Solent has allowed me to be my authentic self without any judgements: Hannah
As an NHS Trust that values staff feeling supported, this Neurodiversity Celebration week, Solent is celebrating Hannah Baker and sharing her story.
Hannah started working at Solent in July 2022 as a Business Support Team Secretary for the Clinical Advisory Team, providing crucial administrative support to her team of Occupational Therapists (OTs) and nurses. When Hannah was 13, she was diagnosed with High Functioning Asperger’s Syndrome, and attributes the late diagnosis to some research that states it is “more challenging to diagnose females than males as females are better at masking their emotions than males.”
Hannah, who has had many jobs since leaving secondary school, says none of the employers have been as accommodating as Solent. This is the first place of work where she has truly felt supported, valued and understood.
Hannah says: “I have many positive things in my life, but also face many challenges within normal everyday living. Although every person with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is different and therefore generalisations are misleading, nonetheless I do experience many common issues, some of which include:
- Difficulty in expressing myself verbally although I can express myself in writing when not under pressure.
- Difficulty with reading the body language and the tone of voice of others. Conversely, I do not recognise the effects of my own body language and cannot modulate the tone of voice to use it appropriately. This means that I am often told that I am using an angry voice when I am not angry, and this can lead to misunderstandings. Some people can think I am being lazy, rude, unhelpful, or angry when I am not, in reality, I am confused.
- Often because of this I feel I am considered and treated more as an uncooperative teenager than an adult. This is frustrating and undermines my confidence.
- I have difficulty sometimes assessing situations and people. Changes to routine, new environments and meeting new people are difficult for me to judge and I often think new acquaintances are very friendly and I am open to them in what I disclose, only to find out that the “friendship” is not real.
- I experience sensory overload frequently, most of the time I can handle this, and I get better at it all the time in both personal and work situations. It can occur with loudness, unexpected noises, lots of people speaking at once, bright lighting etc. I can adjust to most of these situations except when they are very unexpected.
- I cope with changes as it’s part of life but if I have had a routine for some time and when I am expected to adjust suddenly, that can be challenging especially if the reason for the change is not apparent or unexplained. Sometimes I need to ask for clarification more than once and I see that this can frustrate people.
Since joining the Trust everyone has made sure that all the adjustments Hannah needed were in place and even prior to her starting her new role, have checked on her to ensure she gets all the support she needs.
On her experiences now within her workplace, Hannah adds: “Everyone has been very welcoming, supportive and have allowed me to be my authentic self without any judgements.
“I felt supported even before I joined. When I was being scheduled for an interview and asked what I may need, I told them that I had an ASD and if I could have the information in advance of my interview so that I could process it in my own time and complete it at my own pace. Previously, this has never been acknowledged. So, when I received the email with additional task it made me feel at ease as well as the thought of the Trust were already being accommodating. During the interview, the staff made me feel at ease before starting the interview questions by allowing me to remove my facemask and made sure that I felt calm.”
At Solent, we have six staff networks to support staff. One of them is the DisAbility Staff Network. Hannah is a member and attends the meetings. On having this extra support structure in place, Hannah says: “Having access to the DisAbility Staff Network has been the best thing for me. I am extremely grateful to everyone who has made me feel so welcomed and I look forward to the monthly meet up meetings! #OneTrueSolentFamily!”
Our DisAbility Staff Network is a support network for neurodivergent staff, as well as staff members with long terms conditions and/or disabilities. If you would like to join the network to connect with others and join monthly meetings, email DisabilitySNHST@solent.nhs.uk.
Visit this page for more resources and events this Neurodiversity Celebration Week. You can also visit GeniusWithin, one of our partners, for more on neurodivrsity.