What employment means to me: A heartfelt letter from man with Aspergers
28th March 2018
This week, during World Autism Awareness Week, we would like to share a touching letter written to us by one of our employees. Corey struggled to find employment for years but is now celebrating one year working with us in our Business Development Team.
Below details his incredible journey – from being chronically depressed and non-verbal with most people except his immediate family, to achieving a first class degree and going on to secure paid employment.
He even appeared on ITV news this week to talk about the importance of employing people with learning disabilities and autism and what employment means to him.
Told in his words, is his story:
I started working for Dimensions in the last week of March 2017, so I am now approaching my first full year in employment and I thought I would give some insight on what that means to me.
After a shaky but not disastrous childhood, I started secondary school which was, and hopefully will always be, the darkest period of my life.
Daily physical abuse, emotional abuse, mental abuse, some of the worst educational conditions to be in over a 5 year period. I failed every exam I took.
And yet that was secondary compared to how much damage mentally that 5 years of school had done.
I was mentally broken, suffered from chronic depression and had multiple failed suicide attempts during and after the immediate aftermath of school. I was finally diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome at the age of 16.
My functionality day to day was none existent, I was unable to go anywhere without my mother, panic and anxiety attacks from being outside were common, even if the area wasn’t crowded, I was almost entirely non-verbal to anyone but my close family.
The mental damage caused by school was massive, and would require a massive period of rebuilding myself to even have a chance of a decent life, 8 years to be exact.
The first 4 years was in college, retaking my GCSE’s and the like, but this was a mammoth task, to put it in perspective when I first started college
I could not be in a classroom with fellow students without running out in tears. One of the many side effects of school was that I had an intense fear but also hatred of all teenagers.
It was one heck of a tough and difficult journey, one which I would have no chance of completing if not for the fantastic support of the college and my support worker Gill – who worked with me after every meltdown and after every hurdle to get stronger, to slowly but surely learn to overcome these many obstacles.
But even more so, Gill taught me how to be a person, how to talk to others, how to treat others and how I should behave. I never had a chance to develop in school, that was taken very early on, but Gill and the compassion she’s showed, not just to me but to others, quickly became my role model.
Back then, not only was I so broken but I was also filled with a lot of hatred and bitterness towards other teenagers, blaming all of them for what I had been through.
One of the many things Gill was so good at doing was showing me that being filled with hatred and wanting some kind of revenge was not the path I had to go down, that instead I could use that experience to empathise with others who go through the same thing and use that compassion to help and inform others.
Thanks to her, and the relentless hard work of many others around me I was able to pass maths, English and science GCSE’s, and even completed some subsequent A levels in admin and IT the following year.
4 years came and went, and the progress I had made was incredible. But there came a point where, qualification wise, I had gone as far as the college could take me. I looked at myself, analysed myself, and I made the decision I still was not ready to attempt paid work, that I still needed more time to develop myself. I was also becoming keenly aware just how difficult and competitive the job market was and that simply been able to perform the basics was not going to be good enough.
University was decided as the best option, it would allow me to advance academically but also hopefully give me more time to advance as a person.
Saying goodbye to Gill, the person who was and always will be my biggest role model, was extremely difficult, but one of the many concepts she taught me was that concept of ambition, to keep challenging myself, within reason, and bit by bit, I can use these new challenges as learning experiences to further myself.
I did not adapt well to uni life, many of my first grades were only barely passes, and without Gill and the support of the college I was finding it extremely difficult to cope and manage on a day to day, my mental health once again plummeted, depression and self-doubt started creeping in, maybe this was just a step too far.
Just as Gill and her support team saved me in college, Lynn and her team from Autism West Midlands (AWM) saved me in university, in a specially arranged support package with the uni, they came in and gave me a lot of that similar type of support the college provided, and the turnaround both in academic results and my wellbeing was spectacular.
With a much more stable wellbeing I started performing really well academically, suddenly Bs and As started appearing out of nowhere, challenges all of a sudden felt manageable and achievable.
This is not to say university was a walk in the park – anything but – there were still plenty of challenges, particularly during this time now that I was more aware and in tune with my surroundings, the desire for social interaction/relationships and the subsequent depression and frustration from not achieving what I wanted on those fronts really did take a toll and was my main challenge during the later years of uni.
But just like Gill before her, Lynn was there with me every step of the way to help me though, to be my support net, my saviour so many times.
This is all without even mentioning some of my fantastic academic staff, who were always so understanding and supportive; they all really went above and beyond for me. In the end, thanks to all their help, and from Lynn and her team, I somehow finished university with a first class degree.
The option to progress to a masters was there, but 8 years in full-time education had left me a bit burnt out of it, plus judging from how default the final year was, masters would be far beyond my ability, quit while I’m ahead comes to mind! In the end, I decided to start enacting what seemed like a pipe dream 8 years ago; to try and find, and maintain employment.
Even now, I was still full of doubts, hearing every day just how hard it is, just how competitive it is, even after all the hard work of the past eight years, of all the hard work and support poured into me by so many people, would it be enough?
I wasn’t sure, but it seemed like the time to at least try, I’m sure there would be challenges, setbacks, but I still had Lynn and her team behind me, and with them, I felt I had a chance.
I hated the job market, the whole application process, I utterly despised it, this whole idea of having to big yourself up, to sell yourself, to make yourself look like the best thing since sliced bread, these are things I’ve never wanted to indulge in.
Always I go back to Gill and how modest she was, what mattered was doing the right thing, doing the best possible and helping people the best way you could, whether you got recognition for it or not was irrelevant.
But like always, with the right support I at least came to an…understanding of the process and the necessity of it.
And so, I came to be in Dimensions, and, well, it’s kind of went way better than anyone, including myself, could of imagined.
College and university, while both ultimately great successes, were both full of massive challenges, various times when things were on the brink, none more so than at the start which has always been incredibly difficult in any new thing I do.
College and university could of both so easily gone the other way, and I’m absolutely sure without Gill and Lynn they would have.
So, to hit the ground running so well, to be able to take on the job and everything along with it in such a stride has frankly amazed me, it’s amazed my parents, and I think it even amazed autism west midlands.
And I have you, all of you, to thank for that.
There was no Gill here, there was no Lynn, they, unofficially, had passed my baton of care, how lucky for you!
Whether you are someone from my awesome business development team I delight to spam emails to every day, or part of my wonderful local office in Oldbury, how great, how supportive, and just how damn good you are at your job was what has made this such a great experience for me.
Whether you realise it or not, whether is was a great in-depth 1 to 1 chat or just a passing query, how nice, how much of a pleasure to be with, not only as colleagues but as people, means so much to me.
A massive reason this went so well is because of how great you all are, how much effort you make to help, support and make me feel welcome, even if it’s the little things, things you do without thinking, it can and has made such a difference for me.
I’ve had some work placements/trials, and the people there, the work, the environment, were okay, but were nowhere near the level here, I struggled, a lot at times. The difference between the people here and at a lot of those places has been like night and day.
I love spending time with you all, trying to do my best to help you in any way I possibly can, in truth sometimes I still get frustrated, getting that balance between being super friendly and chatty, but also been professional and not taking people hostage so too speak is a very hard line to balance.
At times I often think I’m leaning too much towards one way or another, but the more time and experience I get, I can only get better at it.
I…never actually planned to get this far ya know? Way back when I made that pipe dream of “I’ll get a job, Ill contributes to that job, I’ll be useful, I’ll help others” etc.
It was just out of hope rather than expectation, to give me something to aim for, something to focus on and stop what was the severe depression eating away at me.
I never actually thought, I’d get here. I still find myself at a bit of a loss when people ask me what my next steps are, what my grand career plans are, because I’ve never had any, and I never thought I’d get into a position where it would be relevant.
I look back at everyone, so many people who gave so much, who went above and beyond, just to give me a chance.
I’m not worth it, I’m really not, but, at the very least, what I can promise to do is to continue to give my all, to do everything I can to make all that effort, all that support people gave me to not be in vain, I’ll never be a Gill, or a Lynn, or a Helen or an Emma, but if I can develop into a person who can contribute, help and make people happy half as good as they do, I’ll live and die a very happy person.
I really shouldn’t be here, but thanks to you all of you, I am.