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Alex Jordan: employment and autism

Guest Guest | 14:49 UK time, Monday, 16 January 2012

Alex Jordan typing on a laptop

In a recent BBC South series about living with autism, Alex Jordan explained the impact that being unable to leave home unaccompanied has had on her life.

But now Alex leaves her house on a regular basis, to go to work. She tells Ouch! how voluntary work with people who take the time to respect and understand her, has significantly improved her self-esteem, even helping to ease her depression.

Before I started work I had little purpose in life. I felt that I was achieving almost nothing and believed that people thought "she is autistic, she can't do anything". I hated leaving my house and had a lot of anxiety issues.

I got my current role, a voluntary work placement with a company who support people with learning disabilities to live in the community, by chance. My manager Helen saw potential that not many others did and gave me an interview.

She offered me a supported work placement for two afternoons a week, to help me gain skills, qualifications and experience. My attendance was not very good at the beginning, due to anxiety caused by my autism. But they didn't give up on me and now I do more hours and have gained confidence.

My role is a bit of a mixture, which suits me perfectly. I work on computers, helping to maintain a database which hosts events, activities and services for people with a whole range of disabilities. I also assist with general admin, answering the phones and taking messages. More recently I have begun working with the supervisors to create visual aids (such as pictorial menus) for some of the service users. I really enjoy this as these aids go into the homes of the people we work with, making their lives a little easier. I know first-hand how important small adaptations like this can be.

As well as enjoying my work, I love going into the office. They have adapted this space for me so that I can be as independent as possible. There's a quiet area I can go to if I am anxious and there are visual signs up mirroring what I have in my own home. This is a crucial adaptation for me, because these signs are constant and familiar,, in an ever changing world that I struggle to understand.

But I simply would not be able to do the placement if it weren't for my colleagues.

They all make me feel so welcome, part of the team. And they provide me with a lot of support, including ensuring that I eat and drink well (two things I often forget). Colleagues have helped me out many times when I have been unwell or even when I have had to collect prescriptions. They are very flexible with allowing me to take time out for appointments and a co-worker sometimes even comes with me, when my regular support workers are unavailable. As shown in the film, due to impairments relating to my autism, I cannot do these things alone.

My workmates continue to look out for me, even when I am not there. If I don't turn up, they always phone or call by to make sure I am OK. They understand how much I struggle when my routine is broken.

But best of all, everyone in that office treats me as an individual and involves me in lunch time chats, jokes and festive things. I really enjoyed being in charge of the Christmas decorations this year.

I regularly face exclusion. People often assume things about me, without even giving me a chance. They decide themselves what I like and dislike or that I cannot join in. Often work is the one place where I know this will not happen. My colleagues give me support to be as independent as possible rather than taking over and doing things for me.

I have tried to take part in work placements before. None of them ever lasted long. Unlike my current employer, they didn't take the time to understand and accept me and my needs.

This current work placement means so much to me. It gets me out of my home which I sometimes feel is like a prison, it gives me social contact with people and a purpose in my life. It even helped me to break a vicious cycle of depression.
I have achieved so much in the last 18 months and I hope that in another 18 months I am still there, building on my skills and gaining even more confidence and experience.

Alex says that her job has broken "a vicious cycle of depression" and last week, Scott Jordan Harris announced that keeping a diary keeps him sane. Disability and the restrictions it sometimes brings to one's life, can often lead to a level of depression. If you have discovered the thing that keeps this at bay for you, tell us about it in the comments below.

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