This is Autism Awareness month - a chance to shine a light on the different faces and issues involved with the spectrum disorder.
Autism affects one in every 150 Australians.
It's a developmental disability affecting people’s behaviours and interactions. The spectrum covers everything from high functioning with a high IQ - to non-verbal.
Marissa Ely and Richard Habelrih are just two of the faces of autism.
Marissa was diagnosed with high functioning Aspergers Syndrome on the 29th of June 2016 - the day before her 39th birthday.
Hers is a type of autism that correlates with strong verbal language skills and intellectual ability, but also with social issues and anxiety.
Typically, autism is discovered when a child is three or four years old but Marissa was diagnosed much later in life and only after she had seen many psychologists and doctors in an attempt to find what was "wrong".
Despite receiving various potential diagnoses, such as ADD, borderline personality disorder and seasonal defective disorder, she says coming to terms with being on the autism spectrum was the hardest.
I got left to sit there and just take it all in, it was very upsetting. I didn’t even know what it was.
It was the start of a much longer journey.
It took Marissa seven months to find someone to help her cope. The lack of services available for adults with autism reflects how uncommon it is to be diagnosed later in life, and runs in parallel with society's perception of autism as only affecting children.
Males are four times more likely to be diagnosed, according to the Autism Speaks report.
Experts, such as Tony Attwood - a psychologist notable for his work on Aspergers Syndrome - claims that this is due to females being under-diagnosed. He claims superficial "social mimicry skills", hide many of the common traits of autism found in young boys.
This was the case for Marissa. However, she now recognises that she conveys some of the common characteristics of someone on the spectrum.
"I can be quite literal, I don’t like crowds, I can be a bit black and white, I can be a bit OCD, I have issues with certain relationships”, she said.
She also has difficulties with emotional and social cues and keeping eye contact - a common trait.
Marissa has learnt to deal with certain aspects of having autism, but says she still has occasional meltdowns and panic attacks.
"It has been very difficult with the characteristics that I have. When you look at me, you don’t say 'OMG, you’re autistic', because I don’t flap... but I do have the characteristics of someone that potentially [could]."
This has made it difficult for Marissa to feel a part of the autism community, while also finding it difficult to make friends with those who are not on the spectrum.
I don’t have a lot of friends, because people just don’t understand me.
She's also had problems securing a job.
Unemployment is a major issue for people on the autism spectrum, with unemployment at 31.6 per cent according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). That's three times higher than the rate of unemployment for people with other disabilities.
Marissa is still an active member of her community. She created the Maroubra Community Facebook page, which covers news, events, issues and business promotions for suburbs in the south-east of Sydney.
She's currently a part of the NDIS, however her funding is soon to decrease. This will leave her unable to pay for the personal training she has found to be extremely helpful in dealing with her anxiety.
Richard is an advocate for those with autism.
He speaks at conferences across Australia - not something his early doctors predicted he would be doing.
Richard had problems right from the start. It was thought he would never walk or talk, let alone be a voice for change.
He was officially diagnosed with autism at the age of four. Yet, it was due to early intervention and therapeutic treatment at just eight months old, that the neural pathways essential for walking and talking were created.
He says autism is just a tiny part of who he is.
I have autism. So what? It’s just something I have, it’s just a part of me like my dark hair.
There are many misconceptions about autism, such as the assumption that all people on the spectrum are the same or that they don't value friendships. But these notions can be detrimental to confidence and a sense of self. They can also lead to isolation, which is one of the greatest problems facing people on the spectrum.
Richard also says he finds it difficult to do certain things.
"... like sitting still or making friends, but even though it’s hard, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to have friends!"
Although this is not always the case for those with autism, Richard is an independent and social individual. But he finds it upsetting and frustrating when people don't treat him like "everyone else". Over the years, he's also found himself often overlooked.
"Sometimes, even though I am right there, people ask my mum questions".
He says once, when travelling on a plane, the flight attendant asked his mother what he would like to drink - instead of just asking him.
Richard's many public speeches have included one for the ASPECT Autism in Education Conference, attended by academics and doctors from across Australia. His address was appropriately titled; "I'm just like everyone else".
In it, he calls upon people to treat him like everyone else. Noting that: "it is pretty simply really". It's a speech he gives to schools, universities and conferences, to spread a message of acceptance and awareness.
Richard is also heavily involved in the Mates Assisting to Engage Socially- MATES program.
It's a school-based, peer-led, social inclusion and leadership program - supporting students with social interaction difficulties.
Richard speaks first and then asks the students questions. Then, with the help of his mum Randa, they put on a puppet show in which Richard plays the protagonist, Tommy the Turtle.
"I like being Tommy the Turtle because he is a bit like me."
The puppet show is an effective advocacy tool. Richard finds that he gets to be like a teacher and is "helping the children learn about being nice, having friends and about autism."
He says he would like to become a teacher's aide one day, but (like many of us) would probably struggle with the studying.