It has been a while since I've blogged on LinkedIn. In today's article I want to talk to you about my journey to becoming an Autistic Entrepreneur.
My Journey really started when I left school at 16. At that point in my life I had no direction and in all honesty not a lot to offer employers. Having Asperger's Syndrome, I think only added to this sense of hopelessness in my mind. My view at this time in my life was well if teachers don't understand my Asperger's Syndrome how on earth are employers supposed to understand and employ somebody like me into their workplace.
From 16-21 I drifted in and out of jobs where I simply couldn't cope or so I thought at that moment in time. I think I look back on those years between 16 and 21 and realised that actually a lot of the workplace challenges and difficulties I had were perpetuated by employers who simply had no knowledge or comprehension of Asperger's Syndrome and how to adequately support someone on the Spectrum in the workplace. I look back at these challenging years and realise now that the employer failed me and I didn't fail because I didn't succeed in this role. All my adult life, others have told me that losing a job in the workplace implies some sort of life failure. I have been frequently been told by others 'That I will never amount to anything' 'You’re a failure because you lost a job' and even when I was able to acquire and secure employment on a long-term basis I was told by one manager that 'I should be grateful that I have a job'. As if giving somebody on the Autistic Spectrum a job is a necessity out of pity for their situation.
Thankfully I was helped to find and secure employment in the workplace courtesy of the disability charity Mencap and I credit them for helping me succeed where in the past I might have failed. Yet, even in this situation I class myself as incredibly fortunate because five months after I had secured employment. The global recession hit and many people that I know on the Autistic Spectrum lost support from charities such as Mencap.
Thankfully, for me I worked for this excellent employer for almost eleven years. They helped nurture and develop me in a supportive and encouraging environment. They stood by me when I made poor decisions or made mistakes in the workplace where other employers might have decided to terminate my employment. They undoubtedly have helped shape me into the man that I am today and for that I will always be eternally grateful.
Yet, with all good things they must inexorably come to an end and after nearly eleven years of working for this employer. I decided to broaden my horizons and further my skills matrix. I guess for me when you have worked for one employer for such a long period of time you naturally assume that the next employer you have will be just as supportive and encouraging. Sadly, since leaving this employer my experiences of the workplace could not have been more different.
What has particularly shocked me is the lack of knowledge and understanding that organisations have of the Autistic Spectrum. Many organisations have the view that they know more about the Autistic Spectrum than they really do and are subsequently ill-prepared to support someone on the Autistic Spectrum when difficulties arise or are simply not interested in recognising and employing those on the Autistic Spectrum in their organisations.
I think what really set me on my way to becoming an Autism Entrepreneur was the bullying and hostility that I experienced in the workplace post the employer of 11 years. The low employment figures for those on the Autistic Spectrum and the lack of knowledge and support that many organisations and people have prompted me to start thinking about launching my own consultancy business.
As an adult who has been on the Autistic Spectrum for 25 years I decided last August to launch my own business with less than £1,000 and support from just my partner and parents I took the daunting plunge into self-employment. In two months, I had launched my own Autism consultancy business and I can honestly say that I have not been happier on a personal and a professional level.
Organisations and society need more people like me who are able to talk about their personal stories, however difficult these maybe so that we can actually make our workplaces a place where all Autistic people feel valued and accepted for their differences.
What is particularly interesting is that more and more numbers of Autistic people feel like the conventional world of employment simply doesn't work for them. Many like me have taken to becoming self-employed. However, we need to make conventional work a place where all Autistic people can contribute in an environment of fairness, tolerance and acceptance of their disability. The challenge for organisations is to find the right balance between meritocracy and equitability for opportunity for those on the Autistic Spectrum. We have a long way to go and progress at times feels painfully slow but by educating and encouraging organisations I genuinely believe that we will change our workplaces for the greater good for those on the Autistic Spectrum.
I am currently three months into my journey and so far I have signed up two clients to my business with many more serious enquiries in the pipeline. The organisations I have spoken with have been genuinely willing to look at how they can become Autism Confident.
I love what I am doing and can't imagine a world where I would do anything else. I am utilising my disability as my biggest strength and not the weakness that many still perceive difference and disability to be.