Richard Habelrih was diagnosed with autism at a very young age.
He faced a lot of isolation growing up as doctors warned his mother he would never speak.
Watch more of Richard’s story in the video above
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“There was a lot of bullying and unfortunately for a lot of young people with disabilities, not much is expected of them at school,” Richard’s mother Rhanda told 7NEWS.com.au .
And Richard isn’t the only one struggling to find social activities and make new friends.
According to a recently released quarterly report from the NDIA, about 32% of people with autism between the ages of 7 and 24 have no friends outside of family and paid support.
At 25, Richard is now thriving.
Not only has he overcome his mother’s fears of never speaking out, but he now hosts public talks at schools across the country to help share his experience.
“He’s so funny he’ll say in his speech -” at school they never gave me a chance to speak and now the schools are paying me come talk to their students,” Rhanda said.
Rhanda explained that Richard didn’t make many friends at school and it was very difficult to find suitable activities and social events.
But everything changed when he found out the A-lista website that helps young people with disabilities connect to various activities and social events.
Rhanda said Richard found a trip to take, to Jervis Bay on the south coast of New South Wales, a few years ago and when she got back she became extremely emotional when she heard about the travel.
“He came home and was just thrilled and said, ‘Mom, I’ve made a best friend,'” Rhanda said.
“As a parent to hear that was the best thing in the world, that he had found someone like him to confide in and hang out with, and to this day they really are still the best friends.”
Richard is now an ambassador for the website because he hopes to share a very clear and important message.
“Just because it’s hard for me to make friends doesn’t mean I don’t want to make friends,” he said.
Rhanda also reflected this sentiment.
“A lot of people think people with autism aren’t very social, but that’s not always the case, and it certainly wasn’t the case for Richard,” she added.
Richard now enjoys trying new things and meeting new people as his confidence continues to soar.
He has since tried things like bungee jumping and travelling, and is preparing for a trip overseas in May.
Richard has also started his own online business, selling handmade chocolates.
The game-changing platform
The A-List is an Australia-wide platform to find activities and social events in your postcode.
It also hosts various resources.
It was founded in 2020 by Nicole Gamerov and Bianca Shapiro, after being overwhelmed with requests from parents and guardians for appropriate social activities.
The couple worked for MyCareSpace, a site that connected people living with disabilities with information and support services.
But the site lacked an important aspect – social activities and connections.
‘We soon realized that in many cases social options existed for these young people but were difficult to find if the families did not know about them,’ they told 7NEWS.com.au.
“We said, ‘imagine if there was a place where young people could find activities that interested them and where they could find like-minded people all over Australia?’ ”
Raising awareness and creating change
Saturday, April 2 marks World Autism Awareness Day, a day when campaigners hope to raise awareness for people with autism spectrum disorders around the world.
Kathrine Peereboom, an advocate for autism and vulnerable people, said she believes there needs to be a greater focus on acceptance and what people can do in practical ways to achieve it.
“People with autism see the world through a different lens and they engage in a different way – in many different ways,” Ms Peereboom said.
“Many people with autism find life very lonely and are often ostracized by others.
“If people understand autism and work harder to be accepting, they can engage more positively with people with autism. This will help people with autism feel included and valued. They will also feel safe, which is extremely important.
Ms Peereboom added that consideration and empathy can go a long way for those who want to help make a difference in workplaces, schools and other social settings.
“Simple things can make a huge difference in the life of an autistic person,” she said.