Thursday 24 February 2011


Welcome back to Adventures with Autism Works. Please note that this week's entry comes a day earlier than normal because both Peter and I are taking tomorrow off after realising that we have annual leave to use up before the leave year is out. After the week we have had though, we both probably need to step back from the flow with a long weekend.

As I have mentioned previously in this blog, one of the aspects of which I have had to be aware of with Autism Works being a relatively new project, is that chances are that mistakes are likely to be made, especially as much of our operational procedures, especially our recruitment tools, remain largely untested. Earlier this week, Autism Works noticed its first major mistake, which was we forgot to include a field on the Expression of Interest for E-mails. Not having a background in IT, I naively assumed that Google Sites would pick up E-mails as responses came in. It was when we were looking at sending a message to those who have expressed interest to keep them informed of updates when we realised. Having checked the form before making it live, both Peter and myself were astonished at how we left this out!

Not long after we found this, an incident then took place during a meeting with ESPA Research, who are working with us to help measure the impact of Autism Works as the company develops.  The accident could quite possibly have had tragic consequences, when one of the meeting attendees had a car accident in the car park. Fortunately she wasn't hurt, though her car was very badly damaged. Even so, she was badly shaken knowing that she could have been severely hurt had the van that the car went into not been parked where it was.

Despite all this though, we are still working on getting back in track and I would like to thank those who I have got in contact with since noticing the Expression of Interest form error for providing us with their E-mail addresses that we don't already have. Regarding mistakes, often one of the most difficult things to do, especially when involved in the early stages of development as is the case at Autism Works, is to stand back from your role and realise that there is so much that can very easily go wrong, including stuff over which you have no control. I often find this true just about being diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome in terms of what can go wrong in relation to how the condition effects you, including how you are interpreted by those around you.

After realising that we had made a mistake, I initially felt really 'stupid', but Peter has been great in reassuring me. As he commented, it's got a lot less about being stupid and a lot more about being human!  I guess it is helpful when mistakes are made to focus on putting them right rather than become over-worried or too concerned about them, as well as learning from them, as they also represent things to learn from for anyone looking to replicate us. In the meantime, please be sure to continue to watch this space for further developments.

Friday 18 February 2011

Set in my ways?

Welcome back to Adventures with Autism Works. The adventure has been very busy this week as I have had so many tasks on the go, including further developing our business plans, completing funding application forms and assisting with putting together the application form to the Testing Manager position to be offered by Autism Works this week. For me, being involved in recruitment procedures represents a major step into the unknown.

Looking at the variety of different tasks and responsibilities that my role has involved this week has been one of the most apparent signs to me as to just how huge a change this role is in relation to my previous role working in local government since I started at Autism Works, especially since there is so much in this role that is done off my own time management and initiative. Though I have previously worked in a role run off my own time management when working as an academic research assistant, re-adjusting to such arrangements has been equally hard since when working to a timetabled routine within a structured and largely hierarchical environment in local government I had become very 'set in my ways'.

So often, we don't realise how and when we can get set in our ways and routines. As a person with Asperger's Syndrome, often my natural preference is routine and predictability, but mindfulness practice helps me to notice more when I am getting stuck in my ways. In my role at Autism Works, with all the variety as well as how the company is developing I am finding that it is difficult to become stuck in a routine, and where initiative is needed is where I am finding that there is so much I need to un-learn as I need to learn, particularly when it comes to developing recruitment tools as well as managing different tasks. Again, in relation to how my Asperger's Syndrome affects me, multi-tasking doesn't come naturally, but to cope with the challenges that this and other aspects of the role present, it helps to observe where possible the qualities in what I am doing and how I do it.

In the past, I have gone through the phase of being a 'perfectionist' in relation to my Asperger's Syndrome, wanting to 'get it right' and succeed. Though I really want to succeed in my role here at Autism Works, I am finding that, especially when entering for me what is unknown territory in being involved in a recruitment process, it helps to be wary that because it is a new venture for me as well as it is for the company, mistakes may be made somewhere along the way. The other stumbling block that we have regarding recruitment practices, in addition to my lack of experience here is that Peter is also first to admit that after over twenty years of recruiting candidates through conventional methods, there is much he needs to unlearn, so much that various language used in job descriptions and person specifications that at one time was the norm now reads like nonsense!

However, Peter and I are convinced that in say about two years time, by when hopefully our practices and policies are more developed, such issues will seem trivial and we will be thinking 'did we really go through such nonsense back then'. Who knows, perhaps by then much of what is described in this and other blog entries will seem trivial by then? In the meantime, be sure to keep following Adventures with Autism Works for further developments.

Friday 11 February 2011

Marketing Magic?

Welcome to adventures with Autism Works. After a busy week of conferences and presentations the previous week, this week has seen me enjoy some 'lighter' work for a change that had been sidelined or a few weeks while sorting out the move to Grey Street as well preparing for conferences, as well as getting the Internet connectivity right at the new office, so that it wasn't too excruciatingly slow to complete and amend each entry!

In a ever-faster moving technological world, it is so easy to forget just how 'useless' we are without fast Internet connectivity. Because we are so used to fast Internet speeds, it can be also be so easy to become impatient when computers freeze, because we don't expect to have to wait so long as in the old days of dial-up connections, which now seems like a bygone era. But nevertheless, it was nice to go back to doing some repetitive work that required concentration and attention to detail, particularly when checking company addresses, postcodes and E-mail addresses so that we can promote our services to them when we get our marketing campaign running full swing. Such tasks are great for me as a person with Asperger's Syndrome, as it uses what I feel are my personal strengths in relation to the condition and doing them helps one to take the mind off any anxieties.

We have also had a visit this week from Alpha Graphics, to whom we have been very grateful for the support that they have provided, not least because they managed to put together two fantastic promotional banners for us at very short notice for the conference at the Riverside Cricket Ground last week. Alpha Graphics are working with us on promoting Autism Works and our services through their modern marketing system which covers Cross Media Marketing. Kirsty White, a Marketing Executive from Alpha Graphics, who combines her passion for digital photography with work, took some shots of Peter and I standing next to the Autism Works banners which you will be able to see on Facebook soon.

Kirsty took Peter and myself through some of the tools that Alpha Graphics use to run a marketing campaign. One of the areas that interests us at Autism Works, particularly in relation to the needs of employees with ASC or Asperger's Syndrome, is the use of Social Media to promote our services. As we have seen, social media like Facebook and Twitter is a hugely useful tool for people with ASC and Asperger's Syndrome in the sense that it removes many social barriers that we can face in conventional social environments, as well as removing the need to have to balance verbal communication with non-verbal communication, making communication much more manageable. Another exciting aspect of social media for Autism Works though is that as traditional business models are changing in relation to the development of social media, we can get our message out to wide audience without the need to travel, thus saving a lot of time and money, as it doesn't cost so much with social media as opposed to traditional marketing models.

In an age where technology seems to be moving so fast, something I often find is that I am aware of the possibilities of such tools but I don't quite take to how to utilise them initially. But with a bit of learning and practice, I should become accustomed to it all over the next few weeks. We are going to publish how we are going about our marketing and I will continue to update our marketing progress in this blog, so that it will be of benefit to others who want to replicate us.

Working with Alpha Graphics means we can help them get their name know not only in the autism community but also to the business that Autism Works will be marketing its services to. These are the kind of positive partnerships we want, where organisations can benefit from working together as well as helping to develop good working relations, which help us look forward to coming to work, thus enabling us to be more productive through being happy in our jobs. Good working relations are important to me a  a person with Asperger's Syndrome, not least because I sometimes find it hard to understand where and why working relationships go wrong sometimes!

Be sure to keep following Adventures with Autism Works for further developments as well as more marketing magic!

Friday 4 February 2011

Getting the Message Across

Welcome back to Adventures with Autism Works. While continuing to settle into our new premises in Grey Street, complete with new banners and signage (many thanks to AlphaGraphics for their support) promoting the goals of Autism Works, we have also been out getting the message across the region. First at the Making a Difference event at Durham County Cricket Club's Riverside Ground in Chester-le-Street and also covering the project in a lecture to Northumbria University's Autism MA students.

It was a great honour for me to give a talk at The Riverside Cricket Ground, a place that holds so many memories for me in relation to my enjoyment of watching cricket. I have been fortunate to see both exciting home-grown cricketing talent such as Steve Harmison and Paul Collingwood as well as greats of the modern game including Brian Lara and Shane Warne perform in Chester-le-Street. Just being able to do something that I enjoy doing in an arena that such legends have shared gave me such a buzz!

Part of our aim in getting the message across involves pertaining to a term that in a job advert or on an application form can come across as abstract - good communicator at all levels. Such concepts can have so many different meanings and are open to unusual or even bizarre interpretations. Something that Peter and I mentioned to delegates was how a person with Asperger's Syndrome who may interpret such a term literally may suggest that being a good communicator at all levels involves using a megaphone to communicate up so many flights of stairs. Or in relation to the setting, at a cricket ground, it could involve making sure that you did the calling when batting with Geoffrey Boycott or when signalling to the balcony if you were injured and needed a runner!

The following day, I was up at Northumbria University's Coach Lane Campus to give a lecture and workshop to the Autism MA (Hons) students, which I have been doing since the course began back in 2002. What I really like about doing work with the Autism MA (Hons) students is the mixture of different experience, professions and specialisms and seeing this 'fuse' together for the benefit of people on the autistic spectrum. Seeing just how different the thinking and approaches of different backgrounds is fascinating. It was also refreshing to see that they were excited by the Autism Works project, particularly in relation to its ethos on making use of strengths Asperger's Syndrome presents, while looking at ways to make use of this in educational settings.

Lesley Lane, Chief Executive of ESPA, Peter and I would like to express our thanks to Jill Smith, Wendy Balmain and Bev Duncan from the Department of Health for all their efforts in organising the Making a Difference event and the marketing and networking opportunities it provided. In the meantime, be sure to watch this space for further developments at Autism Works.