Throughout her schooling life Amy felt like an outcast, forever questioning whether something was “wrong” with her.
But since being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in 2019 and gaining access to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), the 22-year-old is on a journey of self-discovery and loving it.
“Before I met my support worker Jane I didn’t have any friends, I couldn’t drive and I was just socially awkward. But together we worked on my social skills and had regular outings together,” Amy said, who lives in the Southern Downs Regional town of Dalveen.
“We would just get lunch and sit at the park or work on a garden together, it gave me someone else to talk to and slowly she would push me to try new things.”
Amy, who also lives with Tourette syndrome, was severely bullied at school. In an act of self-preservation, she learned how to hide her uniqueness and tried to blend in with her surroundings and peers.
“I remember I had to have a strict routine and that when I went to the movies I put Blu Tack in my ears because it was too loud. I didn’t know anyone like me, I just felt like an outcast, like something was wrong,” she said.
“I was able to hide it pretty well, but I definitely was having trouble for a long time. But it wasn’t until I was out of the routine of school and was forced to take part in the outside world that things became a lot harder.”
Amy’s mother Susan said as her daughter hit the teenager years, she really started to notice things change, with Amy struggling socially and with friendships.
Once she completed school, Susan said her daughter spent most of her time at home in her room, becoming increasingly isolated and socially awkward.
A peer support group in Stanthorpe suggested the family consider applying for the NDIS. A little while afterwards Amy joined the Scheme, with support from Carers Queensland’s NDIS Local Area Coordination Partner in the Community Program for the Toowoomba region.
“Amy’s first goal was to get out of the house and become more involved in the community, as well as meeting like-minded people,” Susan said.
“What we really wanted to ensure was that at the end of the day, sitting around the dinner table, Amy had something else to bring to the table.
“Jane is just amazing, and her support meant Amy could start doing things such as buying a sandwich at the counter. She encouraged her to do this every week and each time it got easier.
“With Jane’s encouragement, Amy also learned how to go to the shops by herself, and they visited antique stores together looking at old stuff.”
Their trips to vintage stores ignited a spark in Amy, who started to take an interest in history, which in turn led her to try her hand at drawing, in particular, creating medieval-style tattoos.
“I’ve become a lot more independent since Jane came into my life and I feel more able to do things by myself, without the need to hold someone’s hand all the time,” Amy said.
While describing the experience of sitting her driver’s licence as “terrifying”, Amy is now able to drive herself into town and to her job at Granite Ink in Stanthorpe.
“Jane pushed me to go to the art group at the tattoo store in town and I’ve become good friends with the owners and they offered me a job. I’ve been working there since April,” Amy said.
The aspiring tattoo artist boasts a colourful and eclectic array of tattoos herself, with Amy saying getting inked has been a part of her healing process.
“It’s like having art and a story on your skin. Over the years I’ve had some body image issues but having tattoos on my body has helped me reclaim it,” she said.
Amy has just enrolled in a Bachelor of Religion and Ancient History, doing one subject per semester, and she credits her NDIS-funded support worker with helping her to gain the confidence to study.
These days when Jane visits she and Amy play Scrabble instead of going out, with the pair taking turns making words and looking up the origins of them.
Susan said while it had taken Amy time to work out who she was, Jane had been the catalyst for encouraging Amy to pursue what she loves through history and art.
“Art led to tattoos which led to a group of friends who feel similar about body presentation and body modifications, and it’s all tied up together,” she said.
“There was a period of time when I thought Amy would never be able to live alone, that she would be dependent on us forever. But thanks to the NDIS, hope has come back into our lives.
“As long as she has NDIS supports in place, she can do anything she puts her mind to. Amy is just starting to come into her own. She knows her style, she has bright green hair, is covered in tattoos and is just wonderful.
“As parents we’ve encouraged her to go green, get the piercings, do what you want, it’s not about what you do, it’s about how you feel about yourself.”
Carers Queensland can support you to find out more about the NDIS, to apply for funding and to help you get started with the NDIS.
If you have a disability but are not eligible for the NDIS, Carers Queensland can help you identify and link to options for support in your community.
You can also contact Carers Queensland on 1300 999 636, email@example.com, or sign up to our LAC Connect app here.