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Neurodiversity: A Personal Journey by Jack Fitzpatrick

My name is Jack Fitzpatrick and I am currently working with the ADHD Foundation. I am 21 years old and I have a diagnosis of Autism and Dyspraxia since the age of three years old. I have had intensive support to get to the stage I am today.

Autism and Dyspraxia has come with its challenges such as being able to coordinate myself, being overwhelmed in busy surroundings such as being sick when I went into the school dining hall due to sensory overload and taking things literally such as the time when the teacher asked me to wash my hands in the toilet and I did just that, she was mortified when she found me and in future gave me more specific instructions.

My Learning Support Assistant at school has worked on this with me through intensive physio programmes for my coordination, social use of stories to understand social situations and understanding emotional processing through using pictorial cards (these were the initial emojis before they became popular!!). This has provided me with coping strategies to gradually understand and process the world around me. It has allowed me to excel and achieve way beyond my own expectations. Growing up, a lot of people said that I wouldn’t even be able to take an exam. But I achieved 8 GCSEs, 3 A Levels, and now a first in my Education Studies and Inclusion BA Honours Degree at Liverpool John Moores University.

I’m very fortunate to have had the support of family, friends and learning support assistance. But I’m aware that not everyone has the right support in place. I want to help everyone feel that they are included, because without those that believed in me I would not be where I am now. I want this story to be one of hope and to give people comfort that things will be ok post diagnosis.

The points of transition were difficult for me to process between school and sixth form, the sixth form and University as these were times of uncertainty and we were unsure of what my support package would look like but were supported greatly and it allowed me to settle in with ease. This is because at the point of transition at 16 from my supportive small independent school to a larger sixth form college the Children and Families Act 2014 was enacted and my Statement of Disabilities was transitioned over to an Educational Health Care Plan (EHCP) which was more child centred and was more multi-agency focussed. This was the best thing that could have happened as it allowed for communication between the two educational institutions and helped with the transition allowing me to settle in at the college with ease.

When the time came to transition to University my Local Authority support stopped as I went into Higher Education but through speaking with the college and the disability team at my University I found Disabled Students Allowance which provided me with support for note takers, mental health support and academic mentors to help proof read my work as well as a taxi allowance to help me get to and from the University. This helped massively due to traveling independently on public transport being still one of my major anxieties. I was reading that a staggering 60% of students with disabilities don’t know what Disability Student Allowance is (OFS, 2019). This can therefore cause anxiety, stress and can cause people to drop out as some people with additional needs could not have the support they need to thrive in higher education and would recommend anyone with additional needs to take up DSA when applying.

All of the lecturers have been fantastic with me, and I’ve been offered endless opportunities that I wouldn’t usually have access to including sitting on committees within the university and to review and help embed inclusion further into the university culture from a student perspective as well as being involved with their bicentenary in the Humans of LJMU project profiling 50 staff, students and alumni who make a contribution to the university community.

Whilst searching for a dissertation partner I came across aggregate industries, who have been a fantastic support. I have worked on changing their company culture to become more inclusive. My biggest achievement has been integrating the sunflower lanyard for hidden and unseen disabilities for the organisation which has been rolled out across all of their sites allowing for the facilitation of discussions on disabilities. This work formed the topic of my dissertation which I received a first for.

As a result of this work, I was approached to do a PHD by my supervisor. It’s a real honour. I don’t see my disability as something negative, I see it as an ability – to help transform lives and be inclusive. I see it as a positive and I think that’s something that it is important for all people with disabilities to do.

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