In 2005 a young, bright-eyed child named Richard sat in front of the TV watching the newly released Pokémon movie. His jaw slackened slightly in disbelief as he saw the gondolas travel down the canals of the city of water. To his ingenuous eyes, a city this fantastic surely couldn’t exist in reality. Could it?
As he watched the behind the scenes making of the movie, he realised the city actually existed – it was Venice. Richard began dreaming one day he would travel to this wondrous city.
Richard was most interested in experiencing the wonders of Venice and the Alps – he wasn’t a fan of organised trips or museums. But the Alps…. “There are 2,000 metre tall mountains on every side. It’s an absolutely fantastic looking place,” he says.
Difference, not a disability
Richard is not only a fan of mountains and marvellous cities, he is on the autism spectrum. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), one in 60 children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Autism is evident from early childhood and is life-long. It impacts the person’s educational and social attainments as well as employment opportunities.
Autistic people have great talents and gifts that lend themselves to excelling in a range of different roles but they can be subject to discrimination and experience difficulties finding employment and opportunities to engage and participate in their communities.
Today, Richard is an adult and this discrimination is something he and his family are all too familiar with.
“We had a job provider and they, in 12 months, didn’t even get us one interview,” says Richard’s mum Margaret, describing what it was like finding Richard his first job.
“The people there were an absolute mixed bag; sometimes bullying. The odd one would try and help,” she recalls. “[We] just didn’t know what we were going to do”.
Referring to Richard’s autism, she said: “We never, ever thought of it as a disability, we always thought of it as a difference.”