James Mulligan: Aspect Central Coast School
James emerges from challenging childhood willing and able to give back
James Mulligan says his childhood was like wearing a fishbowl over his head – social situations were confusing, the communication was difficult and navigating the school environment was almost impossible.
“Not understanding social cues and not having the ability to really talk to other people comes with a lot of social anxiety because you can’t express how you feel,” James says.
It wasn’t until he was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in Year 8 and transferred to Aspect Central Coast School that James’s world started to make sense, although it took some time to accept his diagnosis.
After leaving school, the then 20-year-old adventure seeker went travelling for a few years – including a trek through Nepal that raised $5500 for Aspect. Along the way, he gained self-confidence by learning how to interact in social situations through “trial and error”.
James is now determined to give back to the autism community and volunteers his time to raise awareness and educate teachers on how best to work with students on the autism spectrum.
“In a way, autism is my gift now. I can see both points of view; I can see the view from a person with autism and I can see a mainstream point of view, so I can relate to students in a way they’ll understand.”
When he speaks to young people he tells them what they have doesn’t define them. “It’s the choices you make and the things you do that define you.”
James says he was “blown away” at being voted a Westfield Local Hero.
“Some people with autism can’t talk, but they express themselves through sound and touch,” James says. “There are a lot of new learning techniques that the school is implementing now. I’m really looking forward to seeing how it all works out.”