Hello, I'm Spencer, 24 and from Wales. This is the story of my diagnosis, employment dispute and planning my next steps!

Hi, my name is Spencer I’m 24 and from Wales. I would like to begin my story when I started my first full-time, apprenticeship with HMRC as an admin officer. I was very excited to have been successful in becoming an apprentice in an award-winning government department in HMRC; with the support from Prince’s Trust Cymru. Which I worked very hard to have been successful in overcoming long-term unemployment and completing the lengthy application and interview process. For example, I spent so much of my time volunteering to develop my interpersonal, communication and social skills.

My most memorable opportunities of being proactive and developing my CV before starting the apprenticeship. Includes volunteering in Africa with The Safe Foundation for 2 weeks. Became a committee member of a local astronomy club and had the chance to meet Astronaut Tim Peake. Developed leadership, public speaking and networking skills, when I participated in a flagship youth leadership programme called UpRising Cymru. Being a part of School of Hard Knocks 2017 which was a stepping stone to training alongside BBC Alfie’s Army for Cardiff Half-Marathon 2017 which I completed in 2 hours, 56 minutes.

I began HMRC induction in September 2017. Where I had to undertake a week-long session of online learning about policies, legislation and simulated scenarios that I was likely to encounter during my duties as an admin officer. I did struggle to process the vast amount of information and integrate into the office environment. However, there was a line manager that provided a thorough introduction explaining the apprenticeship scheme and HMRC duties. This line manager I would later confide in. However, in November I was on sick for 10 days with a respiratory infection and returned to hear the news that I was going on a deployment to DWP and only had a week to prepare and plan how I was going to spend my evenings after work.

Upon being deployed to Bristol at a temporary Universal Credit service centre; situations arose where I was put out of my comfort zone without adequate support. I also realise now that I’ve experienced what many autistics call; information overload, meltdowns and reacted with erratic/challenging behaviour. For example, I reacted irrationally to a number of taunts and complaints by colleagues upon carrying out my duties of providing customer service to the public. Some erratic behaviour includes; the purchase of an adult movie at a hotel under Redfern booking, drinking rum and coke excessively. However, I felt many of the complaints against me were trumped up because I witnessed many acts of misconduct committed by other former colleagues that weren’t properly investigated.

Despite, being subjected to frequent formal meetings throughout DWP deployment which I felt were undermining my confidence, wellbeing and health. In March 2018, I was invited to a number of disciplinary meetings. Which was an opportunity to address the fact that I was pursuing a diagnosis for an underlying medical condition because a colleague pointed out strong traits of autism that may be influencing my difficult behaviour. The strong traits that were indicated to me were deficits in social interaction, echolalia, stimming, problems with relationships, romance, sense of danger, startled by smells and noise.

Later on, in March, I was prescribed sertraline 50mg by my GP. I confided in one of my supportive managers about my previous struggles in school, health and family life. I also started as recommended the workplace wellness scheme where I began cognitive behavioural therapy sessions and online workshops, which taught me about the downward spiral and how to effectively challenge negative feelings. Although I was beginning to establish a good level of understanding with my therapist it was cut short because of the following disciplinary meetings.

My first disciplinary meeting was with a senior executive officer who was preparing to transfer to DWP. It was my belief that after 6 months they found the job with HMRC to be extremely stressful and wanted to transfer to a lower grade and a more customer-service oriented role within the Civil Service. I found this meeting to be quite relaxing and less intimidating than the next following meetings with the business support manager. This senior executive officer questioned me about many reported misconducts but also praised me with feedback from DWP mentors. Additionally, this was the first meeting where I stressed that I was pursuing a diagnosis for autism which I felt influenced much of my erratic behaviour whilst on deployment in Bristol.

My final disciplinary meeting was on 23/04/2018. I took further notice of my circumstances when my sibling was diagnosed with autism in April 2018. She was surprised too because throughout her late 20’s she’d spent frequent periods at many mental health wards across South Wales and then to be diagnosed at the age of 30. Initially, during the final disciplinary meeting, I felt so anxious because the decision maker was patronizing, obtuse and claimed to be an expert on autism. So, on 30th April I received the outcome that I’m to be dismissed without pay in lieu of notice for making inappropriate and offensive racial/nationality remarks to colleagues, which caused them upset and offence, whilst on deployment.

Additionally, during my outcome meeting the business support manager threatened prosecution by the police if I was to break confidentiality act about my duties and than I was escorted out, by the prep walk which I felt was very humiliating and then to tell my mother that I was dismissed was upsetting because she said now I’m back in poverty. I visited my GP again and had my sertraline dosage increased to 100mg. I spoke to my therapist with workplace wellness who said I won’t be able to continue with cognitive behavioural therapy because my contract of employment had ended and the main reason she emphasised on ending the scheme was the increase in dosage. I would not be able to identify emotions because of feeling numb. Which would prevent me from using a variety of techniques to challenge my anxiety and depression.

Several days later I drafted and sent my appeal letter to HMRC. Which I stated I’m appealing against the decision-making process because no HR specialist was present and they did not take into consideration my numerous warnings of pursuing a diagnosis for autism. What I felt demoralising was an instant feeling of betrayal when one of the supportive line managers who refused to chat with me during my final days with HMRC sent me a WhatsApp message. On the day I sent my appeal letter, the line manager asked if it was okay to collect a digital tablet (HMRC work item) from me. My instincts were telling me they wanted to know if I had given up with the employment appeal.

My next step was to get another opinion on the decision to dismiss me which I sought from Citizens Advice Bureau and spoke with an employment law specialist. Who mentioned there was probably a decision made prior to disciplinary meetings by management to get rid of me and used the reason of upsetting colleagues by racial/nationality remarks as a way of getting rid of me despite learning that only 1 of the 3 reported incidents the people involved were actually upset. Additionally, I spoke with a DWP mentor that I befriended on Facebook who told me to stay strong and mentioned he did not like it when he saw me being the ‘butt of the joke and also said whenever I’d respond to a taunt they would not like it.

Meanwhile, obtaining medical evidence was problematic because I was on a waiting list for at least 2 months with the Integrated Autism Service and so I first sought a private health assessment. Upon attending I was notified the diagnosis would cost me £160 and a full written report £360. So I agreed to pay for a full report with the last of my earnings. To my misfortune, I did not fulfil the criteria for a formal diagnosis because my mother struggled to talk to the psychiatrist about my difficulties in childhood. However, my assessment score indicated that I’ve got strong autistic traits which were likely to have influenced my behaviour in the work environment.

Because of not getting a formal diagnosis with a private health consultant. I contacted Integrated Autism Service again to see if they can help with getting me an assessment much sooner. I told them about my circumstances such as going through a difficult employment dispute and they agreed to help by allocating me onto the priority list to get the next available appointment which was cancelled by someone else. Which was very helpful and instilled in me the belief to not abandon hope just yet.

The IAS assessment sessions were difficult for me because of having to remember my childhood, previous health concerns, talk about difficulties in making and sustaining friends and finding romance, etc. I was eventually diagnosed with Integrated Autism Service (NHS) on 07/06/2018. It became a bit of a shock; which caused me to burst into tears. Until I settled down and told my highly specialist occupational therapist and specialist autism nurse that this “This is not end or the beginning, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning” which they both burst out with amused laughter with my ability to remember historical quotes and memory skills. They ended the assessment by handing me useful leaflets and information to support services within the city centre.

Once, I was diagnosed with this medical condition I began to plan my next move. So I asked the appeal manager for the decision maker to confirm her statement about expertise in autism which was made in the presence of my trade union representative. Furthermore, I requested the decision maker to present evidence of medical qualifications and knowledge about the spectrum of autistic disorders.

As a member of PCS (trade union) I asked for more support but initially felt dissatisfied to be told that they were very busy with ballot elections, 5% pay rise; wage increase for civil servants. I recently became a member of the National Autistic Society; where I called a telephony advisor who signposted me services that could be of help to me such as:

  • Disability Law Service; Received email from the solicitor that specialises in employment law, Which concluded that I have an arguable claim under section 15 of Equality Act 2010, although obviously, the prospects of success are difficult to assess.
  • Advocacy Matters Cymru; waiting for them to allocate me an advocate but are experiencing difficulty in taking new referrals.
  • Mind Cymru, apparently I emailed someone that no longer works for the organisation and still have to contact my local Mind centre to see if I can get support.

Despite going through a difficult employment dispute with HMRC. This experience has been a big learning curve for myself struggling to come to terms with losing my job, getting help from a variety of support services, keeping mental wellbeing together, burnout and deflect many attempts to damage my reputation.

So now as a protected characteristic of the Equality Act 2010. The dilemma is that I remain hopeful that I can overturn the abysmal decision by the apparent autism expert (Business Support Manager) with growing confidence, continuing to work in defiance of ignorance or simply move on. A lot of my close friends suggest that I should just simply move on, “life is too short” and logically find employment somewhere else who’d value what I have to offer and have a thorough understanding of my health condition.

To conclude I’m keen to learn more about my health condition, disability rights and the impact of support services that assist autistics across Wales; If possible I’d be very happy to advocate the values of many services in an attempt to influence policy and secure investment for organisations that help autistic people.

Update, as of 24/07/2018:

  • Autism Spectrum Connections Cymru, unable to take on new referrals due to a number of staff being absent.
  • The Peer Mentoring Service, allocated a resourceful mentor to help me deal with many personal issues and encourage me to create new pathways back into employment or volunteering opportunities.
  • In the process of making my first claim for PIP and had to start a new claim for job seekers allowance which I found to be debilitating.
  • ACAS, I have still yet to phone the helpline to get advice on employment law and information about making a tribunal claim if I’m unable to overturn the unfair dismissal that I’m appealing against.
  • Eventually reconnected with a trade union representation at PCS. We did have a meeting in a coffee shop to discuss steps to take towards my grievance appeal meeting. However, the appeal manager had to cancel the meeting because their father is suffering from a stroke and I’m waiting to hear about the reschedule.
  • School of Hard Knocks, It was great to reconnect with this charity. Learn about creating stepping stones, 66 days to form a habit and also inspiring to find out that two members of the leadership team are on the spectrum too!
  • The Safe Foundation, currently drafting an application of expressing interest in participating in a volunteering project in Sierra Leone.
  • Youth Led Grant Panel, I’m continuing to support disadvantaged communities by assisting community groups in applying to get a share £4000 grant and then to effectively decide which community group would be in much need of cash to kick-start their projects of promoting volunteering within their community by reaching out to priority groups such as BME, Welsh speakers, disability, etc
  • After hearing so many people say how amazing my knowledge of history is I have decided to enrol in BA History at Open University. Hopefully to begin this Autumn.