Jessica’s unexpected journey

Vibrant journalist, artist, disability advocate and advisor, Jessica leads a busy and creative life in her regional hometown of Wagga Wagga.

Recent key events in Jessica’s life have led her on an unanticipated yet rewarding journey, which began when she was diagnosed as autistic at 27.

“I first recognised that I was probably autistic after listening to a podcast,” Jessica says.

“There was a woman about my age – at the time I was maybe 24 or 25 years old – talking about being autistic. She had been listing things that she struggled with and things that she found easier because she was autistic, and it felt like ticking boxes.

“From there I did a deep dive – which in retrospect I realised is a very autistic thing to do – and learnt as much as I could about autism.”

While negotiating her diagnosis, Jessica won an ABC Regional Storyteller Scholarship. She used the platform to explore adult experiences of autism, including writing an article with former Australian of the Year and advocate for survivors of sexual assault, Grace Tame.

“Part of my elevator pitch was about media representation of autism because it’s mostly focussed on children and carers,” Jessica says.

“And that’s not inherently bad; it’s an important conversation to have. But what it overlooks is the enormous number of adults living in Australia who are autistic.

“And narratives in the media are often not told from the perspective of people who are autistic themselves.”

During her Scholarship, Jessica had the chance to write one of ABC’s multimedia Odyssey articles. The article explored what it’s like to be diagnosed as autistic as an adult and looked at five people’s experiences, including her own.

“We all had very different experiences but there were certainly some common threads to the narrative,” Jessica says.

“I also had the chance to explore other topics as well.

“For example, I had an eating disorder in my twenties and had a chance to write about that for ABC Everyday.

“Part of the process was really embracing the idea that by being vulnerable I’m actually able to increase my personal capacity to succeed.

“I’m giving people a real benchmark. Instead of something that’s artificially inflated or showing the good stuff without showing the bad stuff.”

Jessica’s experience with the ABC has launched her into the world of journalism, where she has some exciting opportunities to explore.

“I have a journalism contract coming up soon, where I’m going to be doing more structured journalism,” Jessica says.

“I am really looking forward to this experience. It will be a chance to connect with my community and understand people’s experiences from a grassroots perspective.”

Jessica has some advice for anyone thinking of pursing a creative endeavour.

“Don’t give them what you think they want, give them ‘you’,” Jessica says.

“Give them what you have to bring to the table, authenticity in my mind counts for a lot.

“And I think it can give people a better understanding, if you’re willing to be real, and maybe even a little bit vulnerable in the way you talk about your experiences.

“Also, regardless of what you’re pitching and what your idea is, cover the ‘why’ behind it.

“You can have a great idea, but if you haven’t got a reason why this experience or this phenomena or this pitch is important to you personally, then it can be very hard to persuade others that it’s an important conversation to be had.”