Interview With an Autistic Teacher
As part of our new ‘love what you do’ blog series we are interviewing autistic adults that love their jobs.
This week we have the fantastic Jenni-Marie, who works as a Learning Support Assistant within a school.
Jenni has provided a fantastic insight into the world of teaching and has given us some brilliant advice on finding and searching for jobs.
Thank you Jenni!
1.Hi Jenni, what’s your job and what do you do on a day to day basis?
“I’m a learning support assistant and have been doing this job for 4 years.
My working day starts at 8:40am I get the hours that I am working from my managers.
My first class starts at 9am and lunch is between 12-1pm. I finish work at between 2 and 3pm. My timetable is set so that I am not moved around like other Learning Support Assistant’s.
Unexpected changes are something I do not cope with very well and my managers are great at minimising change for me.
My manager adopted some reasonable adjustments to support me within the role. I have a set timetable because of my reaction to change.
I have a pink overlay and writing paper for if I have to take notes in class. I also have specially tinted lenses which I wear as glasses due to diagnosed Irlen Syndrome.
I only work 21 hours a week due to the fact that this job is where I socialise the most and mask my own difficulties which leaves me exhausted. My hours were agreed with myself, occupational health and my line manager.”
2. What do you love about your job?
“I enjoy the fact that I can socialise with people and that I am helping others which is something I am good at. I like the fact that I get to learn new things all the time which I soak up like sponge. Although my timetable is set no two days are the same.
The highlight of my job is being able to understand the students I work with because of my own difficulties.
The team I work with I am so lucky to have found. We aren’t just colleagues we are like a family. Everyone is warm, friendly and accepting. When I need the lights off in the staffroom it isn’t a problem, everyone understands its what I need to feel alright. Similarly if I am fidgeting or chewing my chew necklace everyone knows its what I need to regulate.
I love what I do because I have the most supportive line managers and colleagues.”
3. Why did you want to become a teacher?
“Although I am a learning support assistant I have always wanted to be a teacher, I think it comes from the fact that I am good at maths and I love to help others.”
4. After you made this decision, what did you do?
“I looked for jobs that in my local schools and colleges.
I found applying for jobs really overwhelming and the thought of interviews too.
When I did my interviews unbelievably I didn’t ask for any special arrangements, at that time I didn’t know I was autistic. Its thanks to my job that I was diagnosed first with Irlen syndrome three years ago and then autistic just last March!
Thinking back, I enjoyed going into new places and looking around which helped to settle the anxiety. I struggled with interviews, having to think of answers, the eye contact and the dry mouth.”
5. How do you think being autistic has impacted you in your teaching career?
“Before my diagnosis of autism I was diagnosed with Irlen Syndrome three years ago which means I am sensitive to light. Light sensitivity affects me everyday at work because the lights are so bright, the walls are white and the paper too.
It was hard to read on white paper and reading the white board was difficult.
I then got my lenses which help my brain to process the full spectrum of light, they have changed my life.
Being autistic the sound sensitivity is also sometimes difficult to deal with in the college setting. I did have an anxiety attack in the classroom, I felt like I needed to escape so I went for a walk up and down the corridor.
Being autistic in college can be difficult especially when I am in a position of authority/power but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Other LSAs are flexible and will go to new classes to cover for an LSA who is off work due to illness, but I struggle with change and so although I don’t mind being moved around I like to know in advance.
I’m not moved much because I get anxious being moved, not knowing a class, the tutor makes me uncomfortable if I’ve never been to it before.”
6. After a long day at work, what do you like to do?
“This is an easy one, I get home and I like to read. I head straight for the sofa and my weighted blanket, I love when it gets dark because I have sensory lights that I like to turn on which helps me to shutdown from a day of work. I like to build lego too, I like that all the small bits fits together to make a bigger picture. I like seeing how it all fits together, I have so many sets.”
7. What do you think is the most important thing to consider when finding a job that you love?
“I think you have to consider if it is the right environment for you and what support is available to you on the job should you need it.
I did get another job that worked alongside this one in a famous fast food restaurant but I couldn’t cope with the fact there was no routine and no apparent support or help for my needs on the job. I had to sadly give it up, but I realised you can only do what you can do even if that means low hours because trying to push yourself past your boundaries isn’t necessarily a good thing.
I remember in the summer I was at a point of burn out and it was purely because I had not had enough time for my body to shutdown and switch off.
Also don’t be afraid to ask for help, no question is a silly one.”
8. What advice would you give to autistic job-seekers who haven’t yet decided what career path to take?
“I would say there is no rush to jump into a job. Find something you’re good at that you or that you’re interested in. See if you can set up a look around the place to get a feel for it, this can help you to visualise what the job entails and whether you would be able to get on in the environment and ask any questions you need around your difficulties.”
9. What advice would you give to autistic job-seekers in regards to the recruitment process?
“When you’re getting overwhelmed stop, give yourself a break.
Get someone else to read through your applications.
Instead of repeating yourself make a word document that can be copied and pasted and tailored to each job, believe me it saves you time, not only from processing the questions and also your own responses but the time it takes to fill it out.
In interviews if you need any assistance don’t be afraid to ask for it, its better to be open from the start so that if you do get the job your manager or boss will know what reasonable adjustments to put into place for you.”
10. And finally, what advice would you give to other autistic job-seekers who are thinking about starting a teaching career?
“I would say go for it, don’t let your disability put you off. College is pretty much timetable based and so routine is really easy to put into place and follow if routine is what you need. Equally if you’re not someone who likes to stick to routine but wants variety the flexibility is great in this job. This job I feel is rewarding and your needs are catered for.”
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