Originally published on the Amy Walker Writes Medium blog on November 26th, 2018
This time last year, if you had told me that I would be speaking publicly on a regular basis, frankly I would not have believed you.
I had just finished a two week Autism Exchange internship in the Civil Service, which had filled me with hope and helped to prepare me for work. But I was still unemployed, still finding it hard to juggle graduate scheme and job applications with meeting my own basic needs, and struggling to cope with the demands of my family relationships.
In fact, exactly a year ago, I attended an event with Employ Ability at the Financial Conduct Authority. I arrived at Canary Wharf and looked up at the sky scrapers around me… What was I doing here?!
I was among fellow disabled people, but I felt like the odd one out. Everyone else had a degree from a top university (not that I’m knocking Middlesex!) in a highly academic subject. Although I had a basic understanding of our financial system and the FCA, I didn’t have the social confidence of those around me.
And then the dreaded activity began. We were to break off into two groups, one role playing a firm marketing a new financial product, the other playing the FCA investigating them. I tried to keep up with the group as we conferred, and find an opportunity to add something. I tried, but it was difficult. In any group scenario I find it very difficult to know my time to speak — I think I have a bit of a complex around it, as I have been told off many times for accidentally speaking over others in the past.
The two groups came back together, and the questioning, mock meeting began.
I was surprised to find, when it came to my turn, I didn’t instantly meltdown or have a panic attack, or wither away into my chair. I asked some fairly basic questions that you might expect in this scenario, in a straight forward fashion. The response came, “Well, we have to protect our commercially sensitive information…”
“Well, I’m sure you are aware of the FCA’s job and remit. We have to know the answer to these questions, or we cannot effectively regulate the financial sector.”
Afterwards, the opposing group commented on how scary I had been to answer.
One benefit of my natural communication style is that others perceive me as confident and frank. I have the ability to mask any anxiety and come across ‘cool’. I hadn’t really appreciated this until that point.
Since then, I have thrown myself into whatever opportunities came up, and tried to create my own by working on a website and campaign for neurodiverse employment. Little by little, over the year I have done a lot of different things, and each time I have built that little bit more confidence.
I also have found something that instills confidence in itself: speaking from my personal experience. Public speaking is hard, everyone finds it scary. But you know your own story off by heart. If you start rambling or lose your thread, you won’t go blank and forget your own life story. And I had some great practice telling my story from my therapy sessions!
On Tuesday this week I spoke at A New Direction’s Big Change event. This was an opportunity to introduce the role of the Young Challenge Group to professionals working within the arts, heritage, education and youth work sphere, and speak about how the organisation had helped me. I loved facilitating the conversations on the tables around the Big Change themes, and provoking them with my own perspective.
On Saturday I spoke at Scope’s AGM, where I presented my story and the campaign idea of Neurodiversity Works, how it’s developing and the help I’ve had from Scope.
And today I was at Kingston Upon Thames Borough Autism Board, where we are identifying improvements to the service and designing the new Autism Strategy, and then took part in a workshop around the ideals and aspirations for the strategy.
Of course, none of this I have achieved on my own. If it wasn’t for the support of Balance CIC, the Hillcroft College, Ambitious about Autism, Autistica, The Prince’s Trust, A New Direction and Create Jobs, Scope and the Scope for Change programme, Time to Change and their Young Champion programme, I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today. A huge thank you goes out to all of you within those organisations who have helped me and provided me with opportunities.
I am now working at GroupM as a Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator, using my influencing and advocacy skills to make a change within the marketing industry. This opportunity came directly out of my internship with m/SIX on the Autism Exchange, so a big thanks to m/SIX for the skills and experience you provided me with.
What a year!