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Engaging with the Gatekeeper

There are lots of ways to build the profile of your business, your academic expertise, your passion.  Joyce talked about networking groups the other week, and I’ve attended many networking opportunities, including exhibitions and conferences.  It is when we go to follow up these initial links that many of us fail. We forget to follow up, or find it awkward and therefore avoid it.  Often we become so intent on building rapport with a CEO or other figurehead, we forget to build rapport with the de facto key person: The Gatekeeper.

Who is the Gatekeeper?

Even in the 21st century, in this world of online meetings and directors managing their own emails, there is still a large percentage of gatekeepers and they are mainly female!  I am of course talking about the army of mainly women who hold the title of PA, receptionist, occasionally Private Secretary, Chief Administrator and so forth.  There are some really good blokes doing this role and I am sure some would identify as non-binary and trans, but that is not my rabbit hole for today.  I’m talking about relationships, power, and how we can wield it with integrity.

Photo by Laura Davidson on Unsplash

In 1952 Betty Marsden debuted the Joyce Grenfell sketch ‘Private Secretary’ which, in addition to revealing a secret, explores many of the contradictions of these roles.  By their nature, they are often unseen and undervalued, yet they hold the key to information, action and attention.  Rather than asking ‘Who watches the watchman?’, perhaps we should be asking ‘Who gatekeeps the gatekeeper?’. I’ve met some shocking ones in my life, including the school secretary who on the first occasion I ever asked to speak to the head exclaimed “Why do you keep bothering him, you’re useless to him?’.  As I was offering training and support for parents and staff, that school lost out.  Embarrassing!

Gatekeeping with integrity

There are two gatekeepers I’ve encountered in my life however, who have operated with integrity, kindness, communication and skill, both professionally and personally.  It is to these two women I’d like to pay tribute today, now that they are both exiting my life.  Sheila Wraight, one of the Graduate College Administrators at CCCU retires at the end of this week.  It’s jokingly said that one of the other Administrators ushers you into the Grad College and Sheila looks after you through the last 6 months and ushers you out.  This is so true.  Sheila has been the focus of many a frustrated email from students over issues that are nothing to do with her. Every time, she has steered us with calm, clarity and kindness to the right answer, person or process.  It was a real moment of sadness for me when we went digital because of COVID and I could not therefore place my three bound copies into Sheila’s devoted hands.

The other is my Godmother Gloria (Goy) Fuller.  Rather like the Private Secretary in the sketch, Goy professed no real ambition, but ended up in a range of rather senior positions in the Civilian support staff for Kent Police. These included gatekeeping for a Chief Inspector who was notoriously almost never at his desk.  She was Assistant Secretary and Treasurer to the Police Social Club, a role which probably led to more decision making and action taking than the actual treasurer, and she continued this post long after her retirement from her day job. Goy died this month, and I did not realise how much I would hear her voice in my head. Though neither of us knew it at the time, from an early age Goy taught me about a different kind of ambition – an ambition to have integrity, build relationship at work and outside work, to enable the young ones even when they are infuriating (I was a very gabby child), and to simply be kind.  The rising through the ranks to a position of trust often comes quite accidentally from there.

So, what are my concluding thoughts today?  Whenever you want to make a lead, make a friend first, or at least a friendly acquaintance.  Don’t just ask to speak to the boss.  Make sure you know the name of the person who picks up the phone and who checks their emails for them. Ask after them, pass a few friendly comments.  At worst, these are the gatekeepers, who can shut the gate in your face as well as open it. At best, they will be people who will enable that business relationship, so make sure you genuinely appreciate them.  They are your de facto key person.

Different Experiences, Different Times

In this blog I want to talk about the different experience of two people with autism, myself and a 21 year old.

Let me start with my own journey from school to my present day university.

I remember my first day at infant school, standing amongst a large crowd of adults and small children like myself. I remember a little boy clinging to his mother and sobbing his heart out, this boy later became the school bully.

When I started school there was no mention of dyslexia or autism, if you couldn’t keep up you were known as slow, or inattentive or even thick and stupid. Somehow, I always managed to stay up in one of the top classes, by this I mean I was not put in the class for the ‘less able’.

My overriding memory of school both primary and secondary was the people I was at school with. In the first few years of primary school I had one friend, we spent every playtime together, just the two of us. That was until her dad, who was in the army, got posted overseas. My then friend went to a group of girls and asked them if I could join their group and they said yes.

I spent the remaining years of my primary and secondary school life being on the outside of that group, never feeling like I quite belonged. The girls were never mean or nasty to me, I joined in the games that they played, but I never felt like I quite belonged. As we all grew older together, I discovered that they were meeting up at the evenings and weekends, going swimming or to the pictures together, but I was never invited.

In my secondary school years, I felt like the teachers removed me to stand outside the classroom door more often than being in the class. My school reports said things like, “if she spent less time helping others and did own work she would do better”.

Later in life I went to college to study English GCSE, but again I never made any lasting friendships. However, I did learn to hand in unusual possibly obscure subject matter for all my assignments. For instance, my story was on ‘Christmas through the eyes of the donkey’. This got published in the college’s Christmas magazine.

And on turning 60 I went to university to study for my Bachelor’s degree in Counselling, Coaching and Mentoring. I spent three years of my life, two full days a week, with the same cohort of people, with the same outcome as when I was at school. No one was unkind to me, we chatted together if the moment called for it, but I was never invited to go to lunch with them or join in social activities after the lectures.

I am now taking my Masters by Research where there are no lectures to attend or any cohort to be on the outside of. I have wonderful supervisors who help me, support me and direct me along the path to succeed.

Now let me talk about a young 21-year-old and their journey through education. They too started school around the age of five. Throughout their entire primary school experience, they felt they were treated differently than the non-autistics in their class.

In the morning they attended a normal class with everybody else, but always felt like they were treated differently both by the teachers and their classmates. At lunchtime instead of going into the dining room, those who were deemed ’different’ had their lunch separately. In the afternoon these children were again segregated into a separate class to learn more about social skills than reading, writing and arithmetic.

At the age of 11 this young person started in a special educational needs (SEN) School to continue their education. Though in this school they felt more accepted and treated more equally and were able to make friends with like-minded people, they were not allowed to take any meaningful qualifications.

Next this person progressed into college to take GCSE English and Maths and a BTEC qualification. Again, they experienced feelings of being treated differently, and though the BTEC course they had chosen had aspects that did not sit comfortably with them they continued to the end, finishing with a successful BTEC qualification.

This gave them enough points to continue on to university to take a Foundation qualification in computing. This is when they and I met, I became this young person’s mentor, and what a privilege that has been.

They have now completed their Foundation degree with a very high score and progressed onto the first year of their Bachelor’s degree in gaming.

During all of their experience of university they have not felt any of the stigma that they felt through their schooling and college life. They have made friends and been treated equally with the whole of their cohort by their lecturers.

So, what does this say about the 20th and 21st century experience of an autistic in education?

We both experienced prejudice from teachers and other pupils, we both experienced rejection and isolation during our school and college lives. But here is where the paths differ, I as a 60+ year old still felt on the outside during my Bachelor’s degree experience, whereas this 20+ year old found acceptance, friendship, and path into their future life.

Could this just be because of different personalities, different backgrounds, or is it be the difference between how older people and the younger generation view autistics?

Can study be good for business?

I think we all know that as a PhD candidate, of course I think the answer to the question is yes!  There’s a lot more to my views on this and how they were formed though.  I’ve made some mistakes in balancing work and study over the years, but here are some of the reasons why I think study and business support each other, and some tips and tricks to make it work.

Reasons

  1. If you work in another field, learning theory will improve your practice and vice versa.

I was fortunate enough to have my Masters paid for by me then employer, the Civil Service.  As a front line worker in JobcentrePlus, it was not until I started examining policy formation and strategy that I began to comprehend:

  • how my tiny cog fitted in to the machine which is public service,
  • how that related to the political party in power at the time,
  • how the Civil Service keeps its political neutral role while advising its party political masters, and so much more.

Nobody is saying that the only study you should do is work related, but it can help with your relationship with the office.

2. If you work in education, continuing to study, and being open about it, helps your students trust you.

As a study skills tutor, I hold some teaching qualifications, of course, but I find that talking about my own challenges and how I have overcome them builds a sense of trust with my students.  Got a deadline?  So do I?  How can we both meet them?  Don’t understand the brief?  This is how I analyse mine – are these techniques useful to you? Got a bogie module?  Have I ever told you about my relationship with Economics and Governance?  (No, really, somebody ask me – I’ll happily tell you how I slew that dragon).  Being a student yourself creates a sense of rapport with your students that nothing else can forge, and you will both reap the rewards.

Tips

  1.  If you are studying something relevant to your job, make sure your colleagues know about it.

I learned this one the hard way.  I initially kept my Masters studies to myself and was accused by several colleagues of being both lazy and privileged.  How dare I, as a single white woman under 40 be working part time?  What gave me the right to laze around the rest of the time?  They had made a wrong assumption that I was a lady what lunched, who played at work to remove the boredom.  They had missed the part that when I wasn’t in the office I was studying, in lectures, or travelling the four hours each way to get to Uni. One stand up row later, a now educated colleague became the first to volunteer to take part in the research for my dissertation.  My point is, you may inspire respect, a new reputation for yourself or even somebody else to go and learn a new skill.

  1. (A tip) Organisation is key, as is a touch of ruthlessness.

In the 21st Century, time is a precious commodity. Taking on study is only going to make it more precious.  This is a key example of working smarter, not harder.  You will need to get your family on board.

If you are already studying and your family are not supportive, now is the time to sit down and have a full and frank discussion with them.  What are the benefits to them of you getting this qualification?  What practical skills can your other half/young ones/house mates learn or take over that will help free up your time?  Batch cooking, putting their own washing away, dusting and hoovering, these are all gender neutral tasks. It is important that you carve out time for your study then guard it with your life! If work is a more conducive environment for study than home, go in early, or stay late (clear this with your employer first). Make sure that you don’t suffer from study guilt – you do matter and the more you prioritise your study and empowerment, the more positive role model you become for those around you.

In conclusion, then, if you’re thinking about studying while you work, get on and do it, but make sure you have your loved ones on board before you start.  If you’re already studying and have got a bit stuck in the mire, I understand, why not give me a ring and see if I can help?

The Effects of Covid-19 Lockdown on one Autistic

When we first went into lockdown, I thought how wonderful that would be;

no social interaction, no face-to-face business interactions, just sitting quietly in my house all day with my furry cats, Kevin and Woof.

This could not have been further from the truth!!!

Zoom and more Zoom and even more Zoom. The wife even Zoomed me today to help me wrestle a website into submission. Now don’t get me wrong, I love Zoom, it’s a brilliant piece of technology and we couldn’t keep our business going without it.

We see all our clients over Zoom, along with our business networking, which is proving to be quite profitable. We joined the Federation of Small Businesses this week thanks to a lovely gentleman, Lee Harrington, that we met through the Twilight networking group.

I think a lot of people who have no personal experience of autism believe that autistics don’t particularly like social interaction or eye contact, but for some of us that couldn’t be further from the truth. Though I don’t particularly like large social gatherings, and wouldn’t dream of going to a nightclub, I do like to be around people especially if I have a role to play. In the past when I used to go to church, I was always in charge of serving the tea and coffee. And when I used to do face-to-face business networking, I normally had a role, collecting the money, leading the group or the whole area, sometimes even all three.

During lockdown I have really missed people, and even though I enjoy Zoom it’s not quite the same as sitting in the same room with other human beings. I am not looking forward to not being able to have my friends come over for coffee or a meal for the next month.

Luckily my hairdresser managed to squeeze the family in last night for home haircuts, so we don’t all end up looking like hairy monsters like we did last lockdown.

Sadly, we’ve had to cancel a five-day holiday to Camber Sands for the second time. We’ve also postponed visits to both mine and Jane’s parents until hopefully we can travel to see them before Christmas.

But this post isn’t all doom and gloom, all of our clients have agreed to go on to, yes, Zoom, making our income secure. Today Jane finished her corrections for her PhD. One of our young men is still able to go to work and the other two are still studying. We have each other, we have our family and friends, to Zoom with. We can still go shopping and go out walking for exercise. At the time of writing, we all have good health with no Covid-19 symptoms, nor do any of our family and friends.

So, within our own little bubble life is continuing, with love and ma be the odd disagreement, but overall, we will survive, no, more than survive, this epidemic.

As you read this, we send you love, kindness and the hope of good health. Follow the rules, stay safe, be kind to one another. These days will pass, and things will return to normal; we don’t know when, but they will.

The Viva – what happens next?

My Viva was a surprisingly joyous experience.  I am fully aware that not everybody is as lucky, even if their thesis is sound in the main.  I’ve had several friends who have had a truly rough ride.  One was nearly broken by their viva experience and it was an act of will for that person to continue to the end result.  I admire those who keep going under those circumstances and they will always have the support of CoomberSewell Enterprises if they want it.  There are other ways for showing collegiality, by the way.  We offer 10% discounts to students and alumnae of our Universities:  Canterbury Christ Church, Liverpool Hope and the University of York.

But I digress.  As I predicted, preparing for the Viva on the day became a much more practical task than any other exam I have sat before.  In addition to thinking about what clothes would not only make a good impression, but would put me in the right mindset, the room I was being examined in (our bedroom/office) had to be tidied to ensure that my Kermit Onesie was not visible and a cat couldn’t gate crash.  In the end, every member of the household was locked out – including the wife!  We probably had better hope the examiners never read this, as I have to admit to being beautifully presented from head to toe, but with a blanket wrapped round everything below camera level – it was cold!

So, when the opening remark of my viva was to the effect that the decision had already been made that I would be passing with minor corrections, did I feel a fool for being so thorough in all my preparations?  Heck, no!  The efforts I made put me in the right frame of mind for what would come next – an invigorating and largely enjoyable interrogation of a variety of issues, which led to my correction list.  I was (inevitably) asked a theory question.  Foucault is not an easy read, and apparently, neither was my interpretation of him.  I was also asked what I might research next and what was original about my work.  Honestly, if you don’t know these two are coming, shoot your supervisor!

I have 3 months to make my corrections.  On paper, there are five of them, and three have already largely been dealt with.  There is, however, another document I have been sent, the internal examiners annotated copy of my thesis.  While I don’t have to take these into account, I’d be daft if I didn’t.  In a way, this process of corrections is a good thing, not only for the standard of my finished and final thesis, but for the transition period I find myself in. This gives me three months to make my corrections, write up a couple of tangential research projects I have bubbling along.  This will help me ease myself out of the student mindset and back into the full time world of work, in whatever academic or alternative-academic form that might take.

What does this mean for CoomberSewell Enterprises?  Increasingly I will be looking at research work, archivism or museum projects, quality assurance of documents.  These all use and increase the skills I’ve gained and grown to love through my studies.  I was going to say that this is a new adventure, but increasingly I am aware that it is simply another chapter of the same adventure, one that I can shape and form, which is a rare thing in these COVID days.  It is a precious gift and I invite you all to kick me should I ever take it for granted.

The Changing Face of Business Networking

 

With the many restrictions, due to COVID-19, across the country, business networking has had to change.

Back in the day when I started my networking journey I physically went to small, local breakfast meetings. As my experience and confidence grew, I tried networking groups that had multiple meeting points across the country. Here I found the format very similar to the more localised groups but, in some cases, the companies were outside my scope. For instance, the IOD (Institute of Directors) is a great group of business people but bigger than my then very small telecoms and IT business could expect to do business with. Likewise, a networking group that specialises in the smaller, arts, crafts, and home based companies may also not be suitable for some businesses and services.

It is extremely important to know your demographics when doing business networking. A great pitch is not enough if you cannot deliver the goods.

In todays market there are still a few socially distanced groups meeting to have breakfast together, but on the whole most groups have gone onto internet platforms like Zoom, sadly without food ☹

So, what do you need to know about attending business networking groups?

Firstly, research the groups available to get one that’s a good fit with your chosen market and yourself (some groups will allow you one or two tasters). So for me, after attending a few other Zoom networking meetings (other virtual platforms are available), I found my home at the business networking group called Twilight https://www.i-nutrition.co.uk/twilight-networking-events/. One of the advantages of this group is the option to turn up 15 minutes early and meet with two other businesses in a small group room. This also helps in getting known and knowing others and judging how inclusive and friendly the networking group might be.

Secondly, check how much it will cost you to join your preferred networking group. Some groups charge a membership fee plus a meeting fee, whilst others only charge you for the meetings you attend, as with Twilight. To join this week’s meeting, click here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/twilight-networking-zoom-meeting-thursday-22nd-oct-2020-from-545pm-tickets-108749354246

Thirdly, prepare your pitch. Sixty seconds is the normal amount of time allowed. The format could be similar to this; your name, the name of your company, and what your company provides. If there’s a specific type of client you’re looking for this would  be a good time to ask. Always be polite, try to avoid acronyms as most people don’t know what they mean, and most importantly avoid the words; just, should and umm! It is also helpful if you can speak without reading from a script. Oh! And smile 😊 Many groups also have a 10 minute slot for one business, at each meeting, to give a longer explanation of what the company does. This can usually be done with or without PowerPoint slides. You will need to let the group leader know that you would like to do one of these slots as there may be a waiting list.

Next think about the 1-2-1s you would like to have. This is the most important part of business networking. Look for companies that you feel you have a mutual two way link with. It is not just about selling your products, it is also about helping others sell theirs. It might not be a product you require but it may be a product one of your clients might benefit from. Though I am relatively new to Twilight, I have already had a couple of 1-2-1 meetings, and have four more booked into my diary. Zoom also has a chat function which Twilight posts into their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/groups/twilightnetworking making it easy to connect on LinkedIn and Twitter as well.

And finally, support your group and their leaders. Invite other businesses along, promote using social media platforms and blogs, and if there are any problems deal with them privately with the relevant people, never, ever in public, as this will reflect badly on you and your company.

It would be great to see you at one of the Twilight meetings I attend fortnightly http://www.twilightnetworking.co.uk/ (the next meeting is on Thursday 22nd October at 5:45 PM) It is easy to book on (see Eventbrite link above). It only costs £5 per meeting, with no additional fees. The group is light and friendly but serious about doing business.

Joyce CoomberSewell

Guest Blog – ‘Let me interrupt your experience with my confidence’ – Yvonne Bennett

I heard the above quote on the podcast Fortunately which is by the wonderful Radio 4 presenters Jane Garvey and Fi Glover. It was from an email a listener had written in and explained her ‘imposter syndrome’ when it came to her job and men. That these men may not have been as qualified as her didn’t matter as they would ‘interrupt her experience with their confidence’. She had been the first female bomb disposal officer during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. It was a lightbulb moment for me and could not have come at a more fortuitous time.

I am a final year PhD student, due to submit mid-December, and was tackling the Reflexive section of my thesis. I am researching conservative Presbyterian churches in the Outer Hebrides (very niche, I know) and looking at how women navigate between the patriarchal church and equality driven social spheres of their lives. I have discovered that not only do women comply to the codes of religious practice, they choose to do so and actually uphold the patriarchy. After listening to the podcast, I realised that I too was upholding the patriarchy when I was carrying out my fieldwork.

I am, and here I am appropriating Phillip Pullman’s phrase, a Christian atheist. I love a good sermon, love a church wedding and a baptism but have no faith. I am interested in religion from a sociological perspective and have spent the past 14 years studying it. When I am collecting data, I go to church in the community and take part in weekly Fellowship. On more than one occasion I have had men trying to direct the course of my research. During my MA, one went so far as to ‘hide’ all my questionnaires. He told me that researching the history of the community was better. I ended up writing about fundamentalism on that particular island and his actions formed the basis of the research. To this day he doesn’t know and thinks I gave up my studies. During my PhD, whenever men tried to tell me what to do, who to talk to and what to observe, I actually agreed with them, I agreed to let their confidence interrupt my experience. I then totally ignored their direction and continued on as planned. However, I am upholding the patriarchy in this church. I allow those in positions of authority to take control, albeit for a short period of time. I allow them to believe that they have directed my work.

A previous supervisor said to me ‘you are a product of your age and gender’. Before anyone starts jumping up and down in indignation, he was right, although I would also add class to his list. I was at school in the 1970s (yes, I am that old) and girls were not encouraged to have a voice or to go on to university. I attended a comprehensive school in a large industrial town west of Glasgow and girls of my academic ability became nurses or secretaries or bookkeepers. Of my peer group seven of us went into nursing. Girls did not speak up in class and those who did were seen as troublemakers or tomboys.

This is not a man bashing blog. I also allow women to talk me down. Recently I was in my local pub and was talking (from a distance of 2 metres and sitting down) to a couple I vaguely know. On two occasions the woman contradicted what I had said. On both occasions I was talking about events that had happened to members of my family. On both occasions I had the experience of the events, she, however, had the confidence to tell me I was wrong. One concerned the date my dad was diagnosed as having COVID-19, the second was concerning a university offer my daughter had been given. She continually spoke over me saying I was wrong on both accounts, COVID tests were not available then and the university in question did not offer that course. I assured her that COVID tests were being carried out at the end of March and that LSE did indeed offer Social Anthropology (to be honest I began to doubt myself on that one and googled it on the way home) but she refused to listen.

So, where does that leave me? Can you teach an old dog new tricks? What is this blog about? I am aware of what I do and why. I hate confrontation and know that I will continue to allow those with the confidence to believe they have the authority and power to direct my work. They do not. It has made for an interesting Reflexive section and being self-aware is no bad thing. The object of this blog is to say to all student:, be aware and do not doubt yourself. Stand tall and say, ‘Let me interrupt your confidence with my experience’.

Yvonne Bennett

THE VIVA!

I’m preparing for my Viva this week.  For those of you who may not know, the Viva is the culmination of the PhD.  Most people think it is the Thesis, but in terms of the stuff that will stop a PhD candidate in their tracks, frozen and blank, it is the Viva that strikes fear.  But it shouldn’t.

Now, ask me again in a couple of weeks, when I’ve actually done the thing, but with the right preparation, the Viva should and can be a rigorous but invigorating exploration of the Thesis, your ideas, and your brilliance.  After all, in this brief moment in time, in this tiny specialism you have carved out for yourself, you are the country’s, if not the world’s leading expert in your thing. You have helped to choose your viva panel and you have written the thesis, read the thesis, re-read the thesis and done some additional prep by this point.

The reality is that many Viva candidates have waited far more than the much-talked about 3 months since hand in to have their Viva, mainly due to COVID this year. (Viva Voce – a verbal, rather than written examination, lasting anywhere between 40 minutes and several hours in which examiners attempt to dissect your work for strengths, weaknesses and simply to test it is as well thought out as it seems or not).  This means that focus on preparation is hard.  For me, this has had to be fitted in around dealing with the pandemic, running the business, working one part time job, one casual job and all the usual detritus of grown up life in a house with grown up children.  Whether it is cleaning the chickens out, cooking the dinner or realising that I haven’t bought any parsnips, there is normally something far less interesting, but much more demanding of my attention going on.  So preparation is not as easy as you might think.  For me it includes thinking about what to wear, even though it will be on Zoom.  This is not for the examiner’s benefit but for mine as it helps me get my head in the game.

Now, if you have ever written a large document, by any standard, put it to one side for a while, and then come back to it for a re-fresh, there will almost always be a moment when you wonder what illicit substances you were imbibing while you were writing, as it all becomes very surreal.  For me this moment came about 5 weeks ago.  This is an important moment for checking in with your support network – other people who have been there before you, and those who are in the same place.  It is important to work out that this is natural, we all feel like it, and you almost certainly have not made a huge error.

It is also important to realise that very few of us get a straight pass, certainly in the UK.  It is a rite of passage to get a pass subject to minor corrections, or even majors.  Very few people get a straight fail either.  What makes you so different?  We have a short break planned immediately after my viva (pandemic dependent) and I fully intend to take my laptop and use that time to make my corrections.  Blast through them, resubmit and get to the silly robe bit.

Finally, remember to blow your own trumpet (not my strong suit).  Those of us who get this far are special, your twitter feed may be filled with Dr this and So-and-so PhD, but in the real world, there are not many of us to the pound.  Make sure you publicly celebrate every milestone, every publication, every blog and every move forward – and do me a favour, remind me to do the same!

Alien in the House

Are you an older person who has always wondered why you’re a little ‘weird’ and ‘odd’ compared to the other people around you?

Even as a child I wondered if I had been dropped by aliens from another planet. I always felt like I was on the outside of every group, be it school, St John’s Ambulance Brigade, Girl Guides or at 15 years old starting work. This progressed throughout my life, in my marriage(s), having children, even running my own successful company.

 

Then the grandchildren arrived…I have 11 grandchildren and 6 are diagnosed as autistic. Aha! and here all was revealed…

At 1st I thought there was no point in being diagnosed at my mature age, late 50’s, but then I realised that I could be the example these young people needed. Being autistic needn’t stop you being happy and having a fulfilling life.

To be honest it was not an easy straightforward process. I started this adventure by going to see my GP and being referred for an initial assessment. In my early 40’s I had already been diagnosed with a higher than average IQ and dyslexia  and now they also added ADHD and dyspraxia. To obtain an autistic diagnosis I had to wait for another appointment further up the medical chain.

Some months later this appointment, with 3 questionnaires, came about. The medical chap asked me what my 1st thought had been when I met him. Now I know the ‘correct’ answer should have been something safe, maybe complimentary, but I was here for an autism diagnosis, so I decided to be honest!!!!

My thought, I said, was “why hadn’t he ironed his shirt?”

You can imagine this did not go down well with this young man, as he stroked the front of his very crinkled shirt.

One of the questionnaires was to be filled in by someone who knew me between the age of 5 and 12. Whilst this might have been possible for some, me being slightly older with no living parents and only estranged siblings, this was not possible.

Eventually my letter came to say though he was 98% positive I was autistic because of not having the questionnaire filled in he could not give me the diagnosis.

And so, the processs had to be restarted. Back to the GP I went and this time I was referred to the Maudsley Hospital. 2yrs later, now being over 60, I received an appointment with again the 3 questionnaires, 1 of which I still couldn’t get filled in.

This time, the 1st appointment was all about copying shapes, making up stories from pictures and general  chat. Several months later my 2nd appointment arrived, this time with a psychologist, no crinkled shirt this time.

A couple of months later my full diagnosis arrived.

Now you might be saying “that’s a lot of rigmarole to go through”, but there again my grandchildren are worth it, plus so am I.

I have discovered a lot about myself over the intervening years, why I am the way I am, why people react around me the way they do, why I think how I think, why I stim, why I mask. This has all helped me feel less ‘weird’ less ‘odd’.

So, if you relate to any of this maybe it’s time for your adventure of getting diagnosed.