A shoe shop assistant from the North East is encouraging other businesses to be more accepting of job candidates with Autistic spectrum disorders, as World Autism Awareness Week gets underway.
Nathan Atkinson, who works for National footwear retailer Charles Clinkard, is also speaking out about his past struggles and offering advice to others in similar situations.
The 28-year-old, who has Asperger’s syndrome, has worked for the company for four years and has praised his employer for its approach to people with Autism.
Autistic spectrum disorders affect people in many ways; some people find it difficult to communicate while others are highly articulate and charismatic.
And for Nathan, it’s his “brutally honest” personality that has made previous roles a challenge.
Nathan explained: “I was kicked out of school at 13 and have lost previous jobs as a result of my Asperger’s. It means I can lose my temper more easily than others and finding a job was always difficult.
“But people with Autism or Asperger’s tend to be some of the most honest people you’ll ever meet, and they’ll also tend to be some of the most organised and neatest – because that’s how they’re programmed.
“They have a great memory too, and can be a real asset to employers.”
Despite his struggles with past employment, Nathan found his perfect fit with the family footwear retailer and has praised his employer for working with charity Daisy Chain to train its staff and create autism-friendly environments in its stores.
Nathan added: “I love the fact this company is very supportive of Autism and Asperger’s. Things like offering appointments during quieter times, turning off the lights and having sensory packs for children with autism can make a massive difference.
“For me, when it starts to get really busy in the shop, I have moments where I think “oh god, I can’t be here” and I get anxious when things don’t go to plan but my colleagues are all so supportive and I’ve learnt to overcome those feelings.
“And that will be a similar feeling for customers with autism, and it’s about supporting them to make sure they get the best possible experience.”
Taking a lot of his life advice from films and music, Nathan praises songs likes Lady Gaga’s Born This Way and Little Mix’s Wings for inspiring him to truly be himself and accept that he was born to be different.
Nathan is keen to see more people with Autism and Asperger’s entering the world of work and has some words of wisdom for people with similar experiences to his own.
He said: “I know putting yourself out there can be nerve wrecking and scary – and it’s easy to be disheartened and dispirited.
“I know how that feels because I had applied for many jobs with no success and ended up on the dole for several years. I would ask for feedback after interviews and wouldn’t get it, and it was difficult not to feel disheartened.
“One thing that really helped and motivated me during my late teens and early 20s was watching films like Rocky because I could relate to his character quite a lot – and there’s many sayings from the films which would play over and over in my head and inspire me whenever I was feeling down.
“I think the most important thing is to be yourself, that’s what employers want.”