LIKE any other intelligent young man, Mathew Townsend has dreams of making a career for himself, and one day getting married and having kids.
He holds a degree in environmental science and will next year move from Ballina to Brisbane to do a Masters of Environmental Management at the University of Queensland.
But a career in sustainability and a family is only half of Mr Townsend's story.
At 12, he was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, now classed as a mild form of autism, and has been hearing impaired since he was 18-months-old.
Much of his life has - and will continue to be - about advocating for better mainstream understanding and acceptance of people with forms of autism.
Towards this goal, he recently spoke publicly about life as an 'Aspie' at the inaugural Autism in Education National Conference run by national autism services group ASPECT.
He also writes about his life with autism on his blog, Aspie's World.
"I would like to see our society learn about people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (and hearing loss) so we all wouldn't have problems fitting in," he said.
"I would like to see employers, communities and organisations help people with ASD to get involved in the same way as able-bodied people."
Mr Townsend has continued to experience prejudice - an added burden to a life already more challenging than the norm.
"Lots of people always define me (by my) disability because I have hearing aids on, and show a lack of communication and social skills," he said.
"Unfortunately, many people react to this badly."
He plans to speak again at next year's autism conference.
"I hope to build understanding and a respectful relationship between people with autism and non-autism by learning our values, interests and ways of communicating."
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