EMPLOYMENT STORIES Stories by autistic workers Aimee - Health researcher Hi, my name’s Aimee, and I’m a researcher. I haven’t always been involved in this kind of work though. Let me tell you about how I made my way to this career. When I was still at college, doing my A’ Levels and having three gap years after that, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to go to university; as a working class student, I was scared of the debt I could end up with and I wasn’t sure if I would even pass. So, I worked in two supermarkets, a cinema, and a chain of corner shops, often with several jobs at a time. After a few years of this, I saw an advert to train on the job to become a paramedic. It sounded interesting, varied and it paid pretty well without having to go to uni first. I got through all of the tests and then had my interview: they told me I didn’t have enough (or any, in fact!) healthcare experience, and that I should go away for a few years and do a healthcare job before applying again. At this point I found out about a local organisation who had residential care homes for Autistic people with (excuse me whilst I vomit) “challenging behaviour”, who were almost always recruiting (due to relatively low pay and high staff turnover). I worked in a few of their care homes for Autistic adults and children over the next six years, including during my university holidays. Whilst in that role, I realised that the hanging out with people part of the job was quite energy intensive for me (hello, Autism calling!); I was more suited to sitting quietly in the office and getting through the mountain of paperwork required of care homes. So I bit the bullet and went to university; I finally settled on Social Policy and Criminology as my degree. Towards the end of university, where a large quantity of sports and alcohol had made me highly sociable, I decided I definitely didn’t want to be tied down to a full-time job. I applied for a place on teacher training and to do a PhD – a research qualification – in social policy. I got offers for both and chose the PhD as the pay was better. With hindsight, this was a lucky choice: I’m definitely not well suited to spending my days with the amount of noise you find when teaching a classroom of 30+ teenagers! From my PhD, I was desperate to start earning an income as I had no savings; there was no time available to rest afterwards. Initially I took on 3 part time jobs adding up to about 6.5 days a week for 6 months. After this, I got a job with a charity as a research and policy officer and was finally able to relax into a role that was due to last for two years. After less than a year, however, an NHS contact told me about the permanent research roles that were coming in her department. Aged 30 I got my first full time permanent research role, and was finally able to buy a home of my own and meet one of my life goals of having a dog. From the NHS, I moved back into a university to take a job with more autonomy over research direction whilst continuing to work for one of Consultants in Public Health. This was the first time that my Dyslexia, diagnosed in my early 20s at university, really bothered me I worked in an office with two other people who needed to make lots of phone calls and lost my assistive software for over six months and couldn’t convince anybody from IT to help me to sort it out. After completely losing the ability to read (or even to make out letters on a page), I eventually took my husband into work who fixed my computer for me. This inability to get support in the work place has unfortunately been common in my experience. In my next two jobs, one academic and one civil service, I had to leave both due to disability discrimination – both times I had agreed reasonable adjustments (that I know now relate to being Autistic) for Dyslexia and my other Disabilities (including severe allergies) taken away or just not implemented. After 3 years of disability leave whilst both of these employers tried to do as little as possible to help the situation, a researcher I knew had an opening for somebody to do the kind of research I do, and she asked me if I wanted to apply. Importantly, she told me that it would be possible to work from home as it was advertised for anybody in the UK to be able to do the role, as it was a specialised area of research. The contract was only for a year, but I made the leap – after the civil service refused to second me whilst they sorted out my reasonable adjustments - and I’ve been so glad that I have. Since arriving in my new role, I’ve been really successful, including finally writing my second book, and submitting it three years after the deadline! I credit this success in large part because my manager is supportive of the way that I need to work, and there was a super helpful health and safety manager who got my adjustments put in place when my manager wasn’t sure of what to do when I joined the organisation. Another really important part of keeping me working has been Access to Work, funded by the UK Department for Work and Pensions. When I first lost my ability to read in around 2015, I was assessed by a wonderful woman who really understood Dyslexia and my symptoms. It was so affirming. I also had brilliant skills coaching from Julie Osborne, who I fully credit with getting me well enough to be able to write my first book! Following the battering I took during two consecutive rounds of disability discrimination, I am now more Disabled than ever. Thankfully Access to Work have supplied funding for me to have a support worker – the first organisation I worked with really weren’t able to meet my needs (my support worker struggled with many of the tasks that I needed help with), but I now have an excellent support worker who is able to do the things that I find most challenging, like chasing up busy admin staff who haven’t given me an answer to a problem, taking notes in meetings and proof reading my work (including this!) to make sure I get to say exactly what I want to. If you’re Autistic, or Disabled in another way, and struggling at work I would really recommend Access to Work to you. So, what does the future hold for me? I’m not quite sure. My current research only job is fixed term and lasts for just over another year. In the future, I may move into a more traditional university lectureship, another research role, or I might also aim to stay working from home, potentially as a self employed researcher. Having control over the environment around me means that I know I can stay well, and having been ‘burned’ by two employers in the past decade, I feel much less confident that I will find another employer who will not reject my needs for simple and inexpensive adjustments.