‘A Spectrum of Possibilities’: GOCSA takes a step forward to support the Autistic community

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For the first time in its history, the Greek Orthodox Community of South Australia (GOCSA) marked World Autism Month with a special event to raise awareness and understanding about the condition, celebrate what autistic people bring to our community and encourage more multicultural communities to be part of the conversation.

Under the theme ‘A Spectrum of Possibilities,’ the event was held symbolically at GOCSA’s Boardroom on Wednesday, April 3, a day after the 17th World Autism Day when the Malinauskas Labor Government launched the state’s first Autism Inclusion Charter.

It featured as guest speakers the country’s first Assistant Minister for Autism, Hon Emily Bourke MLC; Chairperson and Founder of Gold Foundation, Angela Pangallo OAM and No 2 in Australia, No 5 in the world tennis player with intellectual impairment (PWII), Andriana Petrakis.

“I am so proud of everyone who got involved in the event. It’s important that as one of the state’s oldest multicultural organisations we play our part in helping increase autism awareness, break down barriers and promote acceptance and inclusion for autistic people, their carers and families,” GOCSA Vice President, Peter Gonis, said.

“Through education and dialogue, we can understand autism in communities like ours and reduce the stigma and misconceptions associated with it.”

According to recent statistics, the prevalence of autism diagnosis in Australia is estimated to be at least 3.2% of school-aged children and Australians with autism have among the poorest life outcomes in Australian society.

Assistant Minister for Autism Ms Bourke said, “Autism is the largest primary disability group in the NDIS, and South Australia sits above the national average, with 41% of South Australian NDIS participants being Autistic.

“Many people wonder why we need an Assistant Minister for Autism -and it is unique. We are the only Government in the world to have this position. It is because if we let down the largest disability group in our community, then we are letting down every disability group.”

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It was an emotional moment when Chairperson and Founder of not-for-profit organisation Gold Foundation Ms Pangallo shared the story of her son Connor, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome fifteen years ago, and how the difficulties of navigating a diagnosis when support is not available inspired her to “give kids a chance” and help other families.

In her speech and following a few words shared by City of West Torrens Mayor Michael Coxon, Ms Pangallo made special mention of how the late President of GOCSA, Bill Gonis, who was “a pioneer and visionary,” assisted the organisation in finding a new home at the Camden Park Community Centre.

“It is an enormous privilege to be doing this work for the Autism community and what a special honour it is that we are doing it with the support of the Greek Orthodox Community. I grew up in the Greek Orthodox Community and my parents were part of the foundations. That gives it an extra layer of meaning and purpose,” Ms Pangallo said.

Sharing her heart-warming and inspirational presentation, Greek Australian tennis champion Ms Petrakis said that as an autistic individual she has faced difficulties but she keeps a “positive and resilient” attitude.

“We should encourage each other and people with disabilities to get more involved in sports, schools, workplaces and organisations,” she said. For further information about Autism Month, visit https://autismsa.org.au/autism-month/ . To find out more about Gold Foundation and the support it provides for young people on the Autism Spectrum and their families, visit https://goldfoundation.com.au

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