By Michael Isaacs, A Norwood services user
Michael Isaacs is 37 years old. He has a learning disability and mild Asperger’s syndrome, an autistic spectrum disorder, and is supported by Norwood. Autism affects around one in 100 people in the UK, which means that there are roughly 2,500 people with autism in the Jewish community.
Every year, World Autism Week – which was held last month – aims to shine a light on the condition, which is often misunderstood. Only 15 percent of adults with autism are currently employed, but most, like Michael, would love to work.
Here, he explains what people should know about autism:
In 2011 I was diagnosed with mild Asperger’s syndrome.
I wouldn’t have minded being told earlier!
Because of my Asperger’s syndrome, I like things to be in a certain order.
If I am in the middle of a task at work and someone messes up what I am doing, I might get cross. But if someone pushes in front of me in the queue for the bus, I will be relaxed about it – it’s not worth worrying about. Everyone will get on the bus eventually.
Some people with autism aren’t able to handle their emotions if there isn’t a routine.
I know someone who gets so upset if a member of support staff doesn’t arrive on time – a temper tantrum and biting of fingers ensues.
Before I was diagnosed, my behaviour wasn’t good. Sometimes I did things like swear or behave inappropriately.
I think it was probably to get attention. Since then I have come a long way.
I can travel independently and work. The job coaches at Norwood have helped me to respond to people in the right way and helped me with my work skills.
At the day centre that I attend, there are between 45 and 50 people. Everyone has autism or Asperger’s syndrome.
Some people don’t like noise and some people don’t like different routines and some people have one-to-one support. There are also people like me who have mild Asperger’s syndrome, such as my friend Sam, who is a very good cricketer, and Chris, who has autism and works at the day centre as an assistant.
I want people to treat me and other people with autism in the same way as they would treat anyone else, with respect. Most people are really nice. In shul, people explain things to me if I don’t understand them.
There are some things that will help you communicate with someone with autism. If you are talking to someone with autism then first of all you must introduce yourself loudly and clearly. I don’t like it when people speak fast. For me to understand them, they have to speak slowly and clearly.
If there is background noise in the room and I can’t understand what people are saying, I ignore it for a minute and hope it doesn’t carry on. But if I still can’t understand, I’ll say”Excuse me, I can’t hear myself think, can we go outside?”
I work three days a week in St Catherine’s School as a supervising meal assistant. It’s a voluntary role but my ambition is to find a paid job. I think it’s unfair and sad that so many people with autism don’t have jobs because even if you have Asperger’s syndrome you will still make a very good employee.
I have a lot to offer. In my volunteer job, I am reliable, honest, good with customers, have commitment and I show up on time. Getting paid work would make me feel very happy.
• If you are an employer and would like to find out how Norwood can support you to employ someone with a learning disability, contact the Norwood’s work skills and employment team on 020 8809 8809