07309 563 563 alex@waymakers.co.uk
Little Victories

Little Victories

Being self-employed is a great option for many people on the spectrum; it offers flexibility, work that is tailored to your skillset, and the freedom to do a job that you actually like. You can set your own targets, and take on as much or as little work as you feel comfortable doing. Sound’s perfect, right? Well yes, but there are drawbacks, as with everything else.

you don’t have a boss to tell you what to do, but the buck stops with you

One of the best things about being in charge is that you don’t have a boss to tell you what to do, however it does mean that the buck stops at you – and you’re responsible for not only managing yourself, but also for managing any unexpected issues that might arise. This can be where things begin to get tricky!

In short, I am working my dream job

After several attempts in my late teens and early 20s, I eventually settled into being self-employed full time. I make and restore musical instruments.  It’s a lifestyle that suits me, my work is engaging, slow-paced and it sits slap bang in the middle of my two main special interests: music and engineering. 

In short, I am working my dream job. You’d think that I’d be able to easily stay on top of my work, and deliver successful projects to happy clients, right? Not so fast. Gone are the bosses, but in their place there are now clients, with the same expectations, the same deadlines, and still handing out my wages.

executive function is a huge challenge for me

Most of the time, this is fine. I can take on less work if I have to, and more if I’m feeling up for it. However, executive function is a huge challenge for me – especially in times of stress, like when my workshop roof developed a major leak this past winter. Things can quickly spiral out of control. Shutdown results from the added pressure causing delays to client-work, resulting in pressure from clients, so on and so forth. The list of jobs that are unfinished build up, I am unable to start anything, and I freeze.

This has been a main focus of my sessions with Alex, and we talked about things I can do to relax, and unwind.  I love to cook, but it’s not practical to just rustle something up when you’re at work; most of us don’t have extensive cooking facilities and ingredients to hand in the workplace, we aren’t necessarily hungry at the time of feeling shutdown, and crucially – there’s only so much you can eat in one day!

autism relaxation

However it got me thinking – could I find what appealed to me about cooking in another, more practical, activity?

My initial thoughts were that whatever it was, it had to be:

1. Quick – something requiring heaps of time would be counterproductive.

2. Something that can be started and finished in one session – not leaving you with a half-finished task to occupy valuable brain space.

3. Be practical in context – something that can be done on-demand, in the location I’m in. 

4. Be enjoyable for me. I want to have fun here

5. Require my full attention – it’s no good if I’m still churning over other stuff in my head while doing it, it needs to take me away from that.

woodturning autism and Neurodiversity

I settled on woodturning – I already have a lathe at the shop, and I can make a small bowl in around an hour, start to finish. 

It’s incredibly satisfying to see the object I’m making emerge from a rough chunk of wood, and have something so tangible to show for it. Whilst quietly meditative, it does also require total focus – stop paying attention for a millisecond and the chisel will catch, at the very least making a loud bang, at worst lobbing the workpiece across the room. 

Obviously you might not have a wood lathe in the office – but what is practical for one may not be for another. Whilst canoeing is not an option for me, for example, if someone works near a canal or a river, it may very well be within reach for them. 

Once I’ve finished making a bowl, I can put it on the side, take a photo of it and it’s done. I can put it on display, or give it away, and my brain has had an entire hour-long holiday from the overwhelming thoughts- I’ve been able to step back, and got a bonus dopamine hit into the bargain. 

I’ve sat, frozen, for hours on end

In the past I’ve sat, frozen, for hours on end – my deadlines looming closer and closer, and I have not been able to lift a finger. It may seem counterintuitive, but I’ve come to discover that taking an active-change break for 1 hour may salvage the remaining hours in the day – hours that would have otherwise gone to waste. It’s early days yet, and it does still require me to observe and acknowledge that I have become frozen, but I’m really positive about the effect it has had on my working day, and am excited to explore the concept further – hobbies have always been something done at home in the evenings and weekends, a luxury – earned only once the ‘real’ work has been done. 

Maybe if we re-frame hobbies and active breaks as a means to break up an otherwise herculean task of a day, we can continue to discover new ways to fulfil our potential in the workplace and beyond. 

 

Edmund

This article was written by a current coaching client of WayMakers whom we are proud to have as a guest contributor to our site.

Visualising an independent future

Visualising an independent future

I hope that sharing my journey since completing Secondary School and Sixth Form will be helpful, especially to those, like myself, who found it hard to visualise an independent future after the struggles and stresses of school. I’m going to tell you a bit about my experience at school, taking a gap year, setting up a small business, getting a part time job, learning to drive and preparing to leave for university.

School can be extremely stressful but this doesn’t mean that the rest of life will be

Secondary School

I am 19 years old and I completed my GCSEs in 2019 and my A Levels in May 2021 at my local secondary school. The seven years I spent there were intensely stressful and anxiety-provoking for me due to the sensory struggles associated with extreme noise and large crowds, the unpredictable and disruptive behaviour of the students, the pressure focused around academic achievement and the inconsistent and uninformed support available. This made school life very overwhelming for me.

I lost confidence in myself and retreated more and more

For these reasons, I lost confidence in myself and retreated more and more from interaction outside school, which meant that when I finally completed my A Level exams, I felt much less independent and socially capable than my peers, as well as exhausted from the intensity of the academic work load. For these reasons, I decided to take a gap year to give myself time to essentially ‘catch up’ with my peers. I am now at the end of my gap year and I can say it was the best decision I could have ever made!

Gap year and rediscovering me

I started the year by giving myself some weeks in the summer to ‘recover’ from school. This meant trying to let go of the anxious ‘fight or flight’ state I had been in for so long, and exploring my creative interests and hobbies. Over this time, I was able to rediscover my personality and interests, which felt amazing after so many years of masking. By the end of the summer, I had written up a plan of everything I would like to have achieved by the end of my year. I then needed to find the independence and confidence to achieve these things and coaching was amazing in helping me do this!

Coaching at WayMakers and driving

While I was meeting weekly for my coaching with WayMakers I had started to have driving lessons. Driving was much more demanding and tiring than I had imagined and I found the one on one lesson style very intense but it was really nice to have an ongoing project to work on through the autumn and winter.

My Etsy shop grew and grew, and so did my confidence as I went through coaching

My Etsy Shop

During this time I also set up my small business, an Etsy shop selling my textile and handmade goods. This was slow to take off but really exciting once I started and the nice reviews and customer feedback gave me lots of confidence in myself and my craft. This venture was really helpful because at this stage, I didn’t feel ready for a part time or full time job, particularly because those available were based in sensory-demanding environments such as supermarkets or cafés, so having some financial independence was really rewarding.

My Etsy shop grew and grew, and so did my confidence as I went through coaching. Soon, I could live much of my life independently and felt like I would like to explore the possibility of having a part time job. I enquired at one of my favourite places, a historic house and gardens. And suddenly I was working there, interacting with the public and exploring the history of the house.

Although demanding on my energy levels, this opportunity was brilliant for my self confidence as I could work alongside people with similar interests and feel equal and valued in an adult environment. The fact that the job involved very short shifts and short breaks in between interactions meant it was much easier for me to enjoy the workplace and never felt too tiring. I have really enjoyed the months I’ve spent working here and will miss it when I leave for uni!

 

 I didn’t think I would be able to manage living away from home in an environment of such high social demand.

Uni

I have always wanted to go to university. Although I had a confirmed place since leaving sixth form, for a long time I didn’t think I would be able to manage living away from home in an environment of such high social demand. But being at work, back in an environment with academics made me realise how much I valued this world and my subject and so I started to book accommodation, register with the accessibility team, apply for my DSA equipment and so on, and now I am really looking forward to trying uni life, comfortable knowing that if it isn’t for me, I can come back to a successful business, a lovely job and the option of pursuing my degree online.

Some key things I’ve learned this year:

  • School can be extremely stressful but this doesn’t mean that the rest of life will be. Many teachers will tell you that it gets a lot harder when you leave education but the reality is, for people who don’t thrive in such a pressured environment as school, life opens up and becomes a lot easier when you leave.
  • Taking time out to develop your independence and build some confidence is really helpful. It doesn’t mean you’re failing or falling behind, it just means you know yourself and understand you may need time and space to work out your own independence.
  • Seeking people who understand your disability and your strengths and struggles can open up many new possibilities. It is especially important to recognise the strengths of neurodiversity!
  • Support at school can sometimes feel very negative as it tends to centre around your struggles rather than your talents so talking to people who truly understand what makes you special is important.

I hope this was helpful and I look forward to sharing my experience of university!

Kit

This article was written by a past coaching client of WayMakers whom we are proud to have as a guest contributor to our site.