When I joined Aspie Trainers 18 months ago, one of the first people I was introduced to was Alex. Alex was a founding member of the project which started in 2014. Alex had built our website and written most of our training materials. Alex WAS Aspie Trainers for all intents and purposes.
Now as a newly diagnosed Autistic person I was pretty nervous of other Autistic adults. I'd grown up knowing I was different but now knowing why. I'd been told I was weird, difficult, emotionally unstable, too angry, too honest, too blunt...you get the picture. Then at 42, I discovered I was Autistic and it was a huge relief (I understood myself at last) but it was also unnerving because it meant I belonged to a new tribe of people, people like me. So when I started at Aspie Trainers I was dreading being on the receiving end of another Autistic adults brutal honesty or hot temper. I didn't want to offend by doing something that negatively impacted their sensory needs. I was used to masking and pretending to be like the Neurotypical majority because I'd had to do that to survive. But having to suddenly be myself was terrifying.
As it turned out, Alex was a dream to work with. Yes he was blunt but he was always fair. He expected high standards because he worked to the highest standards himself. He gave his time and advice generously. He cared deeply about our work and when he saw that I was just as passionate about increasing Autism acceptance using our unique first person perspective, he gave me additional opportunities to get involved.
Now Aspie Trainers key purpose is to deliver Autism training sessions using our lived experience. But another important objective is to provide our trainers with paid work and empower them to seek further paid employment. This is so valuable when you consider that according to the National Autistic Society only 16% of autistic adults in the UK are in full-time paid employment, and only 32% are in some kind of paid work. But are we actually making a difference to our Autistic colleagues future employment opportunities?
Well, last summer Alex announced that he had found a new role in the external job market and would be leaving Aspie Trainers...Of course we were all thrilled for him and felt happy that he would be achieving financial independence and career progression. But I for one was scared to lose such a crucial member of the team. Alex possessed a wealth of knowledge about Autism and Neurodiversity. He was also a nice person to be around. So I decided to follow up with him a few months into his new role to see how he was finding life beyond Aspie Trainers...
1. Hi Alex. How are you getting on in your new role? Can you tell us a bit about it?
I’m getting on quite well, thanks. A few months in, I’m still learning about the business and how it functions; there are lots of acronyms and systems with which to familiarise myself, but I’m learning and my colleagues have been friendly and supportive. My role involves: coordinating calendars to ensure that governance forums and management committees take place (scheduling meetings, issuing invites and room bookings etc.); compiling and distributing meeting packs; and attending meetings to note actions and decisions. I also help with risk reporting and compiling other management information which is fed into the meetings for risk and assurance purposes.
2. How did your role at Aspie Trainers help you prepare for your new position?
I encountered a lot of new people whilst at Aspie Trainers which has helped me to develop my confidence when meeting people for the first time. My role involved preparing information for distribution to our trainees in various formats, I had to learn to be organised so that everything was prepared in time for training sessions and I also booked some of the training sessions myself; all of which has put me in good stead for my current role.
3. What do you miss most about Aspie Trainers?
I miss the people who work for Impact (Impact Initiatives, the charity that set up Aspie Trainers). In particular Lesley and James, who helped me with my mental health and confidence, which in turn allowed me to realise that not all Neurotypical people are emotional sociopaths interested in their own ends at the expense of other people’s well-being!
4. What are you most proud of about your time at Aspie trainers (or what was your biggest achievement)?
Pride is a difficult thing for me to quantify; I’m very much goal-orientated and tend to look forward whilst learning from past mistakes. That said, I’m glad that despite a lack of funding we were able to meet our objectives and keep the project in existence.
5. What advice would you give to other Aspie Trainers who are thinking about seeking additional paid work outside the project?
I think it’s important for them to realise that life rarely goes as planned and that’s ok; it’s essential to be realistic about one’s job aspirations, so for example trying to earn a certain salary which isn’t commensurate with one’s skill-set will ultimately lead to failure. I feel that taking the time to develop their relationship skills, i.e. taking an interest in a person’s wellbeing rather than focusing on what they can get out of a relationship, will enable them to build a rapport with potential employers, which in turn will make them more employable. In short, think EQ (emotional intelligence) not IQ.
So there you have it. Some great advice and a real success story. Alex's journey is something we hope to replicate with other Aspie Trainers who's longer term goal is to achieve external paid employment. In the meantime we will keep doing what we do best, raising Autism awareness and acceptance by delivering practical, accessible training using our lived experience of life on the Autism spectrum.
*Our thanks to Alex for sharing his story with us.
Lizzy Van Tromp - January 30 2019