As we celebrate Autism Acceptance Week we hear from Jay, 17, (pictured with her cat, Suki) who has been supported by Aspens’ Family and Specialist Support team. Jay tells us the story of her journey from first being diagnosed as autistic to learning to accept and embrace her neurodivergence and discover what makes her “eyes sparkle”. 

“When I started working with Aspens, I wasn’t very well. I’d just been discharged from an inpatient psychiatric ward and was finding things tricky after being diagnosed as autistic during my admission.

When I was discharged, I had really good support which was a combination of support from Aspens and IPT (Interpersonal Therapy). With Aspens we focused a lot on acceptance which was something I really struggled with in the beginning. When you’ve been ill and have been told this is due to your neurodivergence, which you’re then told will never go away and that’s ‘just how your brain is wired’, it makes it really hard to accept.

Trying to accept this was the first mission I undertook with Aspens, which took time and to be honest 3 years later I still struggle with it, even though I’m in remission from my illnesses.

Next, I worked on managing emotions, which was something I found very tricky. I learnt to read my body signals and analyse how I felt towards each emotion – which sounds funny, but it helped! We then looked to the future - life skills were an essential part of learning to reintegrate into the community as well as looking towards the future and me wanting to apply to sixth form.

We practised social skills and budgeting, and reading body signals like hunger and self-care. This was vital to help learn how to look after myself again and feel more connected and positive about myself and the future. Soon, I had received my GCSE results and learnt I’d achieved the grades I required to get onto my chosen subjects at college. This was a massive step for me as I had been out of education for a long time and self-taught most of the GCSE content. The idea of re-entering mainstream education, which had always been my goal, was a scary prospect but I was very motivated by the subjects I had chosen as I am very knowledge driven.

I visited the sixth form college with Aspens to prepare myself and to meet the wellbeing team and see inside the college. I also worked on different skills with IPT such as getting the train. This was important as college is a 30-minute journey from home and I would need to go there and back independently, which was very daunting at the time!

September rolled around and I started college. It had taken a lot of work on myself and trust in other people and myself that I would make it that far, but once I had started college I blossomed! I think this was because going to this specific college had been a goal of mine for many years even before I got ill. I take pride in the part of autism that makes me incredibly determined once I decide I want to do something!

At college I met new people and really enjoyed myself. I had a few blips, namely shutdowns mid-lesson, but I navigated around this by educating my lecturers and this meant I was able to be more accommodated and understood by the members of the teaching staff.

In January of my first year, we were told about work experience, and I started to search for something which I would find meaningful. I learnt how to use LinkedIn and soon found myself speaking to a lot of fascinating people in the fields I was most interested in and learning more about career options.

I decided to undertake my work experience placement at a local SEND school, which I found incredibly insightful and rewarding. I related to the young people I assisted as not long before I was planning to go to this school too!

Just after this week it was confirmed that in the summer I would be able to undertake my dream work experience placement, in a pathology lab at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH). So, in the July of that year I spent the week in a flat in London, working full time in a hospital lab. I could not believe the difference in me from a few years prior to me doing this!

I put it down to me first sorting myself out, using the incredible multi-disciplinary support from Aspens and them helping me to find my passions and what makes my ‘eyes sparkle!’ This sense of awe and wonder of things that fascinate me (my favourite part of being autistic!) enabled me to find purpose in my day-to-day life, to keep me on track and to look ahead and be excited by the future. This is what ultimately kept me going and lead to a snowball effect.

I had the best week ever at GOSH and it really helped build my confidence a lot and ignited my passion further. It was brilliant as I was putting all the skills that I had worked so hard at over the past years together to achieve something I really, really wanted to do. I was able to converse with colleagues and navigate around London independently, as well as regulate myself in full time work. I feel this was a big turning point for me.

In September, I went back to college and got stuck in. it was now time to start thinking about next steps as I would soon be completing my A-Levels and heading off to the next stage. I decided that I wanted to go to university and set about putting my application together.

In late November, it was all ready to be sent off and off it went. Little did I know that soon I would get responses(!) I never thought that I would get to sixth form, let alone apply to uni, let alone get offers!

I was overwhelmed when I started receiving offers for my dream course. I am pleased to say that this September I have accepted an unconditional offer to study a Biomedical Science MSc at Lincoln University!

A few years ago, I never would have believed this to be possible. Thanks to all the support, the knowledge and tips I have been given and everyone’s amazing kindness I am now living - truly living - and I am very happy! I still have a way to go to get to uni, however I am working on and remembering the self-care tips and amazing advice from Aspens and I am working hard on myself to prepare for the next stage!

I now know that autism is my strength despite it being very challenging! I still struggle day to day, but with the support and tips I have learnt over time I am able to manage far better. Thank you, Aspens so, so much. I could not have done it without you!”