GOING PLACES: Curtis Harrison of Goonellabah attended the APAC conference in Adelaide Curtis now hopes to promote awareness of autism.
GOING PLACES: Curtis Harrison of Goonellabah attended the APAC conference in Adelaide Curtis now hopes to promote awareness of autism. Doug Eaton

A shining light on the spectrum

MAYBE because he's such an intelligent and engaging young man, people get surprised when Curtis Harrison tells them is autistic.

"I'm not very good at reading social cues unless I've known the person for a long time," he said of his relatively mild condition, joking that he has to be "on his game".

"My parents found out when I was six but they decided not to tell me until I was 12."

"I didn't really understand it that well then; it wasn't really until I got well into high school that I realised how it affected me in some ways."

Curtis, 21, was recently sponsored by Autism Spectrum Australia (ASPECT) to join 23 other young people with autism aged 18-30 to attend the first Future Leaders Program, at the Asia Pacific Autism Conference 2013 (APAC) in Adelaide.

"Young Australians with autism have enormous potential and yet so often do not have the opportunity to have a say about their lives, despite having the ability and desire to do so," project manager Judy Brewer said.

"The program was developed to support them to participate and give them an opportunity to express the lived experience of ASD (autism spectrum disorder)," program convenor Meredith Ward said.

One of the speakers at the conference was Ari Ne'eman, who worked on a disability advisory board to Barack Obama; another used to make guitars for glam rock band Kiss.

Curtis said he wanted to set an example for young people diagnosed with autism and their parents to communicate that autism wasn't all "doom and gloom".

"I try to prove a point to people every single day, to tell people autistic people can be well-off in society and they can have a normal future."

Like most other young adults at 21, he is exploring his options in life, looking for independence, direction and a fulltime job.

Next year he plans to move to Brisbane and study film.



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