Marking World Autism Awareness Day, more than 70 attendees, including 12 organisations dedicated to autism, gathered at Slough’s Arbour Park for an Autism Awareness Afternoon on Tuesday, April 2. Organisations including Art Beyond Belief, Empower Slough, Autism Berkshire, and Gems4health were represented at the event and five speakers led discussions encouraging people to reflect on what autism truly means.

One of the speakers was a member of Autism Bucks, Vanessa Lacey, who has kindly given us permission to publish the transcript of her speech.

If anyone would like to contact Vanessa they can do so through admin@autism-bucks.charity, or leave a comment below.

Growing up when I heard the phrase autism, my immediate thought was of the film ‘Mercury Rising’ – Rain-man was a little before my time!

This film starred Bruce Willis who plays an undercover FBI agent who protects a nine-year-old autistic boy who is targeted after he cracks a top-secret government code. 

Importantly the film portrayed a very stereotypical view of autism such as having a learning disability, special abilities or even all autistic people are maths geniuses! 

As an autistic person myself I am definitely not a maths genius, I’m actually terrible at maths!

I can say that like many neurodiverse people I like routine, but I don’t like change and making eye contact can be uncomfortable for me.

But It is Important to note that no two people with autism will have the same difficulties. 

My journey to be standing in front of you today seems more like a voyage now. When I was younger, I knew I was different to other kids my age I didn’t enjoy the same games and would rather be on my own. School was difficult I didn’t have any friends; I would always walk around with the dinner lady at lunch, but I was lucky as I had brothers and sisters at the same school who always looked out for me.

When I left education, I felt lost I had lost my daily routine and structure. My dad eventually got me a job where he was working but I didn’t cope well and ended up having a ‘mental breakdown’ of sorts. At 18 I entered mental health services; throughout this time, I given various diagnosis and was offered medication and therapy. Although I was provided with support, I still felt different like I didn’t fit in the mental health box, but actually I didn’t really fit into any box. 

So fast forward 10 years, I was still struggling with my mental health, but I had got married and was living my life the best I could. After a discussion with a speech therapist an autism referral was done.

I was lucky I only waited 1 year to be seen and to get my diagnosis that I was on the Autism Spectrum. Suddenly things started to make sense, I thought back to my life experience and understood the reason why I struggled so much, I now realise why my transition from education to adult life was so difficult. I finally understood the reasons behind my emotions and behaviours.

Getting my autism diagnosis was bittersweet on one hand I understood myself more but on the other I was a bit resentful, I had struggled my whole life, I kept wondering how my life would have been different if I was diagnosed earlier, but the past is the past and there is only the future ahead. 

About 2 years ago I decided I needed structure in my day, and I wanted to give back to the community, so I started volunteering at Turning Point. When I first arrived, I was anxious, shy and hated speaking out loud. 

Well as you can see that has now changed!

Volunteering at Turning Point was one of the best decisions I had made. It has enabled me to use my autistic traits as an advantage rather than focusing on the negative aspects.  Fast forward 2 yrs and I have definitely found my calling at Turning Point. 

I still struggle with confidence and find it hard to accept compliments, but I have promised my operations manager Alison, that today I would also read out my achievement’s since working with Turning Point and how far I have come.

So here I go!

I travelled to London which was very anxiety provoking to receive a National Recognition award for volunteering and make a speech online for over 2000 workers, managers and directors. 

I was also recognised by commissioners during a celebration of success Presentation.

Since working with Turning Point, I have created and facilitate weekly support sessions for service users and work with them, whatever their personal problems may be to fulfil their dreams. I’m really happy to say that one client I have been working with has now secured his dream job producing golf courses all over Europe. Another client despite his difficulties has now been offered a job at Legoland.

In addition to this I have also trained as a SMART Recovery facilitator, so I can run my own recovery groups.  I have completed AET training so I can provide the accredited training to peer mentors and volunteers. I am also involved in the Organising and facilitating of Naloxone training to try and save lives in the community!

As you can see, I have been rather busy!

But I wanted to share my story with you all today to hopefully inspire others by raising awareness of autism and challenging any stigma or stereotype associated with Autism.

Finally, I would like everyone to see autism as a strength and by getting to know our strengths can be both inspiring and empowering!

Thank you.

Categories: Awareness

1 Comment

Kendra · 24-Apr-24 at 6:39 am

Surprised nobody has commented. I wrote something similar at my work place for neurodivergence awareness week.

It is very insightful to hear what other people have had to endure on their life journeys and being autistic.

Each story makes it very real and points out the reality that it isn’t always an obvious thing. That just because others had this stereotyped and usually wrong idea of what autism is, a lot of us still have to face misunderstanding and prejudice each day.

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