AUStism April 2018 – Meet Our Speakers

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Chris Bonnello - Autistic Not Weird

Chris Bonnello is a former primary school teacher with Asperger’s Syndrome, who has also worked in special education. He is now an award-winning writer and speaker on autism issues, and author of autisticnotweird.com

Bonnello was first assessed for autism in 1989, at the age of four. Despite a damning report into his deficiencies, he did not receive a diagnosis since he was deemed academically capable. At the age of ten, an educational psychologist reported him as having a “slightly odd personality”. Since his Asperger Syndrome diagnosis at the age of 25, he has turned his attitude around and defined himself by his strengths rather than his weaknesses, and encourages other autistic people to see their own strengths.

Having qualified as a teacher and worked in both primary and special education, he launched Autistic Not Weird in April 2015, to share his insights from both a personal and professional perspective. This venture has seen his website receive almost 1.5 million page hits, and attracted 70,000 followers to his Facebook page.

Bonnello delivers talks (nationally and internationally), has been nominated for two awards to date (winning one), played chess internationally (winning nothing), captains his local Boys’ Brigade company, and published his first book in 2016.

His personality remains slightly odd.

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Caren Zucker - In A Different Key

Caren Zucker is a journalist and Emmy Award winning producer who has reported on a broad range of subjects both domestically and internationally. As a producer for ABC’s World News and Nightline, working alongside Peter Jennings, Charlie Gibson, and Diane Sawyer, she covered economic summits, presidential campaigns, social trends and the Olympic Games.  She was honored for her role in ABC’s coverage of 9/11 with two of television’s most prestigious prizes, the Peabody and the Alfred L. DuPont awards. Zucker was the producer and co-writer of PBS NewsHour series Autism Now. Her oldest son Mickey’s autism diagnosis inspired a new direction in her reporting: to bring a better understanding of autism’s realities. Zucker and her husband, NBC Sports Producer John McGuinness, have three children and reside in New Jersey.

Together with John Donvan, they published the best selling book IN A DIFFERENT KEY: The Story of Autism; they were honoured in 2017 as a Pulitzer Prize Finalist (Crown, January 2016).

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John Donvan - In A Different Key

John Donvan is a veteran network correspondent for ABC, CNN and PBS, and host and moderator of the Intelligence Squared U.S. Debates, which are heard on public radio and by podcast. During his journalism career, in addition to anchoring such broadcasts as ABC’s Nightline, John served as chief White House correspondent, and held multiyear postings in London, Moscow, Jerusalem and Amman, Jordan. The winner of four Emmys and the Overseas Press Club Award, he became interested in autism’s impact on families upon meeting his wife, a physician and medical school professor Ranit Mishori, who grew up in Israel with a brother profoundly affected by autism. He has two children and lives in Washington, D.C.

As a team, Donvan and Zucker have been collaborating on stories about autism since 2000. At ABC, they created the pioneering series Echoes of Autism, the first regular feature segment in network news devoted to understanding the lives of individuals and families living with autism. Their 2010 article in The Atlantic,

“Autism’s First Child,” was shortlisted for the National Magazine Award and appeared in the paperback anthology Best Magazine Writing of 2011. The two most recently won an Emmy Award for their story “A Different Kindof Boyhood,” airing on ABC’s Nightline, a report on the lives of two autistic boys over 15 years as they grew into young men. 

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James & Sam Best - Sam's Best Shot

Dr James Best has been a Sydney-based GP for over 20 years, and has a special interest in the management of autism. He has presented and written extensively about autism, including developing guidelines for GPs on the management of autism and also presenting many times on behalf of Autism Awareness .

In 2015, he and his 15 year old son Sam, who has autism, embarked on a 6 month backpacking journey around Africa on a purposeful exposure to uncertainty and chaos in order to improve Sam’s life skills. This intervention was studied by Griffith University as a case study, with the results being published shortly, and was also the subject of a book Dr Best has written, called Sam’s Best Shot. The remarkable adventure was featured on Australian Story in July last year.

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Tim & Judy Sharp - Laser Beak Man

Tim Sharp is an internationally acclaimed artist and the creator of Laser Beak Man. Tim’s artwork has been produced into an award nominated off-Broadway Play, which made it’s Australian debut in 2017. Laser Beak Man has his own 8 episode animated TV series screening on ABC3TV, a world first for someone living with autism. Tim has also been a finalist for Young Australian of the Year and now he is a keynote speaker.

All achievements his mum Judy would have not have thought possible when Tim was a baby. When Tim was born in 1988 Judy realised quickly he wasn’t like other babies his age. Yet it wasn’t until the day after his 3rd birthday she was told Tim has Autism and there was very little hope for his progress or development. But Judy never gave up and discovered she was able to open a door and communicate with Tim through drawing, a discovery that changed their lives forever.

At 11 years of age Tim created Laser Beak Man who features in all Tim’s art. His artwork is known for being bright, vibrant and fun. Tim’s story is a joyful one full of hope and purpose and unlike any other.

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Michael Whelan (Host) - The Other Country

Associate Professor Michael Whelan is an academic, writer, musician and autism advocate. In addition to his memoir, The Other Country: A Father’s Journey with Autism which was published by Pan Macmillan in 2008, Michael also wrote the documentary film What are you doing? This educational film for school audiences on the topic of social inclusion and autism was distributed to every school in Australia and was screened at the United Nations in New York as part of World Autism Day activities in April, 2013. 

In 2014 Michael joined Autism Queensland where he developed and commenced delivery of Studio G, a post-school transition program for young people with autism which based upon skill development in game development, animation and music technology.

Michael is now an Associate Professor in Music in the Creative Industries Faculty at Queensland University of Technology where his research is focused upon post-school transition for young people on the autism spectrum.