Model MATES is an event where our young people rock the catwalk alongside professional models. It’s a metaphor showcasing how those on the spectrum can rise up to the occasion when given the opportunity. 

 The Event's Goals 

  1. To increase the visibility and presence of people on the autism spectrum in a positive manner and reinforce the need for inclusion 

  2. To give our young people the opportunity to feel celebrated. This is POWERFUL. 
    Too often the focus on an autism diagnosis is around a person’s deficits. They are told what they can’t do or how far behind they are. This event is about encouraging them to stand tall, hold their heads high and shine on the catwalk. The effects of which cannot be overstated.  

At one of our earlier events, one mother told me that years of psychology, speech therapy, and OT did not have the impact on her child’s self-confidence that this one day has had. 

This can change the trajectory of a young person’s life.  

But this is ONE event, held annually. How can we replicate this so that more young people on the spectrum feel a sense of purpose and belonging?  

Each one of us can personally contribute… How? 

  1.  Try extending the hand of friendship to those who find social interaction challenging

  2. If you are in a position to do so, employ our young people.  

1 in 5 Australians have a disability, 65% of people on the autism spectrum are unemployed. If you employ our young people, you are tapping into a new target market because these young people have parents and siblings and we will be loyal to you and your brand! Corporations and businesses spend their marketing budgets seeking new customers…well… here is an untapped market on a silver platter!  

I would like to invite other Malls, Shopping Centres and Fashion events to host Model MATES so that this simple message can be spread far and wide.  

This is not a charity event, it's about empowerment....and if you think disability doesn't relate to you or to business, think again; 1 in 5 Australians have a disability. People with disabilities represent a vast market that is overlooked and largely untapped. 
Globally there are 1.3 billion people with disabilities, representing a market the size of China!!! Think about those numbers for your business...  

Model MATES 2018

Model MATES 2016

Model MATES 2017

Model MATES 2018

Model MATES 2019



The Best MATES Puppet Show is a story about the friendship of Tommy the Turtle and Danny the Duck for primary school students.  

  • It is a story about inclusion 
  • With a powerful anti-bullying message 
  • Delivered with a sense of fun and positivity 

We all need a MATE.  Our values are underpinned by the concept of MATESHIP; it’s is a part of our Australian DNA 

Instead of promoting the negative and somewhat abstract mantra of “bullying no way” or “say no to bullying”, The Best MATES Puppet Show promotes inclusion and acceptance. 

Tommy the Turtle and Danny the Duck will share with your students their story of friendship and inclusion. It’s time to take the negativity out and inject some fun and storytelling in to this very serious and real problem; a problem that is becoming more prevalent and damaging to so many of our young people. 

The Best MATES Puppet Show stars Richard Habelrih as Tommy the Turtle.  

Richard gives Tommy an authentic voice, as he himself was subjected to extreme bullying all through school because he did not quite ‘fit in’ due to his autism. 

This is not a story about autism, it’s a story of difference, and just like Richard, Tommy did not quite fit in. 

What your students will experience: 

Richard first shares his own school journey with the students - his presentation, “I’m Just Like Everyone Else” is thought provoking and has been very well received at schools. 

Following his presentation, Richard brings Tommy to life as students to sit back and enjoy the adventures of Tommy & Danny. 

Why Best MATES? 

  • Teachers can’t replicate friendship from peers which all children crave 
  • Exclusion is very often the first form of bullying 
  • Best MATES offers a proactive and preventative option to exclusion and social isolation in schools 

 According to the Bullying No Way Project: 

  1. 45% of young people experience bullying before the age of 18 
  1. 38% of young people believe that their school does not take bullying seriously 
  1. Peers are present as onlookers in 87% of bullying interactionsThat means around 87% of people watch, and do nothing.  

Our goal is to present Best MATES at every primary school. This is a big goal and some may say, un-achievable. 

Our invitation goes out to every primary school in Australia. If regional clusters joined forces, we wold be most happy to bring Tommy the Turtle and Danny the Duck to your school. 


School MATES

What is School MATES? 

  1. MATES is an acronym for Mates Assisting To Engage Socially 
  1. It’s a simple concept; it’s a proactive rather than a reactive solution to exclusion. 
  1. MATES is a high-school based, peer led, social inclusion and leadership programme. 
  1. MATES pairs students, one playing a leadership role by socially supporting a peer who may have difficulty with socialisation. 
  1. The MATES leader is recognized as part of the school leadership team – creating more leadership opportunities for students 




  •  Creates a sense of belonging at school for all students 
  • Empowers students to believe they can make a difference 
  • Develops a sense of empathy 
  • Leadership skills are nurtured 
  • High peer expectations of fellow students are established 
  • Allows students to challenge the status quo 
  • Reduces the tolerance to by-stander behaviour 
  • Creates a more caring and engaged student cohort 
  • Social Justice is concretely implemented in the school 
  • Creates a paradigm shift in the school’s culture, by empowering the students to lead the change and set the standards of inclusion in their community 
  • Removes the onus from the teachers to the students 
  • Making school about success, not just education 
  • Can reduce negative behavior in class triggered by frustration 
  • Students’ sense of belonging promotes a more settled class 


Autism MATES Conference

The Autism MATES Conference is our signature event. It’s a conference which gives our young people on the autism spectrum the stage.  We encourage them to use their own voice to advocate for themselves and their peers. 

 The Event's Goals 

  1. To present to the community the humanity behind an autism diagnosis and the different faces of the spectrum.  

  2. To empower our young people on the spectrum by giving them the opportunity to advocate for themselves and develop lifelong public speaking skills.  

  3. To connect our young people with the wider community in which they live and help nurture a sense of connection and belonging.  

  4. And finally, to disrupt the current model of ‘autism conferences’ whereby international experts and researchers are engaged to speak about those on the spectrum. These speakers traditionally have little experience other than that in a clinical setting and are usually given top billing while those on the spectrum are given token billing on a side stage and expected to volunteer their time.   

At Autism MATES Conferences, our speakers are respected for their time and expertise. This event is about giving our young people on the spectrum visibility and a voice. 

Just because they may have difficulty speaking, does not mean they have nothing to say. 

It's amazing how if given the opportunity, our speakers realise they are capable of so much more than the limiting beliefs that are placed upon them!  

Research shows that 51% of young people with autism attending school or other educational institutions, experience communication difficulties. The labour force participation rate of people living with autism is 40.8%, compared with 53.4% of working age people with disability and 83.2% of people without disability.  

Source: ABS Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers: Summary of Findings – 2015 

The Autism MATES Conferences provide young people on the autism spectrum an opportunity to write a speech, practice and then deliver it in front of a large audience. This helps them develop greater confidence and communication skills which will serve them well in seeking employment. It also educates the community with first-hand knowledge, by breaking down barriers and stereotypes. These speaking roles also provide employment as our speakers receive a fee for their contribution.  

Our first event was held in 2016 and we have now expanded interstate with a view to bringing this event wherever we are invited.