WHEN James Paterson first joined the North East Autism Society as a carer, he felt that his whole life until then had been preparing him for the role.

James’s three uncles had muscular dystrophy, so from a very young age he would help them around the house. “That sort of caring has always been in my home life, and so it extended to my career path,” he says.

When I started here, it just seemed to fit my life and my life seemed to fit the job role. I found my niche. 

James works as a Programme Support Worker for Adult Day Services and is based at Number 24 in Sunderland. 

His role involves supporting vocational activities and helping young adults to access community venues and facilities, such as going bowling. He has even passed a lifeguard qualification so he can take groups swimming.

He says: “Just little things like that and seeing their joy makes me happy. And there’s very few work environments that you can get that from.

Before joining NEAS, James worked at Cherry Knowle mental health hospital in Sunderland. At a jobs fair he noticed the Society’s stand because his parents were fostering an autistic girl at the time.

Despite his background caring for family members, and his work in mental health, the job at NEAS had a few surprises in store for him. He turned up for the first day in a suit before realising the role was much more practical than he expected.

“I learned very quickly that I needed to put my jeans and t-shirt on and get stuck in, because it wasn’t a business environment,” James explains. “It was about really getting into the mix of the community.”

He was also surprised by the strong bonds forged by the job.

I really wasn’t expecting to have such close-knit relationships with the people I work with. The rapport you build up with individuals is massive because they’re placing such trust in you.

"The most rewarding part of this job is getting to see the change in people’s lives. It's amazing."

A typical day for James starts in a residential home where he supports a young adult to get ready in the morning before they travel to Number 24 together on a minibus. Then it’s a day of vocational activities and supporting independent living skills.

Even though he himself has caring experience, many of his colleagues come from a variety of backgrounds and bring diverse skills to the role.

James says: “If you’re a teacher, a nurse, a paramedic, a domestic .. anything that you’ve had in your life, we can utilise it here.

“If you’ve got any kind of attributes you think you can contribute to others, just go for it, because there really is a difference you can make.” 

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