Friday 28 January 2011

Settling In

Welcome back to Autism Works,

This week has seen us move into our lovely new office on Newcastle's Grey Street. We have settled in quite well  so far in Grey Street and I enjoying the freedom that public transport gives me when travelling into work. On Monday, for the first time in almost a decade, I got the Metro to work, and it felt great. Rather than having to concentrate on driving, being able to sit back, read a book or newspaper while listening to music is a great alternative. I have noticed each time this week that when I arrive at work after a Metro journey, I feel refreshed and ready for a busy day at work rather than feeling stressed from driving, which will hopefully make more more productive over the next few weeks, which I am expecting will be busy and will present me with new challenges.

The first thing that Peter noticed when I arrived at our new office for work on Monday morning was that I was 'beaming'. There was the novelty of stepping into new premises for the first time, but what I really enjoyed that morning and have continued to enjoy since we moved in was the very sight of Grey Street itself. As I mentioned in my last entry, Grey Street was voted the nation's best street in 2002 and I can see why. Peter has done well to acquire these offices for Autism Works. As well as being a spectacular street, it is right in the heart of Newcastle and close to plenty of places for lunch and snacks.

Though we have moved some office furniture, including desks, chairs and coffee/tea-making facilities as well as IT equipment, there is still a feeling of emptiness as the walls are currently bare apart from poster that has a statement that I think most of you reading this blog will agree fits Autism Works perfectly:

Tomorrow Should Be Ours

Both Peter and I remain confident that rather than 'should', this 'will' be the case, especially when we start producing better tested software that reaches the market quicker. With the Expression of Interest form now being available to complete for those potentially interested in working for us, we are really only scratching the surface of the undiscovered workforce with ASC or Asperger's Syndrome. Word is gradually beginning to spread though and I am confident we will have a few more expressions of interest before we advertise our first actual vacancies.

We have had some interesting visitors in our first week including a former ESPA student with a very impressive photography portfolio. Peter and I are interested in the possibility of him being able to brighten up our office wall and website with some stunning imagery, maybe including a photograph of the Grey Street curve looking upwards towards the monument past the Theatre Royal.

Please remember to pass on the link to the Expression of Interest form for anybody with ASC or Asperger's Syndrome, particularly if they live in the North East of England whom you think may be interested. Just to remind you, the link is In the meantime, but sure to watch this space for more updates in the world of Autism Works.

Friday 21 January 2011

Expressing Interest

Welcome back to Adventures with Autism Works,

This has been another busy week as the Autism Works Adventure continues. We currently have three funding bids in progress, we have received some expressions of  interest and we are moving offices. Elsewhere, I have also been involved in making a video about my role as Operations Manager at Autism Works.

Making the video, with the help of Howard Kennedy from Tasker House, one of the ESPA colleges, was an interesting and enjoyable experience, using state-of-the art equipment including a pop shield. The quality of the recording when using the pop shields which reduces breathing noises that microphones occasionally pick up is noticeable. After having done so many radio interviews in the recent past, one would think that I would be used to listening to myself speak, but I can't say I have ever heard myself like on the Autism Works video. You can view below:

In some ways, microphones can give those not on the autistic spectrum an idea of the sensory issues that people on the autistic spectrum may experience. Microphones respond to so many sounds around them which  we don't often notice, until they are picked up on recording, which can provide a 'buzztrack' in the background, which we can find irritating or even uncomfortable. It can take much effort for people on the autistic spectrum to develop their own 'personal pop shield' to filter them out.

After making our Expression of Interest form public last week, we are slowly starting to obtain some responses from those possibly interested in working with us. We have to be clear that the Expression of Interest is not an application for employment, but we can alert those who have completed and submitted an Expression of Interest as to when vacancies arise. If you are reading this blog and you know of anyone with ASC or Asperger's Syndrome whom you think may be interested, please let them know. The link to our Expression of Interest form is

Next week sees us move into our new offices in Grey Street. Since I went up to visit, the offices have been given a lick of paint and some new office furniture. For me, the next move is to sort out a Metro Travel pass. Hopefully, travelling into work via public transport will be a welcome change, allowing me to feel more refreshed when I get into work, allowing me to be more productive, especially with the applying for funding aspect of my role, as some of the funding application forms are quite complicated!

Coping with change can be awkward for people with Asperger's Syndrome, but this move is one that I feel that I can prepare for. Once I adjust to the move, hopefully progress at Autism Works will continue. In the meantime, be sure to keep following this blog for more news.

Friday 14 January 2011

Giant Strides and Milestones

This week at Autism Works has seen us take a major step forward in our goal to provide sustainable employment for people on the autistic spectrum by making our Expression of Interest form public and regarding credibility, we have also reached an important milestone by breaking the 1,000 likes barrier on Facebook!

The Expression of Interest will give us an idea of the undiscovered pool of talent that we can be sure exists. Incidentally, when Peter Macdonald, Autism Works' Managing Director, first contacted me back in April 2010 to say that he was looking to replicate the Specialisterne model in the UK, one of the first things he asked me was about autism audits. Following from the Autism Act 2009, the Statutory Guidance on Implementing the Adult Autism Strategy has recommended that local authorities conduct an audit of people on the autistic spectrum, but what has been a major problem for for most is how such an audit can be undertaken, not to mention how such an audit would include those on the autistic spectrum but who don't have a diagnosis.

What I have found from meditation practice that has something in common with putting together questions on the Expression of Interest and Application forms for Autism Works is how we have tendencies to put labels things, including on people. All individuals, both people on and not on the autistic spectrum, seen through their own labelling systems. I am no different in this way myself, but what practice and life experience has largely taught me is how what we see through our labelling and classification systems isn't often the way it is. For instance, when developing the forms, we used the term Autistic Spectrum Condition (ASC) and explained in the guidance notes that this includes Asperger's Syndrome, but after feedback from the ESPA students, it was felt that we needed to make it 'ASC or Asperger's Syndrome' as some people diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome may not like to be confused with those who have autism or High Functioning Autism. In relation to those who have ASC or Asperger's Syndrome who don't yet have a formal diagnosis, they can select 'In Progress' when filling in the Expression of Interest form.

Elsewhere this week, we have also been working on another funding bid. This is where the Facebook milestone of reaching over 1,000 like will hopefully help us regarding credibility when seeking funding, together with the support we have had from MPs and leading professionals in the field of autism including Professor Tony Attwood. What's more, the scope of interest that Autism Works has had on Facebook has continued to widen. When Autism Works first appeared on Facebook, much of our likes came from the UK and Australia, but we have also had interest from places as diverse as Egypt, Indonesia, Mexico, Bangladesh and many others.

Our new offices on Grey Street that I talked about in my last post have now been decorated and have network connectivity, and once we install some office furniture, they will be ready for us to use - another major step. The next major step though will be when we advertise for and take on our first software testers, which won't be long now.

We would like to thank all of you who have 'liked' us on Facebook (at the last count 1,004) and keep the likes coming in! If you haven't already done so, please suggest Autism Works' to your friends, and continue to watch this space for more exciting news from Autism Works - it's all happening!

Friday 7 January 2011

Going up in the world!

Welcome back to Adventures with Autism Works,

This week has been exciting in the development of Autism Works, as I have been to see our new offices premises where we are due to move into in two weeks time, and where our firs employees will also be based. The location could not be better, right in the centre of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and most importantly for our employees, easy to reach by public transport. Elsewhere, we have also applied for further funding and are also in the process of taking an even bigger step forward by making our expression of interest form public.

The new offices where Autism Works will be based are located in an upstairs room on Newcastle-upon-Tyne's Grey Street, voted the Best Street in the UK by Radio 4 listeners in 2002, in appreciation for its fine Georgian architecture. One of the key factors in the choice of this particular location though is its proximity to the Monument Metro Station. For many people with Asperger's Syndrome, including myself, being able to get to work via public transport can be a liberating factor relating to stress. For the best part of seven years, I had to drive quite a long way to work when working at Durham County Council, which quite often used to have me already stressed by the time I got into work, not how you want to feel at the start of what may be possibly a busy day!

Currently, the offices are empty apart from a few desks and there are still some promotional images on the wall left behind by the previous incumbents. Peter has arranged for the office to be given a much needed lick of paint and has also though about allowing employees to have their favourite pictures blown up and put up on the wall. He has hinted that this could be anything from an image of the Moeraki Boulders on New Zealand's South Island to an Iron Maiden album cover! Something else that he noticed when I went to have a look at the new offices were that I didn't mention any reasonable adjustments that I may need once we move in. At this stage, it is difficult for me to forecast this, as I am yet to experience what it may like once in the new offices. So often, I find that reasonable adjustments are identified through experience, relating to being in the present moment, where identification of adjustments unfolds.

Next week, our Expression of Interest form should become available on the Autism Works website which will be a major step towards taking on our first software testers as it will give us an idea of the undiscovered talent pool that is out there. So already in the New Year, we are in the process of making key transitions in the development of Autism Works. Changes and transitions can be difficult sometimes for people with Asperger's Syndrome to manage, but what helps me though is seeing the quality within them, as well has maintaining a refreshed approach when managing transition. Elsewhere, I have been introduced to some new software to make a start on 're-branding' my personal website with Weebly.

Please continue to watch this space as these exciting developments unfold,