Stephen advocates for in-work support

Stephen is a 30 year old Software Engineer, currently working in a software support role for the HSC Business Services Organisation in Belfast. Stephen was referred to NOW Group’s Workable NI (WNI) programme by his local Jobs and Benefits Office after recognising he needed more support in the workplace. This need of additional support was identified following a survey from an adult autism post-diagnoses peer group led by his local HSC Trust. In 2013, some HSC Trusts stopped giving more specific diagnoses such as Asperser’s Syndrome and instead use the broader term of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Stephen says it is important to recognise that no two people with ASD are alike or to put it another way, “if you’ve met someone with autism, you’ve met someone with autism.”

At that point Stephen had a lot going on. He was coming to terms with a recent adult ASD diagnosis, coping with the sudden loss of his elder brother by suicide and an unexpected change in job role. Stephen also had a significant negative experience with a previous employer when he changed role and this had affected his self-confidence to the extent that it left him wondering if he needed a complete career change. With all this going on, Stephen was experiencing considerable anxiety not sure whether history would repeat itself in his new job.

Once signed onto the WNI Programme, Stephen started having regular meetings with his WNI Officer, meeting her outside of work in a nearby coffee shop to talk through any issues and work concerns. Stephen’s manager was very supportive towards him taking time out from work and commended him for seeking support using his own initiative.

Stephen says, “Workable NI has given me back my self-confidence and has helped me to come to terms with my diagnosis. It has particularly helped within the area of communication in work, recognising when to “step back” and finding the best strategy for each situation. If I was feeling stressed or anxious, my WNI Officer would bring calm and a fresh perspective – even speaking on my behalf if necessary.”

Stephen has made huge progress during his time on the WNI programme with the NOW Group. His confidence has grown to the point that he now receives minimal support from his WNI Officer and will no doubt progress to the point where he feels he no longer needs it. He has shared his diagnosis with his work colleagues and is a positive advocate for disability. Stephen is part of the ‘Tapestry’ committee, a recently formed Disability Staff Network that covers 11 regional organisations within Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland. In speaking about Tapestry Stephen said, “One of the reasons the name Tapestry was selected via an open competition was that it seemed to represent the complex, interweaving interactions between disabled and non-disabled people in a shared society.”

Stephen concludes by saying, “If I changed jobs in the future and needed support, it’s reassuring to know that Workable NI will be there.”