May 2016 –
I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not let what I cannot do stand in the way of what I can do.
(Variation of a quotation by Edward Everett Hale).
This was the opening quote in Jason Edgecombe’s TEDx Tauranga talk in November last year. In this talk, Jason described how he attended his uncle’s wedding in his native Canada as a six year old. At the wedding he spent over 3 hours discussing marine biology with his uncle, while the adults at the table listened in silent amazement.
The events of the following year stand in stark contract to this eloquence, when Jason’s teachers referred him for a paediatric early education assessment. The diagnosis was Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), described to both Jason’s parents, and more alarmingly to seven-year-old Jason, as a mental disability. The specialist predicted that this diagnosis meant that Jason would most likely struggle with friendships and school, and would be unlikely to ever hold down full-time, meaningful employment.
In 2013, Jason self-referred for a new assessment and found that the ADD diagnosis was
incorrect. He was diagnosed with High Functioning Autism. In his words, this new diagnosis was like ‘putting on glasses for the first time’. Jason, now 26, is a committed and loving husband and father. He is also most definitely meaningfully employed, as he works part time as a support worker in addition to running his own business. It seems the Canadian school specialist’s predictions were incorrect.
Jason is the founder of Breaking the Label, his new business aimed at mentoring other people with autism to ‘be who they are’. This motivation stems in part from his own experiences at school when a mentor who understood him would have made all the difference.
In those dark years the voice of failure almost drowned out the voice of success. His road to successful employment has not been easy. He has tried to set up two other businesses in the past and both failed. Jason has also experienced the worst breakdown in his life due to workplace stress as an employee in the hospitality industry. But he refused to give up and talks of a switch in his brain that once turned on, gives him incredible determination.
He also learned resilience and courage playing video games. Through these games, he learned that failure can be followed by success. He acknowledges that video games cannot save your life, but they can inspire change. He shares this belief with a growing number of youth at the Dungeons and Dragons group he runs in association with Asperger’s Connections in Tauranga. Dungeons and Dragon is a fantasy tabletop role-playing game. Each player often has an area of speciality and their individual choices contribute to the success of the game as a whole. As Dungeon Master, Jason provides a safe yet challenging environment for young people to take risks, experience failure and success, and to make friends, in a safe environment.
When asked what mattered most to him about autism, Jason answered that it is ‘the amazing things that it let’s me do.” And the worst thing about autism? “That every single person on the spectrum is amazing and 99% of them don’t know that”. This is something Jason plans to do something about. His goal is to create a nationwide network to coach others to become mentors. In this way he hopes to help others silence that voice of failure so that the voice of success can be heard.