Friday 23 December 2011

Boy's Weekend & Season's Greetings

As a special treat for Christmas, I am giving readers of this blog a special Christmas present of a second entry this week, an early present for the big day arrives on Sunday.

In my last entry, I mentioned that the festive cheer didn’t end with the feature for Tyne Tees and the carols service, as there was something else that came early this Christmas, which also reflects one of the social aspects that we had hoped to develop at Autism Works. Instead of writing about common themes in this entry such as reasonable adjustments , recruitment processes, software testing techniques etc. to get us all into festive spirit I am going to focus on the social aspects of working at Autism Works, especially since our employee base has grown since this time last year.

Having experienced high-level social isolation as well as rejection, something that I have found during my adventure with Autism Works is that one of the best ways out of these two states for many people with Asperger’s Syndrome is through access to employment that not only matches their skills and qualifications, but just as importantly, where they feel included and valued. Last week, for the first time, I went on a ‘boy's weekend’ to Prague in the Czech Republic with a colleague from Autism Works, Daniel, who joined us as a software test analyst earlier in the year. The Czech Republic is famous for beer, but before anyone gets excited, for Daniel and I it wasn’t that kind of boy's weekend!

For Daniel, the trip to Prague was a big step, as it was the first time that he had been overseas other than with his family, opening him up to a new world, while for me it is something that I am largely used to. Something that we both had in common on this trip though was that it was our first time in Prague for both of us. Despite a bit of a false start when Dan inadvertently found out that the Post Office had given him the wrong currency, giving him Danish Kronas rather than Czech Karunas, once we got it sorted we both thoroughly enjoyed our time there. I had been told beforehand that Prague was supposed to be quite spectacular at Christmas, and indeed the city lived up to such suggestions. The Christmas Markets in the Old Town Square were beautiful.

Christmas Markets in the Old Town Square, Prague
While in Prague, we met with a friend of mine who lives in Prague, Barbora Studihiradova, with whom I had done the Routeburn Trek in New Zealand back in 2010. 

Me, Daniel and Barbora at the Czech Inn Hostel, Prague
While doing this trek, little did I know that back home, Autism Works was little more than a twinkle in the eyes of Peter Macdonald and Lesley Lane, Chief Executive of ESPA. Little over a year later, the inception and progression of Autism Works has provided me with a job that I enjoy and where, most importantly, I feel that my quality of life has improved dramatically, as I highlighted in the Tyne Tees feature, as well as introducing me to new people, including Daniel, to whom Autism Works and ESPA through giving him his Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis has introduced to a completely new world after a period of personal difficulties.

The Routeburn Trek , New Zealand, 2010. Barbora is standing next to me to my right behind the sign
All staff at Autism Works as well as all those who have been involved with the company would like to wish everyone a wonderful Christmas and all the best for 2012, when this blog will resume again.

Season's Greetings Everyone!

Following on from our Tyne Tees feature, Peter and I did an interview for BBC Radio Newcastle this week, which you can listen to clicking here Jump to 37.16 

Monday 19 December 2011

Tyne Tees and Christmas Carols

Seasons Greetings and welcome back to Adventures with Autism Works. You may be wondering why you are getting a blog entry from me on Monday rather than on Friday is because Christmas came early last week for Autism Works!

Last week was one of the most interesting and exciting weeks that I have had at Autism Works, as we made it onto regional television! A feature about Autism Works was shown on ITV Tyne Tees' North East Tonight, in which I talked about difficulties that people with Asperger's Syndrome often experience when trying to obtain employment as well as the effect that it has on their quality of life, before later talking about how, at the same time, people with Asperger's Syndrome can make really good employees if given a role that suits their skills and abilities. Meanwhile, Peter went over the statistics of adults on the autistic spectrum in the UK not in employment as well as the effects that this has on the public purse, costing the UK over £2 billion per year, a hugely unnecessary cost when one considers that many of the 85 per cent of adults on the autistic spectrum are not only willing to work, but also often have a lot of unused skills and abilities to bring to the marketplace.

Paul Shattock, ESPA's Chairman and President of the World Autism Organisation (for whom Peter and I did a presentation for at the Stadium of Light in December), then went on to say how vital initiatives such as Autism Works are with so many more children and young people now being diagnosed with ASC much earlier in life for when they reach adulthood. If you missed it, you can view this feature on ITV Player by clicking here

While the feature was being screened, I was at a Christmas Carols Service at St Mary's Church in Newcastle. The service was hosted by Alfie Joey from BBC Radio Newcastle, on whose show I have had the privilege of appearing twice, including to review the stage version of Rainman two years ago. You could certainly see how much Alfie loves Christmas in the way he hosted the service so enthusiastically and I was delighted when he recognised the Autism Works logo on my shirt! 

With Alfie Joey from BBC Radio Newcastle
The appropriately-named Inspiration Choir gave a great performance of our favourite carols with the audience joining in. In between the signing, there were some readings from local media personalities, including television presenter and author John Grundy, who gave a reading from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, bringing the story to life wonderfully well before Hannah Bayman, from BBC Look North's Weather Team gave a very passionate reading from Luke after, earlier in the week, doing the Look North weather forecast on ice skates! 
With Hannah Bayman from the BBC Look North Weather Team

All the proceeds raised from the service went to Save the Children. But the festive cheer didn't end there - far from it. In keeping with the spirit of Christmas, I am offering readers a special treat this week with a second entry later in the week. Stay tuned to see what came next. In the meantime, Merry Christmas everybody!

Autism Works would like to thank John Hart from Sunderland Software City and Derek Proud from Tyne Tees for their work in giving Autism Works airtime on Tyne Tees. 

Friday 9 December 2011

Autism in Mind Birthday Celebrations, the Olympics and Euro 2012

Welcome back to Adventures with Autism Works. last Friday, Peter and I attended an event to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Autism in Mind (AIM), a Sunderland-based support group whose mission is to both support people with ASC and their families and raise awareness of ASC. Through my work, I have had the privilege of visiting and working with many autism charities, and something that many of them have in common is that they have originated from the hard work and dedication of families affected by ASC.

When AIM and many other regional autism charities started out at around the close of the last century, which was also around the time of my own diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome, awareness of Asperger's Syndrome was, for the main part, minimal. Ten years on though, we have seen some quite remarkable advances in ASC awareness, to the point where people with considerable influence at regional and national level, including councillors and members of parliament, have taken notice. That this is possible has largely been down to dedicated individuals such as Carole and Terry Rutherford who were instrumental in starting AIM.

In 2002, when AIM was in its infancy, Terry too a 2,500 mile trip around the UK collecting 6500 signatures for the group's Call for Action campaign. This campaign was the used to petition parliament for change. As well Terry at AIM, Kevin Healey, Chair of Staffordshire Adult Autistic Society, has also played a huge role in obtaining signatures to put before parliament to campaign for much-needed change in relation to ASC. For all his tireless work for the cause, we are delighted at Autism Works to hear that Kevin has been selected to carry the Olympic Torch during its 80-day tour of the UK before the London Olympics open.

Though thanks to the efforts of such dedicated groups or people, ASC awareness is so much stronger than it was when AIM began, there is still much to be done. One of the next steps is to raise further ASC awareness within employers across all sectors - public, private and third. Hopefully, I can contribute to this with both Autism Works and through the Sunderland Autism Working Group's Employment Sub-Group, which I have taken up a role within to help plan an event to bring together a range of major employers within the region to promote the benefits of employing people with ASC.

On the theme of sport, I sat through the razmataz of the draw for Euro 2012 which takes place in the Ukraine and Poland just before the Olympics open in London around this time last week, waiting to see who would be playing who in the first round. England were drawn into, what I felt was, potentially a tricky group with France, Sweden and the co-hosts the Ukraine. I will be supporting England at heart as it is my home nation, but I am not expecting anything special given their largely pathetic record at major international tournaments. Personally, I think that one of two things might happen, that they either have as poor a campaign as they had at the 2010 World Cup or they may uncover a new star that inspires good performances for a change, perhaps like Paul Gascoigne emerged as a new star the last time England enjoyed an extensive run in a tournament on foreign soil at the 1990 World Cup - such great memories!

To see how awareness of ASC continues to unfold, be sure to stay tuned to Adventures with Autism Works.

Many congratulations to Kevin Healey on being selected as an Olympic Torch Bearer