Kirk is kicking goals

Kinglake volunteer Kirk Mercuri is planning to publish a book about his experiences of living with autism and the Covid-19 pandemic. Picture: SUPPLIED

Kirk Mercuri wants people to know that living with autism does not mean he is incapable of contributing to the community.

In fact, for him, it’s quite the opposite.

He makes a difference in people’s lives every day.

The 24-year-old from Kinglake volunteers for his local basketball and football clubs; Kinglake Ranges Opportunity Shop, Kinglake Library, BMX Bicycle Group, and Neighbourhood House.

“I enjoy meeting people and seeing people out and about and talking to people, helping them out and seeing what they do,” Kirk said.

Described as “a highly creative, kind-hearted, and enthusiastic person who consistently goes out of his way to be helpful to others, resulting in an impressive volunteer experience list and popular community profile”, Kirk’s tireless efforts led to his joint win as Murrindindi Shire Council Young Citizen of the Year last year.

But he’s not stopping there – with hopes to publish a book this year about his experiences of living with disability.

It all started when Covid-19 hit.

Struggling as social restrictions threatened to isolate him, he started collecting data and statistics about the pandemic and wrote about how it affected him and his small community.

“There wasn’t much else to do at that time, so this was a good way to keep myself busy,” Kirk said.

Fast forward a couple of years and he has found a local author who is helping him to publish his book.

“It is about my life as an adult with autism, there’s some chapters about when I went to school and how I think about things and then it talks about how I felt during Covid and how it affected me and Kinglake as a community,” he said.

Kirk was diagnosed with autism at the age of two and a half after his mother Maryanne noticed he wasn’t reaching his milestones like his twin brother.

Once diagnosed, Kirk received early intervention through a special development school for four years before attending mainstream primary and secondary school with a fully funded full-time aid.

In 2019, Kirk accessed the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) before being linked in with Intereach and local area coordinator Richelle Black in 2021.

“We connected Kirk with supports around the Kinglake area, and he has been working with a support worker on a regular basis to access his community and make connections in his community which he has been doing so well,” Richelle said.

“He also receives funding for weekly skill development to build on his independence, and work on skills such as cooking and budgeting.”

For Kirk, the NDIS supports help him to stay active and socialise in the community.

“In some ways, my autism impacts on what things I may be capable of, my abilities and how I think and how I react and respond to things,” Kirk said.

“The NDIS has helped me quite a bit. I have a support worker who comes to see me once a week and we go to different places and explore different areas.”

Whether Kirk is meticulously keeping score for the local basketball club, running water for the Kinglake Football Club (Lakers), or helping out at the op shop, Kirk’s genuine kindness leaves an indelible mark on those around him.

“What I like about my volunteering is that they’re all different and I get to meet new people and learn new things every day,” he said.

And he wants people to know that neurodivergence should not be perceived as a barrier.

Rather, it can serve as a catalyst for achieving your goals.

“I want people to know that autism is different for everyone and that people with autism are still capable of doing things,” he said.

“It doesn’t stop me from doing what I love.”