Australia’s largest Autistic-led organisation, I CAN Network (I CAN®), is celebrating its 10-birthday this October.
I CAN is one of the largest employers of Autistic adults with 82 Autistic/ neurodivergent staff located across regional and metropolitan Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. Staff are trained and deployed to deliver school-based and online group mentoring programs for Autistic/ neurodivergent young people aged 5-22 years. In Victoria I CAN partners with 134 government and non-government schools and nation-wide I CAN mentors 3,184 young people.
Founded in 2013 by Autistic law graduate Chris Varney together with some Autistic peers from Monash University, I CAN has built up an evidence base behind its group mentoring programs which has helped it develop its business model and forge partnerships with State and Federal Governments and philanthropic organisations.
‘Our purpose has been to prove what Autistics CAN do and we have done just that’ says Founder Chris Varney.
‘Our greatest asset has been our lived experience, whether as Autistic adults ourselves, or parents/ carers, or allies. We have used our lived experience to create a group mentoring program which increases Autistic young people’s sense of belonging in their schools and communities’.
In northern Victoria I CAN began at Kyabram P-12 College in 2017 and quickly spread to Shepparton followed by Echuca, Numurkah, Euroa and finally Bendigo.
I CAN Program Facilitator in Northern Victoria, Laura Crimmins, is an Autistic/ ADHD young professional who is also a Mum. Laura delivers I CAN programs throughout the region and coaches and develops Autistic staff to deliver outstanding in-person programs in schools like Kyabram P-12 College and Greater Shepparton Secondary College.
‘I find being Autistic/ ADHD myself helps me relate to the experiences of students in the program. I can meet students where they’re at’ says Laura.
‘In our mentoring sessions we run group activities which build up the social connections among students’
‘My I CAN colleagues and I share stories and insights of how we got through school. We also talk about our pride in being Autistic as it’s so important today’s young people view their Autism positively, not negatively’.
‘By the end of one of our 8-week programs we see students grow in their confidence, optimism, self-acceptance and belonging at school’ says Laura.
I CAN was independently evaluated by Australian Catholic University in 2022 which revealed statistically significant increases among student participants in their sense of belonging and an 84.4% loyalty rating among primary students and an 86.3% loyalty rating among secondary students.
The importance of a program like I CAN cannot be understated. Autistic young people (aged 5-20 years) experience significant challenges in school which is why the I CAN program is a key aspect of Victoria’s Autism Education Strategy. According to ABS’ 2018 Survey of Disability and Carers, 77.7% Autistic young people experienced difficulties in school, particularly in fitting in socially and in communicating with other people. There is also a heightened risk of mental ill-health among Autistic people, with 38% Autistic people (aged 14-80 years) experiencing depression or anxiety.
I CAN has spots available for interested schools in 2024. Schools can express interest HERE
Media Contact: Chris Varney 0432 405 384