Autism Forward beneficiary mentored by Sarah Musique of Think Musique (Manchester)

This mentoring is definitely some of the best that I’ve had. Most others just don’t seem to have understood my interests and my overall goals whereas Sarah does understand this. I’m not sure if it’s because Sarah is more open minded or because of being more specialised in working with people with Autism but it makes a difference for me in that I know that there are more people out there that are willing to listen and understand.

Feedback from Autism Forward Beneficiary mentored by Karen-Anne Manghan (Brighton)

I love books. I suppose you could call them a special interest. In fact, it was a book that led me to my autism diagnosis. Years of struggling and unanswered questions instantly understood when viewed through the eyes of one single character.

Books offer everything. Education, entertainment, a place to escape, a myriad of different worlds to inhabit and explore. But it’s not just that, books offer me the chance to slow people down, to analyse their actions and reread the bits that don’t make sense. Books give me an opportunity to break down the world that so often feels impenetrable. Books offer me a chance to understand.

While I adore reading, my love of words doesn’t end there. I write too, my dreams of becoming a published author nigh on a life long ambition. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. Writing, like reading, helps me understand the world around me and the people who inhabit it. It gives me the chance to rehearse conversations, imagine situations, to dig down and uncover people’s motivations, to dissect their interactions and emotions. Writing offers me vivid settings, populated with friendly characters, it provides a safe place to escape to when the real world feels too harsh.

Last year, I was fortunate enough to be offered mentorship from a highly regarded author and creative writing tutor. We’ll call her M. Working with M has been my first real foray into the world post diagnosis. It’s scary. I feel vulnerable. Unsure of who I am now, or perhaps more aptly, which parts of me I feel safe presenting to the world. It’s thrown up all manner of questions. Do I still mask? What do I look like without masking? If I do mask, how do I know which mask to put on? How much of the real me is it is safe to share?

During to my sessions with Karen we’ve explored these questions. It’s been hard. There have been tears, and fear, upset and anxiety. There still is. But, I am pleased to say that with Karen’s guidance and support I have been able to approach working with M with courage, keen to absorb all I can and to make the most of such an incredible opportunity. M is the first person outside my family or medical professionals to whom I’ve disclosed my autism. Doing so wasn’t an easy decision but sessions with Karen had helped me explore how I might approach this with people. It felt daunting and exposing, but ultimately sharing my diagnosis with M has really benefitted our sessions. I know not all disclosures go so well, and I feel very fortunate that mine was met with such acceptance.

Working with M has been a real boost to my writing. That’s not to say it’s been easy. But, after six months of hard slog, drafting, redrafting and editing, the novel I’d previously spent years working on, is finally out on submission to literary agents. Which in itself is a scary place to be! Terrifying at times. Your hopes and dreams in someone else’s hands. The control of a project’s future no longer yours. But whatever happens now (literary agent, book deal, prolific writing career would be nice!) Karen has helped me see that this process hasn’t just helped shape my writing, it’s helped find some answers about how I wish to reshape my life too.

I’m learning the ways of working that suit my autistic body. (That was a lesson in itself! That it’s not just my brain that’s autistic but my whole being, and that much of my autism is physical.) I’ve learnt and am constantly relearning what I’m prepared to tolerate moving forwards, and what I’m not. What I need from a working environment to feel safe and able to function at my best. That just surviving and getting by, whatever the cost, isn’t enough. And that’s it’s okay to admit this. It’s not ‘giving in’ or ‘failing’ to say ‘no, this doesn’t work for me.’

I’m aware this might sound like I have all the answers now. I don’t. But with Karen’s support I’m learning. Slowly building a foundation on which the autistic me can stand. And while working with M has been amazing, working with Karen is the real gift. Talking with another autistic female offers a short hand that I have never before experienced. Gaining a better understanding and acceptance of myself and my identity as an autistic woman is both empowering and affirming. I am in no doubt that Karen’s support, insight and understanding have made life post diagnosis less daunting. Autistic mentoring matters. And working with Karen is mentoring at its finest.

Feedback from Autism Forward Beneficiary mentored by Ros Evans (Surrey)

Mentoring has made a huge difference to me in helping me accept and understand my autism and neurodiversity. It has helped me have the confidence to seek a diagnosis and I am now learning about how autism affects me and what adjustments would be useful for me to ask in employment.

I am feeling more confident in approaching employers and I have recently disclosed my autism to the company I am volunteering for. I also have a better understanding of how to approach interviews, including how to answer different types of questions and how to prepare myself. I plan to work further with my mentor on my communication skills and further on a disclosure statement next year.

Feedback from Lydia – Autism Forward Beneficiary mentored by Deb Hannah (Liverpool)

After receiving my own diagnosis I realised there wasn’t much in the way of autism groups in my area. I decided to start my own support group, Merseyside Autistic Adults was formed on the 7th november 2018.

I have run the group in a voluntary capacity since then and the demand has grown from the local area and beyond, expanding from the original group held in Wirral and creating another in Liverpool. The Covid19 pandemic meant the group made the move to online meetings in order to continue and have been successful in maintaining and growing participant numbers

I was initially looking for paid work, as well as doing my autism group, when I began receiving mentoring from Autism Forward. When Covid19 hit the number of autistic people needing help increased. I took this as a sign that I needed to focus my energy on making the group official.

It will take time, but I’m hoping that with funding, and the mentoring support from Autism Forward, I can make the group official and eventually create a paid role from it.

Website: https://www.facebook.com/merseysideautisticadults

Merseyside Autistic Adults is a support and social group that run regular meetings and trips out. The group is for autistic/Asperger’s adults over the age of 16. Officially diagnosed, on the waiting list to be diagnosed and self-diagnosed autistic people are all welcome. Our meetings are free, drop-in events.

The Liverpool meeting is held at The Florence Institute (The Florrie), 377 Mill Street, Dingle, Liverpool, Merseyside, L8 4RF on the first Friday of each month from 3:30pm – 5:00pm. Florrie phone number: 0151 728 2323.

Wirral meetings are held at The Fountain Project, Wirral Mind, 90-92 Chester Street, Birkenhead, Merseyside, CH41 5DL on the first Sunday and third Tuesday of each month. Wirral Mind phone number: 0151 512 2200.

Unfortunately, due to Covid-19 we are currently unable to host face to face meetings at The Florrie and Wirral Mind. We’ve replaced our usual meetings with online Zoom meetings.

There are three Zoom meetings per month: on the first Friday at 3:30pm, first Sunday at 12:30pm and third Tuesday at 12:30pm of each month. Each Zoom meeting lasts about an hour but there’s no strict time limit and attendees can drop in and out whenever they want. Sometimes we invite guest speakers to talk about autism related topics. You can email merseysideautisticadults@gmail.com to receive log in details for our Zoom group.

Feedback from Autism Forward Beneficiary mentored by Faraday Fearnside (Plymouth)

The time that I have had with my mentor has been amazing; she has helped me so much, she has made me see that I am a lot of capable than I thought originally, and she has helped uncover the tools that I need in order to succeed. Mentoring has definitely had a very
positive impact on my life, I am now in a much better place than I was 2 years ago.

Eliza Reynolds: Photographer

Autism Forward Beneficiary mentored by Faraday Fearnside (Plymouth):

Photography is more than just capturing a moment in time; it’s about experiencing the energy and the beauty of the world.

Photography has always been a part of my life in some way, but my passion for photography really started to grow, about 10 years ago. A friend introduced me to not only how to use a camera, but how much enjoyment there is in taking photos of the world around us and from then I was hooked. I have tried many different jobs, and passions and started a few different career paths. But I have always come back to photography.

Instead of writing myself off because of my Asperger’s, through photography I have been able to see myself and my uniqueness in a positive way, it is something to be celebrated and is something good. My photography has provided me with light in my darkest times and opened opens my eyes to how incredible, intricate and colourful our world is. When I take photographs, the phrase ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ has so much significance for me. Unused, meaningless objects are created into a works of art that speak to the soul and helps people see life in a different way.

Photography challenges me to step outside my comfort zone pushing me to explore places I have never been, and to meet people I normally would not socialise with. I have experienced more people, places and things the past few years with a camera round my neck than I have for most of my life. I have travelled to Sweden to photograph the Northern Lights, photographed New Year and LGBT events, I have photographed fire breathers, the stars in the sky through Astro Photography, animals at the zoo and in nature and taken photographs of many people, places and things on my travels.Through my photography, I can also express my passion for highlighting issues around mental health, hidden disabilities and LBGTQ+, rather than using my voice alone. Photography has enabled me to show my vulnerabilities and express my emotions because of the mindful nature of it – concentrating on the here and now. I am so grateful to have found something I love to do and be part of, so that I can not only have as a hobby but to turn into a career and share it with the world.

The mentoring with Autism Forward has helped me to recognise my talent and creativity and given me confidence to pursue it. Working with my mentor Faraday has challenged and encouraged me to be true to myself and to work towards where my talent lies. She has helped me to see things differently and see my own talent, rather than just ticking the box and taking a job for the sake of it. I believe it is important to choose a career option that is suited to who you are, and not let our Asperger’s or society hold us back.
My website will be live soon – the website address is:

www.elizareynoldsphotography.co.uk
Instagram – @ERPhotography20
Facebook – Eliza Reynolds Photography

Feedback from Autism Forward Beneficiary mentored by Karen-Anne Manghan (Brighton)

Karen is an excellent mentor who has supported me better than I could have hoped for over this last year. She has supported me in a range of areas from getting PIP and going through that entire process as well as with support moving jobs and helping me cope with a deteriorating living situation. I feel better able to cope with stressful events although not fully confident in this area but that has more to do with me than the excellent and outstanding support I have received from Karen.

The support offered by Karen has made a huge difference in my life and general wellbeing. My only issue is that there isn’t more funding available for more autistic adults in the local area to access services like the one provided by Autism Forward. The support provided by Karen has and will continue to help autistic adults navigate a world not built for them and to live fully independently. I would not be in employment or a comfortable living situation or decent financial position if it were not for the support provide by Karen. Only negative feedback would be there isn’t enough funding for everyone, I really feel so many others could benefit massively from the support provided by the mentors at Autism Forward, especially Karen.

Feedback from Ky, an Autism Forward beneficiary mentored by Abbey Townend of Matthew’s Hub (Hull)

I was extremely happy with all of the support I received. I was able to attend college and on from college I secured a full-time job in the industry I studied. Getting the back up and reassurance really helped boost my self- esteem and confidence. I feel without this support I would not have been able to attend college and achieve my career goals. It is essential that this continue for others in need as it will give others like myself the opportunity to grow and move forward.

Case Study:Autism Forward beneficiary mentored by Karen-Anne Manghan (Brighton)

I first started supporting J as a Specialist Mentor at University; J was studying a PhD, but finding the lack of support and reasonable adjustment available challenging. Unfortunately, despite Universities often providing a good level of appropriate support during undergraduate and masters level studies, PhD students often fall through the gaps and struggle to negotiate essential adjustments. J had experienced many years of anxiety and depression, with many support strategies failing to make a difference, J presented as an undiagnosed autistic adult and through our support sessions was able to access a diagnosis. During this process, J decided to leave University and secured a well paid job in London, which initially went well and J managed the transition to full time work and living in a new city confidently. I continued J’s support through the Access to Work scheme during this time, but the shift to working remotely via Skype was challenging, as I was unable to support with practical tasks, such as accompanying J to initial G.P appointments or re-establishing a support network in London.

Unfortunately, the pressures of full time work in a corporate environment, paired with the practicalities of living independently were too much to manage and J became unwell and was taken into hospital. J returned to his family home with no idea of what would come next, his Access to Work funding ended when he was unable to return to his job in London and he would have been left with very little support without Autism Forward, who were able to provide J with a grant to continue his mentoring support and take some time to recover, consider his options and regroup. J realised during this time that his love of nature and the outdoors had really helped with his recovery, that spending time gardening in particular gave him a great sense of wellbeing and that after a day working outdoors, he was able to eat and sleep better than he had in many years. J and I worked together to explore work and career options involving working outdoors and close to nature, eventually finding an apprenticeship at the Eden project, which J successfully applied for and started a few months later.

J has now been working at the Eden project for several months, his Autism Forward mentoring support continues to help with managing the transition to a new career and work place, but J is happier, healthier and has found his ‘niche’ which is so vital for many autistic people to be successful. It has been a privilege to support J on his journey; Autism Forward provided a unique opportunity for J’s support to continue at a time when it was most important, but which previously would not have been available.

Karen-Anne Manghan, ASC Mentor (Brighton)

I am a specialist autism mentor who has been supporting autistic clients since 2002 across many different settings, including education, work places and in the community. I started working with Autism Forward in 2018, at the time I was also working as a specialist mentor at two Universities, as well as with autistic employees through the Access to Work scheme and I had already supported many autistic graduates into work through my private work with Hendrickx Associates. I am autistic too, so I have direct experience of what it is like to be an autistic student and employee, the barriers we often face and the lack of autism friendly jobs available.

Through working with autistic students at Universities, I had observed many autistic graduates leaving their studies with no support, sometimes for the first time in their lives. At that time, unless you had a job lined up straight away, there was no autism specific support for many graduates unless you were able to fund this privately. I was very excited when Autism Forward contacted me to ask if I would like to be involved, as I had already recognised this need, which had been described by one of my autistic students as ‘falling off a cliff’.

I have since delivered mentoring support to eleven autistic graduates through Autism Forward, some are still in the early stages of their support, but three are currently working as volunteers to gain work experience and six have achieved paid jobs. When we compare this to the National Autistic Society statistics that only 16% of autistic people are in full-time paid work and only 32% are in some kind of paid work (full and part-time combined), then those outcomes are pretty good!

Autism Forward is offering something unique, it is providing support at a time when autistic graduates are at their most vulnerable, facing another huge transition and often unsure of the next steps. It is indeed a time when autistic people feel that they are ‘falling off a cliff’ in terms of support, much of the progress we have made at University in terms of being independent can then be undone very quickly, especially if we have no purpose and ‘back peddle’ into a place of anxiety and reliance.

As an autistic person, supporting autistic people, I am very proud to be involved with Autism Forward and have the opportunity to support autistic graduates through an often tricky time and be part of their journey towards success.

Autism Forward beneficiary mentored by Faraday Fearnside (Plymouth)

I believe that mentoring has been a great help to me as it has given me the confidence to do things that I wouldn’t have even dreamed of doing a year ago. I have managed to achieve so much more than I ever did in other forms of support I have had in the past. My mentor Faraday has a way of giving me an alternative way of seeing things as well as the tools to unpack the issues and address them in a proper way.

David Perkins, Director of AS Mentoring (London, Birmingham, Bristol & Poole)

Working with Autism Forward has made our support accessible to a much wider range of clients and the engaged and collaborative nature of the Trustees has enabled us to put in a truly personalised range of support to each person. The overall focus is always on employment – and Autism Forward’s funding has meant we can offer all the necessary pre-employment support, from initial discussions and CV preparation all the way through to direct support at interview, when required – but it’s often necessary to resolve other entrenched issues in order to make employment a realistic and feasible outcome for people who’ve had a lifetime of knock backs. With our Autism Forward-funded clients so far we’ve engaged with housing issues (interceding with letting agents, support at meetings to prevent eviction, relocation support, to take up a job offer in a new city); debt and benefits issues (brokering input from CAB debt specialists, support to engage with DWP/JobCentres); and provided social skills training to address some of the issues that had previously limited or precluded employment for people. We’ve already seen around a third of our Autism Forward clients secure a job. It’s been a pleasure to see people flourish, and it’s Autism Forward’s funding which has made it possible. And remember, many of these guys would otherwise have been at real risk of what would in effect have been permanent social exclusion.

Autism Forward beneficiary mentored by AS Mentoring (London)

Autism Forward has been extremely helpful in helping me to get employed. I would recommend this to anyone who is on the spectrum and needs support. Without this funding, I don’t know where I will be right now because this charity gave me the opportunity to apply for internships which I would never have known about.  Thankfully one of the organisations is taking me on for a 6 month internship. I was relieved and happy at the same time when I received the good news. I don’t know how to thank Autism Forward for providing the funding to give me this opportunity.

Thomas Cliffe, Director of Track NN Limited (Northampton)

Working with Autism Forward has simply allowed me to support people in making a life changing difference. By taking away time pressures and making support entirely personalised we have supported people in a variety of ways. For example, one individual we work with had not left his house in several years after leaving college and now following the mentoring is visiting workplaces and moving closer to roles which will allow him to develop a range of skills. For others we have been able to secure voluntary and paid work, by working with the individual and employers to ensure a smooth transition into the workplace. Seeing people develop their confidence and self esteem is in a large part thanks to the work which Autism Forward supports us in delivering.

Carl Cameron, Mentor at Matthew’s Hub (Hull)

Autism Forward has not only supported the people who I mentor into employment, they have also supported me into employment too. I first learned about Autism Forward while in another mentoring role, this time supporting autistic undergraduate students at the University of Hull. I was on zero hours contract and struggling, no work for over 4 months during summer recess as an example. I have been mentoring now at Matthew’s Hub since June 2018. I adore my job; I get to make a real difference to people’s lives. As an autistic person who has struggled in the workplace, who has been discriminated against and found it hard to find the right role which matched my skill set I understand exactly how it is for my mentees, the challenges which they have faced, the unique skills autistic people have to offer. Since working with Autism Forward I have supported autistic teachers, building designers and gardeners back into employment. I have supported people short term to retain employment when things got tough and they would have had nowhere to turn if it was not for the work we do here (they are still employed). In addition, I have also supported autistic people into voluntary roles with another of our partners, this time rebuilding towers and laptop computers. None of this would have been possible without Autism Forward, they are, like Matthew’s Hub, a very important and unique charity, one which I hope to be associated with for the rest of my working life.

Lucy Dunhill, Autism Forward beneficiary mentored by Carl Cameron of Matthew’s Hub (Hull)

Matthew’s Hub have been my rock, I have absolutely no idea where I would be without them. I was in a very bad place when I first met Carl, I was about to lose my job and it felt like my world was falling apart. At that time, in the moments before I arrived at the hub, I was not sure if I was autistic, I just knew that I needed to know. My colleagues kept cracking jokes and making comments about Asperger’s and me for months. After a few minutes talking to Carl we both knew that I was autistic. After that everything happened so quickly, I was referred for diagnosis (which Carl attended with me) and I received the news I so desperately needed, that I am on the autistic spectrum. I have met with Carl for mentoring sessions every week since, for work and to learn about autism, to learn about myself. Everyone has been amazing, they have supported me to keep my house, my benefits have been sorted and my anxiety levels are much lower than they were. Because I received so much support it’s allowed me to begin to plan and dream and focus again. I am now in partnership Hull City Council working towards the regeneration of White friar Gate in Hull City centre where the empty shop fronts will become green spaces, living walls. This is a very real and genuine opportunity for me to do what I really want to do, I have the space to be creative again. I can not thank everyone enough.

Autism Forward beneficiary mentored by Autism Bedfordshire

It has been such a relief to finally get some genuinely helpful employment support. It is nice to finally have someone not only understands my situation but understands my Asperger’s and how this affects me in day to day life, I feel actually valued for once. It has made me feel a lot more optimistic about the chances of me getting a job as well as about my future in general. It doesn’t feel like such a lonely battle now as I have help in finding jobs and working out my career options, I also feel I have a lot more confidence in writing covering letters and application forms because of always having the knowledge that I have someone who will help, reassure and back me up.

Autism Forward beneficiary mentored by AS Mentoring (London)

The sessions have been very good and helpful. They have helped me focus on what I need to do and how to complete tasks. They have helped me look for jobs and that is what is useful to me.  It also allows me to manage my time by giving me things to do when I finish each session. It has also helped me with meet ups and meeting new people to widen my network. It has even helped me to prepare for interviews; practising them so I get better at them. I would definitely recommend these mentoring sessions to other people.

 An Interview with James

Specialist mentoring can transform the life and prospects of young adults with autism as revealed in this interview with James, a client of one of our mentor partners, AS Mentoring.

What aspects of job seeking do you find most difficult?
Deciding what I need and what I want to go for. Recognising what is obtainable and not scaring myself off.  Agreeing to meet people!

How has mentoring helped you with these difficult aspects of job seeking?
Calmed me down and settled nerves, often providing a step by step process and making the process seem more achievable. Talking about it can make it seem more doable.

What specific issues has your mentor helped you address that you were not getting help with elsewhere?
Focusing the mind on job-searching whereas before I was scaring myself off from even broaching the subject. Understanding problems I faced/built up in my mind and breaking them down one at a time.

What is your best experience in the workplace?
Getting a job and holding onto it. Being told that what I am doing is correct and existing in the workplace. Making friends and companions.

What is your best tip for others in relation to finding a job or in the workplace?
It is never as hard as you make out, just take your time and speak through your problems/anxieties/hang-ups with someone who can help you break them down.