Disability History Month: Supporting our colleagues

Kim Barker-Ottley, Library Services Manager, and apprentice Callum Strainger, who has Asperger’s syndrome, share their story to mark Disability History Month, that just concluded, and raise awareness about neurodiversity.

“I had some basic knowledge of autism and Asperger’s syndrome prior to meeting Callum, mostly gathered through information shared by people I know who are autistic or from the media,” said Kim.

“I knew that there is a range of ways in which Asperger’s can affect people’s behaviour, so my main aim was not to make any assumptions ahead of time.

“We hired Callum because he has the skills that we were looking for, any adjustments needed to make the workplace comfortable and welcoming were not going to threaten our ability to get our work done.”

“Before joining the team, all my concerns were related to the initial interview,” said Callum. “I’ve had many bad experiences where people did not appear to understand my autism.

“The interview process was made easy for me because Kim and her colleagues let me answer things in my own way, I felt no pressure to rush or be rigid in my responses.”

During his interview, Callum told Kim that he preferred routine and, as he joined the team, Kim asked him what adjustments in the office and workload were needed to make him feel fully comfortable.

“The main adjustment to our work has been to ensure that we give Callum plenty of notice regarding changes in working patterns or things that may cause the office to be disrupted and to give him reminders so that these changes are not a surprise,” added Kim.

“As with any new colleague, we do have regular one-to-one meetings, but I find that a quick chat here and there to ‘check in’ can be as helpful. This gives Callum an opportunity to voice concerns and questions without a formal meeting that can seem more intimidating.

“I see it as an ongoing conversation, I am aware that the role and requirements will develop over time and therefore Callum’s needs might change as well.

“Callum has been very open about what works best for him and this makes it easy for the team to be supportive.”

Callum has  worked with the team for around five months and recently, went on his first ever work do. “Something that I would never have done previously,” he said.

“This is because I trust my colleagues as they always ask me what I am comfortable with, and I feel I can always say no without being judged.”

“Callum told me that he likes the fact that I haven’t completely ‘reinvented the wheel’, rather I have thought about things in a slightly different way and, if needed, made some small changes,” said Kim.

“It is important that we all understand more about neurodiversity, but I also think it is important to remember that people are hired as a whole person, not ‘in spite of’ anything.”

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