Today Richard spoke at Waverley College; it was the first time in his public speaking career that he had spoken at a high school. This was a significant milestone for him. Normally he is not nervous prior to a speech but I could tell this time he was. While he was waiting to be introduced he was fidgety and stimming a little – common features for those on the autism spectrum
I could understand why he was nervous, it was not that long ago that he was in high school and as we all know, public speaking can be more challenging in front of peers. I am also sure that high school memories were flooding back.
He was also nervous because he was encouraged not to rely on his notes, so there was a lot to think about! But…there was no need to worry, once he settled in, he delivered his speech to a very attentive and engaged audience. I was so proud of him. His achievements over this past year have left me in awe of him. But these achievements would not have been possible if he was not given opportunities.
So a huge thank you to Harry Rutner for inviting Richard to present to the year 7 -10 students and to Waverley College for being open and encouraging and giving this young man a stage and an audience to share his story.
We need more schools, businesses, universities corporations and individuals to think creatively and invite our young people living with autism and other challenges to contribute. I know that Richard will continue to improve and grow in his chosen field of public speaking, but this can only happen with opportunity.
He has chosen public speaking to be his career and I see no reason as to why it should not be.
20 years ago I was told that Richard would never speak, I was accused by leading professionals that I was a mother in denial of my son’s condition. Little did they know that I was not in denial of his condition, I was in fact fully aware and somewhat panic stricken, but I was in denial of their prognosis.
I did not let them steal my hope or my drive to help Richard learn to speak. Together we worked hard, and Richard learnt to speak. Just look at him now – confident, engaging and eager to speak on any stage that will have him. We never for a moment imagined that he would be a public speaker!
All of this was against the backdrop of last night where I attended a very enjoyable and informative NSW Chapter Meeting for Professional Speakers Australia. Despite the calibre of speakers in the room, the atmosphere was friendly and supportive. One of the guest speakers of the evening was Jon Yeo, Licensee and Curator of TEDx Melbourne and National President of the PSA. I was fascinated by his talk. He welcomed questions at the end and offered to stay back to chat, so I approached him and told him about my son and his public speaking dreams.
His advice was valuable; he said that Richard could not appear to be coached and that he would have to find a different angle as they have already had 3 autistic speakers on the TEDx Melbourne stage.
Initially, I felt affronted; so 3 speakers represented every single person on the autism spectrum? TED and TEDx have had many teachers and doctors on stage, does that mean that there are no more opportunities for teachers and doctors to speak?
I felt perhaps there was a different standard being applied here, but then after digesting Jon’s complete talk, I realized that the standard was in fact uniform. The standards of TED are extremely high and competitive. I think this was Jon’s way of saying there are neither compromises nor concessions in the selection criteria.
And that’s fair enough.
So all the emotions that I felt 20 years ago when I was told that Richard would not talk, resurfaced while speaking with Jon. But what also resurfaced was that drive to help Richard achieve his full potential.
I will continue to work with Richard to develop is public speaking, and who knows, he may one day speak on a TED stage, but then again, he may not? Whether he does or not is not the issue, the issue is that he will work towards a goal that he will not be judged for his public speaking with any compromise or concession.
As such, he needs more speaking opportunities, more coaching and he must aspire to a level above that of a charity model. And this is where my passion and mission lies. I do not expect a pity or charity model applied to our children, that’s why I have developed Model MATES and School MATES, these are programs designed around empowerment. I want our children with autism to be celebrated for their strengths and achievements.
If your school or business needs a motivational speaker or some clarity on the subject of autism, Richard is ready for you. Contact me via this website or email firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your needs.
You can follow Richard’s journey on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/randa.habelrih