By Brigitte Shipman
In this week’s inspiring episode, I interview Yenn Pukis, an autistic and non-binary author, advocate, public speaker, and community leader, to talk about building resilience for preteens and teens on the autism spectrum.
Yenn has published 9 books including The Parents’ Practical Guide to Resilience for Preteens and Teenagers on the Autism Spectrum and The Guide to Good Mental Health on the Autism Spectrum and has presented as a speaker at a range of events including TEDx Canberra.
Yenn was one of the first people to be diagnosed as adult with autism in Australia back in 1994 when it was called Asperger Syndrome.
They recall being bullied a lot in school and struggling socially although they did well academically. They ended up getting into trouble with the law and life became extremely difficult for them. They developed a mental illness at 21 called Schizoaffective disorder due to self-medicating and drugs.
At 25, no longer wanting their life to be negative and chaotic, they set about to change their world. “I want to put things in the world to make it better, not worse. And when I leave it, I want to leave it in a better way than it was,“ Yenn says passionately.
They went on to university and earned three degrees including a Master’s in Visual Art and obtained a highly sought-after job in the Australian public service 14 years ago. They became an autism employment success story.
They became a passionate autism advocate after meeting a 21-year old autistic man they would call Adam whom they met in the psychiatric ward when they were there for their mental illness.
Adam had been told all that he couldn’t do and he was so limited by other people’s negative expectations that he spent the past 6 years sitting in his room playing computer games and not engaged in anything. He had no confidence in himself and had no understanding that he had anything to offer in the world. Moved to do something about this, Yenn published a book called The Wonderful World of Work, and shortly after, they were asked to give a TED Talk.
Yenn has written more books that are focused on positive self-knowledge of autistic people to help individuals like Adam.
They are now one of the most visible autistic advocates in the world and they feel that they are living proof of what people can achieve and what strengths autistic people can bring to the world with motivation and passion.
Yenn shares some of the biggest struggles young autistic people face and keys to help them build resilience during difficult times.
They also give great advice to parents on how to help their autistic kids navigate through high school and employment.
Finally, Yenn tells us to have the neurodiversity lens, listen to autistic people to understand autistic people, be an ally, and encourage our kids to ask questions.
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