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Autism Awareness Week - a staff story

Autism Awareness Week - a staff story
01 April 2021

Katie Bond a member of our Organisational Development Team in her own words...

To mark Autism Awareness Week, today saw the launch of our first Neurodiversity Staff Network and what an inspirational start it was!

I am so grateful to the people who attended today who shared so openly their lived experience of having a neurodiversity.  We ran into ‘extra time’ as the hour scheduled just flew by!  I am so excited to start working together and establishing this network to be a source of support, learning and change, but most of all, building friendships and connections.

So, what is my connection to the world of neurodiversity? 

I have two sons with autism, Matthew aged 20, and Samuel aged 17.  Matthew is non-verbal and also has epilepsy.  Samuel is in 6th form at St George’s School, and has been there since Year 7 when mainstream school became too much.  I have spent the past 18 years learning what I can about autism, and the wider neurodiverse field, attending conferences, training and awareness sessions to increase my knowledge and connect with other parents/carers.  I avidly read books on the subject and volunteered for the local branch of the National Autistic Society for several years.  I now volunteer for two Island charities, Isle Access and Isle of Wight Special Olympics as I passionately believe if you want to see a difference you need to be the difference. 

Volunteering has led me to meet and become friends with some amazing people who I have learnt so much from; it has shown me what is possible for people with neurodiversity when you give them the understanding and environment to thrive.  Before the pandemic, Samuel had started to swim competitively for Special Olympics, something we never thought possible a few years before.  It has also started a journey for me in exploring my own neurodiversity.

Why should organisations invest in Neurodiversity? 

1 in 7 individuals in the UK can be categorised as having a neurodiversity, therefore, chances are that we are already employing people who are neurodiverse!  So as an inclusive and compassionate employer, we should create an environment that is conducive to their needs.  Neurodiversity is included in the Disability Act so we have a legal responsibility to make reasonable adjustments.

Some organisations are now actively seeking applicants who are neurodiverse, due to their strengths in problem solving and their alternative way of thinking can bring new light and perspectives.  I am hopeful that we can reflect on our recruitment practices to make the processes more inclusive to those with a neurodiversity, to enable them to fully demonstrate their abilities, not be deterred from what they find challenging. 

More and more people are getting a neurodiverse diagnosis later in life, as understanding of the conditions increase.  Many are parents of children who have received a diagnosis, as they recognise and identify with the behaviours themselves.  It saddens me these people have gone way into adulthood not knowing why they always feel different and experiencing ‘autistic burnout’ at various intervals in their life without support and probably being told to ‘pull themselves together’ or ‘get over it’.  Increasingly, more females are receiving a diagnosis than ever before as we start to understand that women often have the ability to ‘mask’ and role model by observing the behaviour of their neurotypical peers.

I was once volunteering and having a discussion with a young man with autism, who was asking me about why my son Matthew doesn’t speak.  His response was the best one I’ve ever heard, which was ‘well he’s a great person to tell a secret to then isn’t he?’  I loved his unique and positive perspective.  Another young man at the same activity told me ‘I love coming here, I can fit in and be different all at the same time’.   And that’s exactly what I would like our people with a neurodiversity say about working at the Isle of Wight NHS Trust.

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