30 Years and Counting
Charlene Tait, Deputy CEO
Like many people during lockdown, I have a new found fascination for clearing out my cupboards.
I have come across many delights, old music programmes, photographs, cards from friends and my letter of appointment to “The Scottish Society for Autistic Children” dated 15th May 1990.
This sparked a lot of emotion, reflection and pride. I felt compelled to capture some of those thoughts and feelings. A little self-indulgent perhaps, I hope you will forgive me for that and come along for the stroll down memory lane.
In 1990, our organisation, the social care context and societal culture bear no resemblance to how things are today. This is overwhelmingly a good thing. We have moved from congregated settings to individualised, personalised support. Our ethos has shifted from a behaviour led approach to one that promotes acceptance, wellbeing and that enables people to be their authentic selves.
We have grown and evolved. Rather early on we worked out that autistic children become autistic adults, today the majority of people we support are adults. We have undergone rebranding, two name changes and organisational restructuring to get us to where we are today. In many ways that is the superficial stuff, there would have been little point if the heart and soul of the organisation had not also transformed. That is an ongoing process but we are getting there and have a shared vision and values to guide us.
I have always felt that I work for a cause, and that I am part of a movement. That feeling is stronger now than ever and one I try to engender in colleagues that I mentor and work alongside. There is no doubt that this feeling has been strengthened and deepened by the growing number of autistic advocates I have encountered along the way. They were always there, but I was not always as able to listen. Our practice in relation to voice and participation is constantly developing. One of the best things I have ever participated in was a challenge session with the National Autistic Taskforce whose critical appraisal and support has been so important in shaping my thinking.
In 2004 I took a seven year diversion to work in academia. As lecturer and , eventually, Course Director for Postgraduate studies in autism at the university of Strathclyde I was privileged to support the professional development of many students from a wide range of backgrounds. But, it was never really me. The allure of the cause was always there and I was delighted to return to Scottish Autism, grateful for how my time out had provided me with many learning opportunities that have equipped me for a different role in a much changed organisation.
For those closer to the start of their career than the end, a final few insights that I hope will be useful:
- Listen to autistic people – they make the best teachers
- Put your hand up for everything! – get involved, take opportunities
- Find your tribe – be open to having your thinking challenged but connect with likeminded people especially those who share your values
- Reach out – I am lucky to have lots of national and international connections and have always found autistic people and others working alongside them to be generous with their time, their knowledge and in many cases their friendship
- Be comfortable with the fact that you will never be done learning
- Love what you do and be sure about your motivation for doing it.
My final thoughts go to the person who back in 1990, was the first choice candidate for my job. Happily they turned it down and the offer came to me. I will be eternally grateful.