It can be hard being autistic in today’s world. It can also be hard for non-autistic people to understand autism.
That’s where Aspiedent comes in.
In August 2014, a sprightly but exhausted autistic senior lecturer and researcher was packing up her belongings into a box. After taking one last look at the office she had inhabited for the last 14 years, solving some of the world’s most complex problems, she handed the key back to HR and left.
With an abundance of brains and not a lot to do with them, Dr Elizabeth Guest (BSc, PhD, PGCHE) made the decision there and then to use her autistic genius and savant skills to make a positive difference to other people’s lives. That is, to change the narrative surrounding autism and show anyone who has ever wondered what autism is, and how it relates to every single person in the world.
The story so far…
In September 2014, Aspiedent was founded by Dr Elizabeth Guest; in November 2014 she was joined by HR enthusiast and person with OCD, Jen Blacow.
Jen was to work as Dr Guest’s professional support worker, aiding her with tasks that she finds difficult because of her severe autism.
Alas, in April 2015 Jen’s funding for her role at Aspiedent was stopped. She continued to work unpaid, and Dr Guest continued to fight an incredibly hard battle to get it back while trying to run her business. After a gruelling 4 months, it got to the point where there were 2 weeks for it to get sorted before Aspiedent had to close.
Suddenly, after months of fighting, it came through.
Meanwhile, Aspiedent was gaining good traction training Teachers about understanding autism and teaching autistic children. Dr Elizabeth Guest developed a 4 part training course for teaching and support staff from primary schools, secondary schools and colleges. Feedback from Teachers who attended this training was overwhelmingy positive, with one SENCo going on to state “Dr Guest captivated her audience with honest and informative accounts that could easily be related to the hidden struggles of children and adults with autism”.
Aspiedent was soon converted to a not for profit community enterprise (CIC) with the aim of selling expert autism training courses to fund Aspiedent’s training for autistic adults, and Autism Employment Services. These help autistic adults understand themselves and improve their chances of obtaining suitable employment.
Aspiedent has worked hard to find a niche teaching autistic adults how to understand themselves and the world around them, leading to improved autism social skills, self-awareness, and confidence. Dr Guest sought funding from local grant awarding organisations to deliver this work. The autism training for teachers delivered by Dr Guest was taking off and Aspiedent was looking forward to expanding their services.
In 2016, further government funding cuts meant Dr Guest’s vital home autism support dried up almost completely. Schools also came out of local authority control meaning that Aspiedent lost all its income almost overnight.
Aspiedent was once again at risk of closing.
Saved by the fact that Aspiedent was still small and therefore flexible and quick to react, it turned its attention yet again to its original group in need of help: employers.
From then until now, Aspiedent has faced several challenges which are unique to its set up as a social enterprise, and its staff. Elizabeth has had to find innovative ways of working without the autism support she needs at home, and Jen has fought (with Elizabeth’s help) a nasty fluctuation in her OCD.
Five years later, Aspiedent is still here to tell the tale. The Social Skills Training for autistic adults has
- helped put smiles on the faces of people who don’t smile and
- people who don’t socialise have started to socialise.
One person even dropped out of the Social Skills Training because he had got a job after two years of looking!
Feedback shows that Aspiedent’s Autism Understanding Training courses for teachers and parents/carers has been invaluable for understanding the behaviours of specific individuals. This has allowed them to adapt, making things more bearable for the autistic person, thus improving their behaviour.
The next chapter
Aspiedent is proud to be one of the companies that hire adults with Aspergers and at one point had 5 staff, most of whom were autistic. It has also been busy doing extensive autism research with autistic adults.
Aspiedent are unique. They have developed their own Autism Profiling Tool which gets to the root of the individual’s autism including their specific sensory issues, ways of thinking, learning style and executive functioning issues, and how they interact. Having this knowledge about your own or your child’s or student’s autism is invaluable as you can then work out individual strategies for managing and improving day to day life, work or education that are actually effective. The Autism Profile includes a written report with recommendations.
Dr Guest and Jen work on trust and integrity and want to provide you with the tools to break down barriers and build bridges between the autistic and non-autistic viewpoints. Whether it be a better understanding of your autistic self and the non-autistic people around you, or a better understanding of your autistic son, daughter, dependant or student. We firmly believe that understanding autism and neurodiversity has the side effect of understanding everybody better.
Take a look at our services which are summarised below.
The course is fantastic because I have only attended one session so far but have already learned to understand the behaviour of those who are not on the spectrum in a whole new way. I wish someone had told me the purpose of small talk years ago.
Social Skills training participant
From the initial course, a twilight session for our entire teaching staff, I found opportunities to continue learning more about the subject of autism and its relationship with executive functioning and sensory issues. I found Dr Guest to be truly insightful and have the special knack of sharing her practical wisdom.
Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator, Richmond House School