This week (30th March to 5th April) is World Autism Awareness Week. One in 100 people are autistic, which means there are an estimated 700,000 people on the autism spectrum in the UK. To mark the week we’d like to introduce you to Vickie Howd. Vickie has been a Housekeeper at St Oswald’s for seven years and was diagnosed autistic in 2017.
Read on to find out more about Vickie’s experiences of being diagnosed autistic at the age of 44, continuing to work with autism and how St Oswald’s has supported her to do this.
Before I knew I was autistic I struggled with anxiety, panic attacks and depression both at work and in everyday life. I found working as a Housekeeper on the Inpatient Ward at St Oswald’s challenging and I used to have panic attacks and daily anxiety, especially when I was around other people.
Since being diagnosed I understand myself better and now realise that my panic attacks were actually due to sensory overload, which led to meltdowns. All of my senses were in overdrive from the amount of people, movement, noise, bright lights and smells. Patterned clothes such as zig zags, stripes or spots made me feel sick.
With the support of my Line Manager and Access to Work I was able to get a pair of coloured glasses. These are for visual stress and help with bright lights, escalators, lifts, travel sickness and patterns on floors or clothing. They have made a huge difference to me as the floor used to move when I looked down. Now it doesn’t which is a big relief and makes doing my job and everyday life a lot easier.
I take things literally. If you say it’s raining cats and dogs I actually see cats and dogs falling from the sky in my mind. I see most things people say in pictures. After all the noise, lights, smells and social interaction of the day at work I have to go to sleep for an hour when I get home to bring down my senses and calm my brain to enable me to function for the rest of the day. St Oswald’s have supported me with this by allowing me to work a shorter day and start and finish when the metros aren’t too busy. This has been a big help.
The Hospice also moved me from the Inpatient Ward to a quieter part of the Hospice which isn’t as overwhelming. I can have a sensory break whenever I need one and Davina, the Spiritual Care Lead at the Hospice has been particularly supportive. She’s always there to talk to, if need be.
Alison Henderson, Housekeeping Team Leader said:
Vickie is a very pleasant and hard working part of the housekeeping team, she strives in her job and enjoys coming to work. I have only been in post a year and in this time I have seen Vickie gain more confidence within her ability to change and adapt to new routines and cleaning schedules. She should be proud of herself and what she has achieved during her time at St Oswald’s.
I’m extremely grateful to St Oswald’s for all of the support and adjustments they have made to enable me to continue to work. Only 16% of autistic people are in employment, being able to work means a lot to me and I see this as a huge achievement.
At this crucial time our Housekeeping team are working tirelessly to maintain the highest possible standards of hygiene and safety for our patients, families, staff and volunteers. A huge thank you to this vital team from everyone at St Oswald’s.
To find out more about autism visit www.autism.org.uk