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Autism Awareness Week - Overcoming barriers and looking to the future

Brandon project leader, Samantha, works with young people who experience barriers into employment. In partnership with the Going the Extra Mile (GEM) project, she supports people to tackle the challenges that come with disability and social isolation.

This blog is part of a series of blogs and stories celebrating World Autism Awareness Week.

I met Vincent in summer, 2019. He was supported by his former foster carers, Graham and Irene. He was 19 years old and crippled with social anxiety.

VincentHe had worked in the past but due to his autism, he struggled. It knocked his confidence and self-esteem, and he was very negative about his future.

As I started to get to know him, he began to trust me. I asked him to think about the things he would like to change, and to put them in order of importance.

His first priority was to feel comfortable around people again, to build his confidence, and to make friends. Next, he wanted to feel confident in a work environment and find a job.

His final wish was to move out of the bedsit he was currently living in, to a flat that he could make his home.

Prince's Trust

To address the first two, I contacted local charity, Young Gloucestershire, and was put in touch with team leader, Chris – a man who was to become a big influence in Vincent’s life. Chris explained what was involved with the Prince’s Trust Level 1 award – a 12-week personal development programme called TEAM, and Vincent decided to give it a go.

Despite being nervous, Vincent was excited to start and almost immediately, I noticed a change in him. He made friends and became part of something. He went from strength to strength, and every time I saw him, his smile was bigger, and his confidence brimming. During the programme, Vincent also gained work experience in a coffee shop.

When the programme ended, Vincent invited me to the presentation evening. I was both honoured, and proud of Vincent and how far he has come. He even delivered a speech to a roomful of people and in his own words, he has become the ‘best version’ of himself.

The job search

The job search was a challenge. Initially, Vincent didn’t have a suitable device to get online, so we applied for, and received funding from the GEM project to buy a laptop. Vincent was overwhelmed. Not only was he able to look for a job independently, but it helped him stay connected in other ways, particularly during lockdown when he struggled with the isolation.

In summer 2020, Vincent was offered an interview for the position of catering assistant at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital. I supported him to prepare for the interview, and all his hard work paid off – he was offered the job! He is now enjoying his new role and making more friends.

A hat trick of successes

So, what about his third goal? Well, to top it all off, with the help of Graham and Irene, Vincent has finally moved to a flat of his own, that he can call home!

It has been my utmost pleasure to support Vincent on his journey to success, and to see a lovely young man grow into the person he is today. When I checked if Vincent would be happy to share his story to help inspire others, he asked if he could say a few words:

"Before I met Sam, I felt like I had hit rock bottom and that my life would never be as good as it once was. But it wasn’t long before she managed to find new and exciting opportunities for me like Prince’s Trust, my current job and my new flat.

"My time with Sam also taught me one valuable lesson. It is often the hard times in life in which positive change will occur."

"What he has always wanted from life"

Vincent’s foster carers, Graham and Irene, are also delighted with Vince’s progress:

"The GEM Project came into Vince's life at a point where he had been very badly let down by his family and he was also in the control of a manipulative 'friend'. He needed the professionalism and commitment of someone like Samantha, who could be there for him as a constant support until he 'found' himself again and could cope with life and enjoy it.

"The Princes Trust scheme was key in this as it helped him to make friends and value himself again. This is what he has always wanted from life.

"Finally, her help in finding Vince a job, which we believe fits him perfectly and where he is also making friends, gives him the chance to carry on progressing into independent adulthood."

Samantha Mullaney 
Project Leader

Join our team

Inspired? If you want to support people with a learning disability or autism to achieve their goals, we’ve got lots of roles where you can do that. Visit the jobs section to find out more about working with us, and to search our current vacancies.