DiversityNE is part-funded
by the European Social Fund and North of Tyne Combined Authority.

'Growing the power and potential of a neurodiverse workforce'

INCLUSIVITY should be prioritised by employers, says Lindsay Williamson, who recently landed her dream job as a teaching assistant.

The 31-year-old, from Cramlington, Northumberland, enrolled on employability programme DiversityNE – which is delivered in partnership by the North East Autism Society and Azure Charitable Services - in August 2021, having been referred by the JobCentre.

“I found out about DiversityNE through Brian Hunt,” Lindsay says. “I think I was his first client on the programme - and it just went from there really.”

Lindsay met with Employment Specialist Brian Hunt on a weekly basis to discuss her aspirations, boost her confidence and develop her CV. In fact, Brian had previously supported Lindsay via one of Azure’s other employability programmes.

“I had a lot of issues with anxiety that Brian helped with by giving me some techniques to use,” she adds. “Because Brian has known me for seven years, he knows me well and has helped me with confidence building, getting me work placements, things like that.”

Within just three months of enrolling on DiversityNE, the opportunity arose for Lindsay to complete a work placement within Azure Education, which caters for SEND learners aged 16 and over – and from there she was offered permanent employment.

Before moving into the education sector Lindsay - who was diagnosed with learning difficulties at the age of 29 - held a number of roles, including working as a nursery nurse, a care worker and in administration.

But, thanks to the support she’s received from DiversityNE and Azure, Lindsay finally feels like she’s found her perfect job and has even started doing a Level 4 qualification in children and families in order to boost her professional development.

Lindsay says: “I enjoy everything about my job - I like all of it. I like getting to know the students, seeing their progression and how they’ve gone from being really shy to blossoming. I think that’s the nicest part of the job.”

While Lindsay is thriving in her current position, she says she has previously struggled to gain support and understanding from employers. As a result of these experiences, she feels passionately that businesses should be made to undertake training or expand their understanding when it comes to hiring and supporting neurodiverse employees.

“I’ve had a lot of issues in the past with work, just that people haven’t understood me, but here, I don’t feel like that,” Lindsay adds. “For the first time, I feel really supported.

Here, I don’t feel like I am Lindsay with learning difficulties, I feel like I am just another member of staff. I might have a few issues, but everybody has.

She adds: “I’m not unable to do stuff, I just maybe need a little bit longer. It’s kind of like giving a fair chance for everybody, rather than pushing people to one side. I think that people should be more aware of learning difficulties, as well as things like mental health issues.”

While Lindsay credits Azure with supporting her, her aptitude for the job hasn’t gone unnoticed by her managers either, with Deputy Head of Education Lindsay Lee describing her as an “integral part of the team”.

“Lindsay’s role within the organisation is as a teaching assistant, it’s an invaluable role,” Lindsay says. “Day to day she will be supporting the tutors in preparing for lessons … but once the learners come in, that’s when she really comes into her own in terms of building those relationships, building rapport with learners and just spending time with them.”

Asked if she’d recommend DiversityNE to other neurodiverse individuals who may be struggling to secure full-time employment, Lindsay adds: “Definitely. It gives people more confidence and I think the programme could benefit a lot of people who have confidence and anxiety issues, as well as learning difficulties.”

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