son can’ rather than ‘my son can’t’," Mr Varney said. 

Daniel said Mr Varney's message rang true with him.

"We need to have an attitude of I can do this and reach our full potential," he said.

Daniel has his fingers-crossed his story inspires others to aim high.

"It's a story of not sitting down and thinking, 'I've got a disability, I can be excused from this'," he said.

"Obviously I need to make allowances for the fact I live with autism. For example, I need the use of a computer in exams because I have difficulty with handwriting.

"However, I don't let autism stop me from living life to the full.

"I'd like for parents to believe their child is gifted, regardless of where their child sits on the autism spectrum, and to push their children to their full potential as well as celebrating who their children are.

"For me it's not about pushing that child to be the so called normal because, as far as I am concerned, normal is just a setting on a washing machine."

For more information about the Time to Rethink Autism conference visit