Young girl's life-changing advice empowers teacher
BLACKBUTT State School's inclusion teacher and autism advocate Simone Newitt is "proud to be an Aspie", but that wasn't always the case.
Ms Newitt, who embraces the term Aspie, which means someone with Asperger's syndrome, said she learnt a lot about her own autism from her autistic daughter Indigo.
"I had mastered the art of hiding it and I envisioned myself teaching my two children the same," she said.
"I showed them how to suck it all up until they got home from school. I did the same.
"One day my daughter Indigo asked me to buy two badges - 'Proud to be an Aspie'- and suggested she and I wear them to school."
Ms Newitt was instantly concerned and told her daughter everyone at school would then know she had autism, and might treat her differently.
"She tossed her hair back and announced she didn't want to hide it like I did," she said.
"She wanted to be herself at school and everywhere she went, her true self.
"I felt pretty ashamed in that moment and so proud of her courage."
When reflecting on this moment, Ms Newitt said it was life-changing.
"I knew I could never hide it again. I had to be a positive role model," she said.
"Here I was, a grown woman with autism in a job and managing my challenges well enough to be successful. I had to show people it could be done.
"My goal was to be a presenter that eventually went overseas to spread that I was proud to be an Aspie."
As a result of her hard work and persistent advocacy, Ms Newitt was invited to fly to Singapore to speak at the Asia Pacific Autism Conference, a prestigious event held every two years.
"I haven't travelled overseas for more than 30 years, so this was a miracle for me," Ms Newitt said.
The conference was attended by 1800 delegates from 33 countries.
"The latest research from UK, USA, Singapore, and Australia was presented to inform delegates about the best strategies and support for children and adults on the spectrum," Ms Newitt said.
"There were also speakers invited to present from a position of lived experience because they have autism themselves or they are parents of children with autism. I was one of those speakers.
"I did a presentation on the topic of being happy - that every person with autism deserves to pursue their dreams and find their version of happiness."
Ms Newitt said in the past, strategies and support for those with autism had been aimed at helping them blend in and become as "normal" as possible.
"My view is that we should celebrate being exactly who we are," she said.
"Neurodiversity is not a bad thing and people with autism can think outside the square and problem solve with incredible dedication and focus.
"We can be loyal and wonderful friends and partners.
"We feel deeply and care deeply about the world and the people around us. It's just we do it in our own unique way."