Having more time to spend with family motivated mum-of-three Kirsty Lee to make a career change from dementia care to working as a teaching assistant for NEAS.

Kirsty joined the North East Autism Society (NEAS) in December 2022 as a level 2 teaching assistant at Thornhill Park School in Sunderland, and currently works at the school’s Emsworth site, with a class of young people aged 14-19.

Despite having no previous experience in a classroom setting, Kirsty had personal experience supporting her autistic son.

“Even though I wasn’t aware I could help with the teaching side of things, I knew I would be good with working with autistic people. I understood a lot about it. I knew I’d be a good support with them.”

The training offered by NEAS helped Kirsty adjust to the change in career and stood out from her past work experiences.

“I did dementia care for a lot of years and there was no progression in it. Whereas since coming here, the amount of courses I’ve done, like the epilepsy training, administering medication training, strategies to give bespoke support and communicate. Just everything they want to give us, I’ll do.”

Kirsty has also put herself forward to be a trainer within the Society, working with other staff on techniques to help prevent or de-escalate crisis situations.

Kirsty added:

Once I’ve done my level 2 teaching and learning qualification, I’ll move up to level 3. I’m always looking to learn, and there’s always something to learn.

One of the biggest benefits to working at Thornhill Park for Kirsty has been the new work-life balance it allows her, meaning she gets consistent time to spend with her family.

 “I can come in half-past-seven and finish at half-past-three, so I’m home to make their tea and spend more time with them.

 “I’ve got the full weekends off where in my last job I was working 8am ‘til 8pm. My shifts were 12 hours and I felt as if I wasn’t putting enough effort into my family, while now I’ve got that balance. I think it’s a brilliant balance I’ve got for them.”

After facing ‘upsetting’ days working as an activity co-ordinator and carer for people with dementia, Kirsty added that the sense of achievement working with pupils at Thornhill Park is something she ‘loves’ about her job.

“I love coming to work and seeing the pupils making progress. I love seeing their faces light up when they come through the door, and that they want to be at school,” Kirsty said.

When you support them to learn something new, that’s mint. There’s just no feeling like it, it’s great.

“You feel as if you’re achieving something,” Kirsty added.

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