Comedian Em Rusciano has been moved to tears speaking about her son Elio as she laid bare the challenges neurodivergent children and their families can face.
Ms Rusciano delivered an emotional speech on Wednesday about her experience with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in which she said her son had been diagnosed with autism.
Ms Rusciano was diagnosed with ADHD as a 42-year-old.
She said her diagnosis “profoundly changed” her core beliefs about herself.
“I felt deep sadness for that precocious, curious and chaotic 10-year-old girl who desperately wanted to get things right,” she told the National Press Club in Canberra.
Ms Rusciano said she knew all too well “the toll” of trying to fit into a neurotypical society, “both as a kid and then an adult”.
“I can’t go back and advocate for 10-year-old Em. And, most importantly, I won’t always be there to advocate for my son,” she said.
“I won’t always be able to be there to step in and explain why he goes up and roars loudly like a dinosaur in people’ faces.”
She said it was reflecting on this that inspired her to deliver a speech about the neurodivergent community to a national audience.
“The reason that I eventually agreed to give you this speech was because I wanted to make sure that all of you here today and everyone watching from wherever you are … that you get it, that more people get it,” she said.
“Don’t treat them like there’s something wrong with them.
“Be bigger than that, be better than that, be kinder than that and please roar back.”
Ms Rusciano, whose daughter also has ADHD, used her speech to call for the National Disability Insurance Scheme to fund treatment for the neurodevelopmental condition.
Ms Rusciano said ADHD testing and therapy were “wildly expensive” and that the government should properly recognise the condition by including it on the NDIS as a primary disability.
“I think we need to stop assuming as a baseline that everyone is a heterosexual white man,” she said.
“All of our systems … (are) built around that premise. And we cling to it for whatever reason. Women do as well.”
Ms Rusciano said after her son’s experience with the NDIS she believed families were treated as “guilty until proven worthy” while trying to access the scheme.