Updated: Jan 6, 2020
I am sure that many of you are aware that this month is Autism Awareness Month. As part of Autism Awareness month I want to share my experiences of living on the Autistic Spectrum with you. Growing up as a young child my parents always thought that there was something different about me. I didn't learn to speak until I was 2, which for anyone that knows me well enough, they will find this hard to believe! I struggled to make meaningful friends during my years at primary school and only through persistence from my parents was I referred to Great Ormond Street Hospital. After a series of neurological, cognitive and behavioural tests, Professor Neville confirmed that I had Asperger's Syndrome, which is a form of high functioning Autism. I was lucky that I was diagnosed when I was 10, or so I thought back then. Despite being diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome I struggled during my secondary school years to fit in, but also struggled to find a reason to work hard as I thought people like me won't get the same opportunities as so called 'normal people'.
I left school with very little in the way of meaningful qualifications and in truth no direction or focus with how I wanted to live my life. I had a number of short term work placements but could never hold down these opportunities. I felt that the employers did not understand Asperger's Syndrome, but also, I had not mentally accepted that I was different, so was unwilling to talk about my disability in a frank and honest manner.
Yet despite the fact that I have found my direction and focus with my life. This only came about because of the tremendous people around me who have shown me patience and care beyond belief. These people have also seen in me that I can deliver a normal life for myself and my loved ones. I am one of the lucky ones, today in this country only 14% of people with Asperger's Syndrome are in full time employment. To me this is societies loss, that in a modern open-minded, supposedly tolerant, meritocratic society we cannot give all our citizens the same equal opportunities regardless of whether they have a disability or not. I ask of you what it will take for society to change its views on people with Asperger's Syndrome? In light of the recent media coverage placing an increased awareness of equality in the workplace, particularly the closing of the gender pay gap and exposing of sexual harassment in the workplace, this is the time for society to come together as one and treat people with Asperger's Syndrome and those on the Autistic Spectrum equally and fairly.
For me two turning points in my life started me on the road to acceptance of Asperger's Syndrome. Firstly passing my driving test after numerous failed attempts (six in total) but the faith and belief my dad showed in me and the courage and determination I demonstrated started to give me the belief that I could achieve the same as my peers if I showed the necessary resilience and courage. The second opportunity was the faith and loyalty that my current employer showed in me. They took me on as a work placement as part of a drive to get more disabled candidates into the workforce. They allowed me to grow and develop as a person but they also showed tremendous patience towards me even when I was not performing to the level of my fellow colleagues. They allowed me to do three months work experience with them and then gave me the opportunity to have a permanent contract with them. They have honestly helped develop and grow me as a person and an employee and for what they have done for me I cannot thank them enough. They in many ways have helped me accept and realise my potential and that my disability should be seen as a strength and not an inhibitor to a normal or successful life.
As part of Autism Awareness Month I don't just want people to share my post or share the posts of others, I want to see employers taking meaningful action to employ or consider for interview people with Asperger's Syndrome. We are not mentally ill, we do not have learning disabilities, we are just neurologically different and now is the time to educate people on what Asperger's Syndrome and Autism is. We are the ones living with it and if we can educate people about it then we can reduce ignorance, reduce intolerance and increase acceptance and opportunity for those living on the spectrum.
So the next time you see someone behaving slightly differently, or are maybe socially awkward, think 'do they have Asperger's Syndrome?' Words and rhetoric always sound nice, but meaningful action and change will ultimately yield results and equitability for those like myself and many thousands of others living in the UK with Asperger's Syndrome. So the next time, as an employer, you receive a CV or personal statement from someone with Asperger's Syndrome, think 'could this person be an asset to my business, should I take a chance on them?'