From member to employee — Tia’s story for Autism Acceptance Week

Cool Connections staff member, Tia, is autistic. We asked if she would share her journey from member to employee for Autism Acceptance Week. This is what she said…

The way I came to Accuro was through a late autism diagnosis — I was diagnosed when I was nearly eighteen. While it was helpful for my self-understanding, it came just before my transition into adulthood, which was tough for me. I began to study English at university in 2021, and the social environment there was massively different to what I was used to at school, and the lack of support with it took a toll on my mental health and self-confidence. Amidst this, my mum had signed me up for Cool Connections. I had my first two sessions about a month after I started university; the rest was history.

It’s hard to describe what my time at Cool Connections as a young person did for me. I only spent about four months at the club as a service user as I aged out, but the change in my sense of self-worth wasn’t something I had ever expected of myself. Cool Connections was the only place outside of home I was able to unmask, and it was the first time I’d been in a community with other neurodivergent people, both of which allowed me to develop genuine friendships where it didn’t feel like there was a ‘barrier’ between me and other people. The staff were all so easy to talk to, and it was the one place outside of the home I felt safe.

I suppose that’s why I wasn’t gone for long! After a break, I came back as a volunteer. It’s a very different role, but the experience was so valuable to me. Having responsibility improved my confidence and self-worth. Also, it was the first time my diagnosis truly felt like a benefit for me – sharing life experiences with the club members allowed me to relate to them and support them in a way that only someone with that shared experience could. The staff at Cool Connections recognised this as well, and I felt incredibly valued, not despite, but with, my autism.

This feeling of being valued and the reassurance that I had something unique to give made me apply for the role of Community Support Worker, which I ended up getting! I’ve been working at Cool Connections since September, and Club on a Monday is honestly one of the highlights of my week. I get to see young people with autism or other disabilities grow and see my impact on their development every week, all while feeling valued and supported by the people around me, which is a fantastic feeling. I’m trusted just as much as the other staff, too, which allows me to feel like my autism makes me different, not less.

While Accuro is a massively accepting environment, there’s still a long way for us to go as a society in terms of accepting and affirming autistic people and their experiences. For autistic people to feel really accepted in our communities, we need our ways of communicating to be not just tolerated but embraced. We definitely need more acceptance of the ways autistic people might engage socially when we aren’t masking — lack of acceptance depletes your self-worth, and the isolation it causes can really harm your mental health. We also need more acceptance of alternative forms of communication, such as PECS or speech apps.

In addition, we need to recognise more that autistic people have a lot to offer. While I support the young people at Cool Connections, I get loads back from them, too. Places like Accuro set an excellent example of how to be accepting and affirming of autism, and I hope this is something that can become more widespread in the future.

 

By sharing Tia’s story, you are helping more people understand Autism and work towards acceptance. You may just help another young person find a service such as Accuro, that will accept and understand them when they need it most.

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Thank you!