My Autism Awareness and Diagnosis
Growing up, I always knew I found things harder than most people. I had put it down to personality, being difficult and just not paying attention properly or trying hard enough.
When I was 32, I read an article one day online that was a real lightbulb moment. It was about a woman who was autistic, and I felt as though she could have been writing about my life. She explained the daily struggles that she went through, and the constant hyper-awareness of never really knowing what you should or shouldn’t be saying. She also spoke about rehearsing conversations over and over in her head, the excruciating executive dysfunction, the need for order and routine, not to mention all the sensory difficulties surrounding clothes, food, lights etc. I read it and immediately contacted my doctors, who referred me for an assessment.
Six weeks later, I received my diagnosis. It was a very odd time, as part of me was relieved that there was an explanation. A reason for why I found things so very difficult, but part of me was also confused and scared about what it meant.
I was ever so worried that I would be judged or that people would doubt my capabilities in the workplace that I decided not to declare it. Work has always been so important to me. Work has been one of the situations that I found the easiest. This is due to the rules and clear expectations on what you should be doing. However, because no one was aware of my diagnosis, it meant that I often suffered with burn out due to masking all the time and being in situations that would cause sensory overload.
My First Experience with First Intuition
My first experience with First Intuition was when I was studying AAT Level 3. I was self-studying but sitting all my exams at the Maidstone centre. I was flying through the exams relatively easily until the synoptic exam. Suddenly, the exam required written answers, which I found incredibly difficult. I knew the content, and could talk about the subject at length, but it took me much longer to figure out exactly what information the examiner wanted and how to present it.
Even though I wasn’t an FI student at this time, I emailed them to see if they knew anything about how to get extra time in the exams. Sarah and Jennifer were equally brilliant and contacted AAT on my behalf. I was given an additional 25% added to my exam time on all future AAT exams. This was the first time I had declared my autism to anyone outside of immediate friends and family. Contrary to my beliefs and expectations, there was no judgement or doubt of ability, and everything was absolutely fine.
Declaring my Autism to my Employer
Skipping past the joys of the pandemic, I was starting a new job at a mid-size firm where I would be studying ACCA. During the interview, I found that I’d be studying courses at First Intuition, which I was so happy about. It gave me the confidence to declare my autism to my new employer. This turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made. Instead of casting doubt on my ability, they have done everything they can to make adjustments. This ensures I perform the best I can.
I love being in the office and am very sociable, but this can leave me feeling quite drained. Due to this, my employer has agreed for me to work from home two days a week to help. When I’m in the office, I also have a desk that is in a quieter corner of the office and near a window. This allows me to have natural light instead of needing the harsh office lights on. All of these are great and really help me, but actually the biggest benefit is just having them be aware. Due to their awareness, there is always someone I can approach if there is an issue or I’m finding something tricky.
Starting my ACCA Training
When I started courses at FI, they were obviously aware that I was autistic. I thought that I would be given extra time in my mock exams. However, I hadn’t expected the level of consideration that I received. The tutors at the centre truly were amazing. One of them suggested ideas such as on the longer written questions, I get them down in bullet points instead of writing in full sentences.
They also would work it so bigger questions were set before a break or lunch. This meant if I had not quite finished, I could carry on, and everyone else on the course would be oblivious. Another tutor spent a lot of time helping me figure out a structure for answering different written questions. The tutor then reviewed extra questions I had done and gave extra feedback until I’d got it right.
My Level 7 Apprenticeship Programme
As part of my training, I am required to complete the Level 7 apprenticeship. This is a fair amount of extra work, which was quite daunting initially. However, the apprenticeship team and my skills coach have been equally as accommodating and supportive. The team ensure I know what is expected and what the deadlines are.
Fundamentally, doing the ACCA qualification alongside working and an apprenticeship is difficult for anyone. Being autistic also means I have extra things on top that add to the difficulty. This is due to how I see things, my need for routine and things needing to be ‘right’. It means that planning my study time comes naturally. My exam results are always strong and apprenticeship tasks are completed on time to a high standard.
I am very fortunate that my employer and FI are as understanding and supportive as they are. However, they are equally as fortunate as having a different viewpoint and natural way of working can also be highly beneficial.