Sunday 2nd April is World Autism Awareness Day, national charity Dogs for Autism, based in Alton, Hampshire, shares the story of employee Lola and how dogs help her
As Autism Liaison Co-Ordinator for Dogs for Autism, Lola Bellarosa-Homer is often the first point of contact for the families the charity helps. She has always really enjoyed her role, but her recent autism diagnosis has meant she really understands why she absolutely loves her job and feels like she belongs at the charity.
“Getting the formal diagnosis meant everything, for the first time in my life I felt like I belonged,” is how Lola reacted to finding out her formal diagnosis.
After her son, who is now 17 years old, was diagnosed with autism and cognitive learning disabilities, Lola set about investing her time into learning about autism and how best she could support her son and help him navigate the world. For as long as she could remember she had felt like she hadn’t fitted in, and experienced huge anxiety and depression that led her to self-harm, from being a teenager until she met her husband. While there wasn’t a lightbulb moment, she realized that a lot of the questions she asked about herself were common questions that other autistic adults were having.
After a lot of research and thought, she decided she wanted to know whether she too was autistic, and after seven months of consultation she was given her formal diagnosis.
Describing how it feels to know she is autistic, Lola said: “I finally see the world in colour. It’s like someone put a key into a lock and opened something that had been shut away for 30 years.”
Lola sees being autistic as an overwhelmingly positive thing and is keen that other people know about all the strengths that her autism brings her. Perseverance and courage, which come from having to work so much harder to navigate the neurotypical world, are two of the qualities that she wants to pass on to her son and every other autistic person. She also needs an enormous amount of courage to face and resolve difficult situations; this enables her to be a huge help to the families Dogs for Autism work with and they know that the charity really understand and see the world from an autistic person’s point of view. It’s meant she’s been able to bring in new processes, flow charts and mind maps, which all help the charity provide more support to their partners.
CEO of Dogs for Autism, Hilary Armour, sees huge benefits in having an autistic person as part of any team. She added: “It’s a massively positive step for our families to have someone supporting them who really ‘gets’ autism. I would actively encourage any employer to include autistic people in their teams.”
Lola feels that her unique perspective is an advantage to her work and something that any company would benefit from. She wants to be champion for helping employers to understand that by making small changes in the workplace, autistic employees can bring creativity, enthusiasm, and a new vision to their role. She would love other employers to read this and realise how positive it can be to have an autistic or neurodiverse person in the workplace. By making some small changes, educating staff, being accepting and open to allowing an autistic person to process things in their own way, it really will make a difference to the lives of their autistic staff, as well as bringing new strengths to the workplace.
For more on Dogs for Autism visit Dogs For Autism