Word had spread, slowly, gaining momentum. Each new progression gradually filtering through the layers of the beaurocratic maze that is higher education. The success supporting challenging students, the reputation for successful conflict resolution, the details of each minor victory conflating to create a ripple effect as my name was mentioned in increasingly rarified circles, through the levels of management and oversight and responsibility. The call to attend an interview for progression to mentor, specialist, focused, a significant lift in duties and responsibilities. The shifting of the requirements of the role to allow me to progress proof positive of the desire within the disability team to retain and enhance my services. The nominations, the shortlistings for the “extra mile” award, the university staff member of the year, significant recognition for someone who isn’t even officially a staff member. It all adds up, piece by piece, incremental, and the rewards slowly start to come, each year better than the last, building both in terms of remuneration and in acceptance across the university. The opportunites open up too, there was no staff training in autism awareness, despite years of trying to develop it, so I wrote it and presented it to the heads of disability and welfare. It was accepted almost without modification, something almost unique in university staff training and then roled out to a test audience across several schools within the University structure. Feedback was one hundred percent positive, again almost unique, particularly for a training programme written, developed and written by a single individual. The process of accepting the training into the umbrella of continuing professional development for all staff was a logical step forward, as was the prospect of rolling the training out to other universities to drive awareness of autism in higher education to prominence amongst disability awareness generally.
As the drive and passion pushed me forward and enhanced my reputation the agency themselves began to express an interest. Marketing collateral of the highest order. A success story of a low level minimum wage support worker, pushing himself within the system to excel and outperform all expectation. The first support worker to make the jump from support to metoring. The first support worker to write university accepted staff development training. The first support worker to be nominated and shortlisted for the extra mile award two years running. It all mounts up and now here I am, travelling to be interviewed as a shining light within the Unitemps family. Pushing myself further still in my quest for acceptance of my own disabilities and weaknesses. Yes, I choose those labels for myself, I take ownership of them and all the baggage that comes with them. I am autistic, I am disabled, I do have severe mental health conditions, both as a consequence of my autism and as a consequence of a lifetime trying to fit into a World that is simply not attuned to the way my mind works. I accept the advantages that my autism gives me as well, revelling in the increased speed of thought, the ability to make andbreak connections at will, the ability to work for hour after hour on a project without flagging, the dogged determination and single mindedness that allow me to succeed, and the pragmatism and lack of insight that allow me not to see the costs. Of course there are costs, there always are. My health is not great, my life expectancy is significantly diminished and my mental health, once relatively stable now fluctuates wildly, swinging from pole to pole with no discernable rhyme or reason.
Would I change anything? Would I give up my disabilities and challenges? I really don’t think so, they are what shapes and forms the core of who I am, they inform every aspect of my life, and I wouldn’t change a single thing….