Growing up as an only child living with Mum for 19 years, I knew something wasn’t quite right; I knew I wasn’t normal. I was always behind in my learning and excluded from the classroom because I couldn’t keep up with the other kids. My mind seemed to work slower and I struggled to process new information. I was put into a “disabled” class and labelled a slow-learner.
I felt excluded and side-lined and I distanced myself from others. I would often throw tantrums but I didn’t even realise I was doing it. Looking back now I think it was a cry for help – What was in me that needed to come out? Why was I so different? Everyone thought I was just looking for attention.
I started to come out of my shell in high school (Aurora College in Invercargill) and I began to realise who the real me was. I studied hard and my learning started to progress with the support of a one-on-one teacher aid during years 7 and 8. I started to feel included and even completed a three-year pre-trade course at the Southern Institute of Technology in mechanical engineering and light fabrication while I was still in school, and I also became the student representative for the school’s Board of Trustees. I realised I had the ability to take control.
But I still couldn’t quite understand myself. What was I doing so differently to everyone else? Why was I such a slow learner when obviously I am able to achieve what I set my mind to?
Then, when I was 19-years-old, I suddenly lost my Mum. My world. I wasn’t able to process what had happened and my body went into shock. But shock turned to peace and I couldn’t feel grief. I knew that “normal” people would feel sadness but I wasn’t able to.
Soon after, I went to see my doctor at He Puna Waiora Wellness Centre for a general check-up and that’s when it happened. Finally, after a lifetime of wondering, I had my answer. The doctor diagnosed me with Asperges Syndrome.
I was shocked and I didn’t initially understand. I could finally put a name to it but it made me feel that although I’m not physically disabled, I’m not normal and I felt I needed to exclude myself from society. Of course, this was wrong.
I moved to Queenstown and spent the next six months working as a labourer doing heating and ventilation. Two to three months after my mother’s passing I suffered grief and depression. I was suicidal and I was at the lowest point I had ever been in my life. I was on anti-depressants but they only skyrocketed me even lower because they affected my mentality and my body.
Realising I needed to change, I came back home and found employment at Pak n Save and I started connecting with the community again. It took a long time but with all of the support I received from Jenny Hogg at Accessibility and the staff of Pak n Save, I was able to get through. I met Jack Lovett-Hurst and we started a friendship group through the Local Area Co-ordinator. I suddenly felt accepted. I am part of society.
My mother’s goal for me was always to own my own home and so at the age of 20, with my mother’s estate, I purchased my first home. I am happily mortgage free.
A passion for gardening led to an out-of-work hobby with just two clients, but over the course of the past five years I have grown my hobby into a business with five staff members (two of which also live with disabilities) that cater to around 20 clients. My business is continuing to grow and I’m still learning but I’m out there and I’m promoting myself and I’m really enjoying it. My business is called Top Hat Landscaping Services.
The business has been a huge step for me. I never thought I would be in a position of leadership and be able to get out in the community and tell people who I am and what I’m doing.
My disability hasn’t held me back and if anything, it has actually helped me along the way. My disability means that while I cannot show emotion or feel sadness, I do see a positive aspect in everything. My brain works in a way that when new information comes in it goes into overload and it is hard to explain how I work day-to-day but living my life to a schedule works for me. It means I am mentally prepared for anything.
In leading a scheduled life, I work four part-time jobs. I work alongside Jack Lovett-Hurst in the SOAR programme at Nga Kete, I am a marketing representative for Goodman Fielder (a Foodstuffs company), I work part-time at Pak n Save (I have been working here for about four years), and of course I have my business.
Working with SOAR and my business has enabled me to work alongside others with a disability and understand their different needs. I have learnt to accept everyone for who they are no matter what disability they have, and it has ignited a passion within me to speak up and be an advocate for those who cannot.
I am passionate about people and I enjoy discovering people’s backgrounds and stories. I want people to know that someone with a disability can work alongside others, grow a communal group, stand up, be heard and make a difference. The aim is for our SOAR group to continue to grow and to encourage those who may feel isolated and stuck inside to come out and join us.
Jack and I have enjoyed interviewing an array of people to give us an understanding of what others are living with and how we can help or follow alongside them.
What does the future look like for me? I see myself as an aspirational person and I am constantly looking to the future to see where I can grow from where I am now. Within the next six months I intend to launch my gardening business in Christchurch. It’ll be a big step, but I’m up for the challenge!
Asperger syndrome (AS), also known as Asperger's, is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication, along with restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour and interests. As a milder autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it differs from other ASDs by relatively normal language and intelligence. Although not required for diagnosis, physical clumsiness and unusual use of language are common. Signs usually begin before two years of age and typically last for a person's entire life. If you have Asperger syndrome, you have it for life – it is not an illness or disease and cannot be ‘cured’