Dela is an area manager at Autism Unlimited, overseeing support to a number of individuals in the autistic community. Having worked in the health and social care sector for several years, she shares her insights and experiences working with autistic people.
To her, autism is about really getting to understand the autistic individuals that she supports and how their autism affects them, whether it be with communication, environmental factors, or other things, and this then informs how she should be presenting herself and planning care for people.
A myth about autism in her experience would be that every autistic person has a level of learning disability, when in reality they are separate conditions. While many autistic people do have a learning disability, this is not the same for everyone and they are still two different conditions which can have different implications.
Looking at labels can lead to stereotyping, and there are already quite a few stereotypes out there for autistic people and people with learning disabilities, which just makes it harder to accept people into society and mainstream services.
She wants more people to know that every autistic person doesn’t need to be boxed into services that are specifically for autistic people; they can access mainstream services just like anyone else. We need to adapt our ways of thinking, working and creating environments to support people to be integrated into mainstream services.
She said, ‘The biggest thing I’ve learned working with autistic people would be the laughter, the joy, and the pleasure, regardless of what someone’s label is. The joy and the pleasure that someone could give me and how much I can give back – I’m learning all the time.’
She reiterates that every autistic person is different – when you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person. Initially entering the health and social care industry to rebel against her dad, she found herself feeling intrigued, and then eventually falling in love with the role and the people. ‘Every person that I met absolutely fascinated me, and I fell in love, and I’m still in love.’
She describes the most rewarding part of her job as seeing the progression, not only for the autistic people she supports, but also for the frontline staff. ‘We definitely don’t come to the sector for the salary, we come in because we care, we want to make a change and seeing those changes, going home with a little skip in our step definitely makes it worthwhile.’
She believes society can definitely change by supporting autistic adults. By keeping campaigns going, keeping the momentum going, getting involved and supporting autistic people to access mainstream services instead of sheltering them into specialist services, can make a huge difference.
‘Acceptance and integration absolutely makes the world of difference. People with different care needs, different disabilities, diagnoses, are always fighting for acceptance.’ With greater awareness and tolerance comes peace, harmony and love.