Interview with young community leader, Divergent Fel

"I'm extremely proud and comfortable with all my diagnoses and have become passionate about becoming a leader in the disability community" Interview with young community leader Divergent Fel. Photo of Fel in a flower crown, smiling.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your involvement in peer support groups and advocacy? 

I’m Fel (short for Felicia). I’m an autistic and neurodivergent ex-young carer with psychosocial disability (generalised anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder), binge eating disorder (BED) and low IQ, with borderline short-term memory living in suburban Melbourne, Australia.

I’m a young adult who is at the start of her journey. I was only diagnosed with autism back in September 2020, but since I was 12, I have been having mental health issues that finally got diagnosed and are classified as a psychosocial disability.

I’m extremely proud and comfortable with all my diagnoses and have become passionate about becoming a leader and advocate in the disability community.

Not long after my autism diagnosis, I participated and completed YDAS – Youth Disability Advocacy Service’s Emerging Young Leaders program. The program has opened me up to more disability opportunities, such as sharing my lived experiences to influence the Victorian Youth Strategy through YDAS, media and advocacy training, photoshoots and interning at the Disability Resources Centre.

I’m currently a volunteer with Interchange Outer East as a recreation volunteer, Different Journeys as an event photographer and Alfred Headspace centres as a Youth Peer volunteer. I’m completing Children and Young People with  Disability Australia (CYDA) Young Leaders program and beginning my certificate in Autistic Well-being for Autistics with Reframing Autism.

What tips would you give someone who is trying to get more involved in disability leadership?

My top 5 tips for getting started in disability leadership are:

  1. Check out your state and national run disability or youth organisations (such as YDAS in Victoria or CYDA) and see if there are any programs related to leadership or advocacy where you learn more about leadership and advocacy
  2. Volunteer for your local council or youth or disability organisations that are related to leadership or advocacy (such as Headspace or Interchange Outer East)
  3. If traditional learning is more your style, you can do a course at TAFE or university
  4. A skill that is extremely desirable to have is a mental health first aid course
  5. Begin networking, as it’s a really important part of being a disability leader to be able learn and share information

What’s one common misconception about autism that you wish people knew? 

A misconception that often annoys me is that “all autistic people aren’t very verbal or good at communicating”. This misconception leads people to say to me, “You aren’t autistic”. When in fact, I am. I just have a different verbal ability to other autistics. 

I then explain to those who don’t seem to comprehend, that autism is a spectrum, and all autistic individuals have different abilities making us all diverse and awesome in our own ways. Communicating is one of my strengths, but remembering and learning things using my short-term memory is not, so I get help with that.

What’s your favourite way to recharge after being overstimulated? 

My ways to recharge after being overstimulated is firstly, having a nap or sleeping (for significant recharge of energy). Secondly, being in a quiet, dark room. And thirdly, watching a TV show or movie on Netflix in my comfiest clothes on my bed or couch, with some comfort food and my dog.

Why did you choose to become a peer leader?

Being a peer leader isn’t something I would label as something I chose. In my perspective, I kind of just rolled into leadership through YDAS and became inspired, driven and passionate after all that I learnt through the program. I heard so many diverse stories that inspired me to continue finding opportunities related to disability, autism, youth, and leadership.
Through the opportunities I have done this year, I realised that I wanted to be a voice for autistic young adults. Especially those over 25 years old as there isn’t informal support such as peer support around Victoria that can help support newly diagnosed young adults and adults.

What are the benefits of being in a peer support group?

The benefits I’ve discovered from being regularly a part of peer support groups are: 

  • social connection 
  • relationship building 
  • authentic empathy and sympathy
  • being out of home and active
  • stretching comfort zones, and
  • learning new skills or improving existing ones.

These all improve my well-being either through physical movement, social engagement, and general mental well-being. I met my close friend group at the moment through the Misfit Project and Different Journeys peer support groups.

You attended some of Amaze’s NDIS workshops. What information did you think was the most useful?

Last year, I attended the NDIS workshop for recently diagnosed adults and found all the information extremely useful as I knew the tiniest amount about NDIS. 

The key things I found the most useful were:

  • having someone to ask questions to
  • the Transitioning to the NDIS PowerPoint presentation, which simply but clearly explains the important details of NDIS that are a must to know, and
  • the word document with the list of possible goals you could put in your plan (writing for the NDIS is extremely hard).

How has Autism Connect supported you?

Autism Connect supported me by helping me find a support coordinator for my NDIS plan, which was extremely difficult when I didn’t know who to trust or where to look.

They also helped me understand the support that should be provided to me when I return to studying at TAFE and advice on how to have that conversation with my TAFE provider.

Fel is an autistic, young adult who is an aspiring leader/advocate in the disability community. This blog is her chronicling the journey, achievements, and goals of becoming an experienced and official leader and advocate. You can find her Facebook page here.


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