The UKCSF have developed their Cyber Security Training Programme over the last few years to support neurodivergent unemployed adults to gain meaningful employment in the cyber security sector.
I have been working with our community team for some time now as a support worker for our trainees, helping them realise their full potential and find work in the cyber security industry.
So… what is it to be neurodivergent? Well, it’s many things and there are many different words that are related to that term, such as Asperger’s, ADHD, dyspraxia, Tourettes and autism. Many of our trainees identify as being autistic and this can sometimes single them out as being different from the expected social norm.
But some autistic people have certain gifts that can prove very useful, especially in the kind of work we are all involved in at IASME. I have worked quite a lot in the past with young people who are neurodivergent, as a registered care worker in children’s homes.
Additionally, as a playwright, I collaborated with the director Richard Hayhow working with a group of autistic actors known as ‘The Shysters’ at Coventry Belgrade Theatre. We pioneered a new way of bringing their stories and ideas to the stage. Everyone has a story to tell, and in my opinion everyone’s story is unique, important and deserves our attention.
With this in mind, I thought I would like to talk about ‘World Autism Awareness Day’ which is Sunday 2nd April. There’s lots to read up about it online, and I feel it’s great that there is now a special day once a year where we can all focus on a group of people who have a voice that is often ignored and whose stories and lives should be shared and celebrated.
And here’s a great story – 37-year-old Jason Arday is about to become the youngest black person ever to be appointed to a professorship at the University of Cambridge, and this is even more extraordinary because Jason is autistic and didn’t speak for the first 11 years of his life. He didn’t even learn to read or write till he was 18. Jason said that even though he couldn’t speak and express himself to others, he was always questioning the perplexing world around him – ‘Why is there homelessness,’ he wondered, and ‘Why is there war?’.
Even in his quiet space, he was deeply concerned about the needless suffering of others and the iniquities of discrimination and prejudice and felt he wanted to do something about it someday. Despite his autism, his mother’s belief in her son’s possibilities spurred him on, and somehow Jason began to find his own unique voice. Supported by his college tutor and friend, the inspirational Sandro Sandri, he learned how to read and write and went on to gain a degree in Physical Education and Education Studies, eventually finding employment as a PE teacher. But even that wasn’t enough for him, and so at the age of 22, in between his teaching role, he began to study for a PhD and went on to acquire two master’s qualifications as well.
Eight years on, he’s about to accept the role of Professor of Sociology of Education at Cambridge University. Not bad for an autistic kid who for 11 years couldn’t speak a word and didn’t learn to read or write until his late teens. I think you will agree this guy has a passion for education, an insight for what is right, and a tenacity to succeed despite what some people might consider a disability.
Jason Arday’s life journey is inspirational, but there are so many more incredible individuals out there who have achieved so much against huge odds, despite a diagnosis that can sometimes mark them out as being ‘different’. The truth is, we are all different and we should all understand and celebrate our differences… our strangeness, our quirkiness even. And so, I urge you all to find a few moments on April 2nd to consider World Autism Awareness Day and reflect for a short while how someone who didn’t speak for the first 11 years of his life somehow became a professor at Cambridge University.