Employment Futures

Employment Futures exists to help remove barriers to meaningful employment for autistic adults and/or those with learning difficulties.

THE future is looking bright for university student Imogen Cox, thanks to the support she received from NEAS’s student mentoring team.

The 19-year-old, from Middlesbrough, initially enrolled at the Northern School of Art to pursue her passion for photography – however she made the decision to transfer universities at the end of her first year after struggling to access the support she needed.

“My last year at university was extremely difficult,” Imogen says. “I wasn’t provided any in-class support which caused a lot of stress for me.

“I have difficulty with verbal information and note taking which meant I would miss important information and fall behind. I would get extremely overwhelmed in class, having panic attacks or having to leave class early at times.”

While Imogen wasn’t provided with in-class support, she was allocated time to spend with mentor Kathryn Walker, who works for the North East Autism Society’s Employment Futures provision.

Imogen found out about the support on offer via her Disability Support Advisor and began meeting with Kathryn – virtually, due to the pandemic – on a weekly basis, sometimes twice a week if she was feeling particularly stressed or overwhelmed.

Kathryn, who supports students across the North-east, helped Imogen to tackle her decision about whether to stay in her first university or transfer to another institution, and tasked her with creating a pros and cons list for both options.

Imogen adds: “Very early into my time at my last university I felt that perhaps this wasn’t right for me, however I had a lot of worries about changing courses. I was worried things would be the same at another university if I moved so I was struggling to make that decision.

“Kathryn simply advised me on how to go about making the right decision independently.”

The keen photographer, who was diagnosed as autistic when she was three years old, is now thriving after transferring to Teesside University where she is in the first year of her BA (Hons) Photography course.

I’m extremely pleased with my new course. I’ve made lots of friends, which I couldn’t do on my old course due to me closing myself of because of stress. I’m much more confident now and I’m one of the most chatty and engaging students on my course despite never speaking at all in my old course.

“I was elected by the other students in my course as student rep which is something that really demonstrates how much better I’m doing now. Thanks to the support and advise of Kathryn and NEAS I’m equipped to deal with issues that I could not have handled last year.”

Imogen is now doing so well at university that she no longer feels the need to meet with Kathryn on a weekly basis, adding that she feels “much better equipped” to deal with any issues on her own.

Imogen adds: “I don’t think I could’ve got through that year and passed without the support of NEAS and Kathryn. They built my confidence back up and supported me through any problems I had, giving me solutions to problems and communicating with my university to advise them and pass on any information to them.

I felt like my issues were taken more seriously when they were backed up and supported by my mentor. I also felt better being able to talk to someone who understood my struggles as an autistic person after feeling so alienated within my previous university.

And, thanks to Kathryn’s support, Imogen is now looking forward to her future post-University and dreams of a career in photography.

She adds: “I’m looking forward to exploring my interest in photography more and discovering more about myself to eventually make a decision on what I’d like to do in the future.”

Find out more about Student Mentoring