Wednesday 6 October 2010

Welcome to Autism Works

Dear Readers and Fellow Aspies,

Welcome to New Aspie Horizons. This first blog entry represents for Autism Works, the company whose development it updates, and the author, Chris Mitchell, Operations Manager, a new journey.  At the time of writing, I have completed my first month in my role after previously working for Durham County Council, where I was for seven years. Change isn't often one of the easiest aspects of life for me as a person with Asperger's Syndrome to handle, not to mention what it has taken me in my first month in terms of getting used to different working practices, but I remain positive that in the long-term, it will be for the better, both for myself and for other people out there with Asperger's Syndrome who have experienced frustrations similar to my own in terms of obtaining and maintaining sustainable employment.

I was appointed to this new and potentially exciting post in July after almost a decade of giving talks, seminars and workshops on Asperger's Syndrome throughout the UK and internationally as well as publishing two books on the subject. In my new role, I hope to continue to raise awareness and understanding of Asperger's Syndrome among potential employers as well as contributing to enhancing the quality of life for adults on the autistic spectrum. 

Despite the frustrations that lack of understanding can bring for a person with Asperger's Syndrome, I realise that such transformations in terms of understanding don't happen overnight. Presently, at Autism Works, what we have to be careful about, especially in our early stages of development is that we don't create high expectations too early. We have already had enquires about potential employment opportunities locally and from as far away as Oxford and Brisbane, Australia! Though we hope to appoint our first software testers in mid-2011 after we have hopefully got high-profile client contractors on board. Fingers crossed!

To help me adjust to new working practices and responsibilities at Autism Works, I have been fortunate to have had some really good support from Peter Macdonald, Managing Director at Autism Works, and Lesley Lane, Chief Executive at Education and Services for People with Autism (ESPA), as well as other ESPA staff. I also have much admiration for Peter's approach towards and interest in the Asperger community and what we can potentially offer wider society. Too often, when we think of Autism and Asperger's Syndrome, we think of impairments, and often overlook potential strengths that the condition can present, including eye for detail, a very useful strength for software testing, the field Autism Works is looking to recruit into. Working with ESPA students, Peter took an interest in their strengths and abilities and realised that they are often overlooked because conventional recruitment practices are social skills orientated rather than skills focused.

Through working with ESPA students, Peter has developed a really good understanding of the Asperger community in a relatively short space of time, especially in relation to strengths and who people on the autistic spectrum are as individuals. It took me some years after my Asperger diagnosis back in 1998 as well as various life experiences, meditation and developing friendships with other people with Asperger's Syndrome throughout the world to attain such a level of understanding. But this is just the sort of understanding that the Asperger community needs if our needs are to be considered within society as a whole, rather than in isolation.

Be sure to revisit this space to see how Autism Works progresses, as well as how we cope with the challenges that lie ahead.

Chris Mitchell

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