Daniel is a graphic designer, a passionate Christian and heavily involved in social justice. He also happens to have autism. This is his story.
There are three ways to hear Daniel’s story.
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2. Downloading it to your computer by clicking on the download button on top right of the box.
3. Listening and subscribing to it free in iTunes here.
See a full transcript of Daniel’s interview below…
Daniel:I’m Daniel Giles and I’m 22 years old.
Voiceover: You’re listening to The Spoken Project. I’m Sophie Gyles. Today it’s Daniel’s turn to speak.
Daniel Giles:I think at an early age I was aware that I was different. Often, I would see life behind a glass wall.
Darryl Giles: Probably at around the age of two we realised Daniel wasn’t reaching some of the milestones and luckily he was diagnosed at about 2 and a half, which is about as early as it can be diagnosed.
Daniel Giles: I would often have no desire for social contact. I would look at details in everything, including under the bottoms of cars, the details of street lights and obviously things later such as Victorian cornices. I would also remember hating different sounds. And I think life was a blur back then.
Darryl Giles: Daniel’s very different back then to what he is now. He’s quite quiet and what have you now, but he was just a bundle of energy and never stopped running. And he was quite the escape-artist and so therefore we had to really think of his safety in the sense of fencing and all those sorts of things to contain him so to speak. But he was very much non-verbal and he spent a lot of time just running around. I particularly remember he had one of those little plastic ride on cars, a little red one that he used to spend a lot of time on. He’d ride the same track in the house all the time and now I understand that’s pretty typical of someone with autism that they like things the same.
Voiceover: Daniel’s pretty amazing. I met up with him and his Dad, Darryl for this interview in his one bedroom flat in Bendigo, in country Victoria.
Seeing him do his washing up, and talk about cooking and cleaning, and what it’s like living alone, it’s actually really hard to believe that for about the first 10 years of his life Daniel could barely speak or interact with people.
And yet, to be honest, Daniel is more capable of living independently than many 22 year olds I know. Last year, he graduated with honours in Graphic Design, and he’s now running his own freelance design business, all from his home office.
When I spoke to him for this episode, he started by telling me what it was like growing up with autism
Daniel Giles: Another dislike I had was for the colour purple, which ironically I quite like it now as a colour and often use it in my graphic design work. But as a child, if people were wearing purple I would complain about it. I would also complain…had a hate for the numbers 50-59 or actually 49-59 and would basically dread the last 10 minutes of an hour because of those numbers. Or I would even kick up a fuss at after school care when a fellow student from school would write the number 59 on the board. Then finally, people used to mock me because I hated pink and purple. And they would be singing “Pink and purple polka dots, pink and purple polka dots,” which I kicked up a fuss about as well.
Interviewer: It’s funny seeing you can smile about this now, but at the time it obviously consumed you. What… looking back, can you understand why you hated things? Or was there a pattern to your emotions and your perception?
Daniel Giles: I don’t know. I think the pink and purple was…I imagined purple in particular as like ants. I could imagine ants crawling around in some purple liquidy thing.
Interviewer: What about the numbers? Do you remember why the numbers were so unsettling?
Daniel Giles: No, to be honest. I think it had a relation to the end of something and I think it connected to my earlier dislike for the number five when I was a child as well.
Interviewer: It sounds like these things were quite frustrating. How did you overcome them?
Daniel Giles: I think those things gradually wore off. I think I somehow realised how petty these dislikes were, to be honest. And I think, too, when I think back to the…I had an obsession for the olden days, including old architecture and I figured, well, pink and purple were used as colours back then. So I think that helped me to overcome it.
Voice over: Dotted around Daniel’s flat are pictures – his own designs, as well as others. Mostly inspirational words or pictures related to his faith.
He goes to a local catholic church, where he helps out a lot. He hasn’t always been a Christian though. He grew up in the church, but there was a big period of doubt which occurred in early high school, after his Mum died.
Daniel Giles: I started to know about God at the age of 8 despite going to church all the time, because before then, those aspects were like a blur. My mum died just before I turned nine and I imagined her going to a house in heaven and even drawing a house plan, much as my mum drew a house plan of the farm house she grew up in.
Then when I was 12 years old, my family told me that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny were not real. And then I basically also concluded that maybe Jesus walked on earth, but heaven didn’t, couldn’t logically exist. I remembered in Year 7 in a religious education class – because I went to a Catholic school – saying that. However, I did enjoy going to a church because it related to my interest in olden day culture. And I also liked old church architecture.
As I grew through time I think I had a belief in God in the back of my mind, but no real relationship with him, until I reached Year 10. I think I was unsure of myself at the time, and questioned what my purpose in life was.
Voiceover: It was at this point in his life that Daniel started going along to Remar, a youth ministry program run at his school. The program focused on leadership and spiritual development,as well as social justice. Daniel says he just felt at home at Remar.
Daniel Giles: It was largely because I was accepted for who I was, warts and all, despite some people’septions of me being unsuccessful or people’s thinking that I was a lesser person. I felt another thing I related to there was people’s testimonies of faith and knowing that God had a plan for me and I was his beloved son really drew me.
Voiceover: Daniel’s Dad, Darryl says Remar was a massive turning point for him.
Darryl Giles: I think Daniel’s faith has been a really determining factor in his life. Daniel’s grown up Catholic, and I’m not Catholic, although I probably have predominantly have in more recent years been involved with the Catholic community.
In secondary school, Daniel joined a Marist group called Remar and that was really a catalyst to kick of his faith in a very strong way and I think the ethos of Raymar – and there’s not a lot of kids that do it and they have to make a strong commitment to it – it taught him leadership skills, it taught him more about his faith and it taught him about the marginalised and looking out for other people and what have you on a higher level. So I think that’s really been one of the things that’s really made Daniel what he is today and has really led to his strong connection with his faith and looking out for marginalised people.
Interviewer: After joining Remar, Daniel took on a more active role at his school, joined a local church, and was confirmed. Since then, he’s begun to really live out his faith.
Daniel Giles: I felt on fire for God and I felt compelled to dedicate every moment to Him. My faith has grown stronger since. It’s had its ups and downs. And I have had my false distortions of my relationship with God, like whenever I sinned I would think, gee, you’ve done your dash today Daniel. But then I felt God telling me I love you anyway and I’m calling you back.
I often write letters to God asking for his help or I’ll even pray for people like my family, my friends…even those who bully me. I believe personally that these bullies are hurt inside. And they need God’s help as well.
Interviewer: How has your faith helped you understand and overcome some of the difficulties of being autistic?
Daniel Giles: Well God uses my weakness to bless others. And I think particularly God’s helped me to see that I have a purpose in life.Particularly to serve others in the most practical way I can. Even in the little things. But I notice in the church – not amongst all fellow Catholics, but some fellow Catholics – the focus seems to be on doing everything perfectly in church services or it’s like they think if you fail to say this prayer or that prayer you’re not a proper Christian.
And I think God’s using me to, basically simply by my actions, try to bring a human element to the faith by demonstrating that my faith’s lived in a practical way… encourage people to focus in a nutshell on a relationship with God rather than just following the motions. And to see God as a heavenly Dad.
I think though that at times I’ve got to strip away the exterior that I look like the most prayerful person on earth, and show people the wounds and the fact that I need to depend on it, on my heavenly Dad, as good as my earthly Dad is.
Darryl Giles: I think just, I feel very proud at the way he’s been determined and worked very hard to achieve what he’s achieved. You know, the list of things that Daniel has achieved at such a young age is just enormous, and whilst there’s been so many people who’ve helped along the way, Daniel’s been really determined himself, and that’s what’s helped that input of so many people really gain the maximum benefit. So I just really take my hat off to him for having that attitude of bettering himself and working really hard. He gets knocked down, and stands back up again and goes back at it, so year, that probably sums Daniel up, really.
Voiceover: You’ve been listening to The Spoken Project. On today’s Project – Daniel Giles and his father Darryl. I’m Sophie Gyles -no we’re not related – actually a different spelling. Anyway, catch you next time.