Publish date: 19 March 2024

Neurodiversity Celebration Week – In conversation with Ross Punton

Ross Punton, autism staff network chair at Northumbria Healthcare

This Neurodiversity Celebration Week, Ross Punton, one of our autism staff network chairs, has written a blog to share his experiences with autism and to raise awareness about it.

Hello, my name is Ross and I’ve written a blog about my experiences with autism to raise awareness about it. Please note that some of the text only reflects my own experiences and may differ to how others feel, but that’s the wonderful thing about neurodiversity – it varies from person to person.

I work in the widening participation team with the training and development team. My role in this team is to help build career pathways for jobseekers and young people within our organisation.

I do a lot of admin work for our team and help at career events where I share my own experience of working for the trust. I love these events as it allows me to help guide others and show them the benefits of working for the trust.

I am also one of the chairs of the Autism Staff network. Our network strives to give everyone a voice, and we have several projects to raise awareness and promote autism acceptance. Primarily we try to provide a safe space to be there for our members when they need us.

What the word ‘autism’ means to me

Autism is simply a part of who I am. I often wonder whether a trait of mine is linked to autism or just me, but I think both things are properly one and the same.

A common myth is that there is an “autistic look”. Many people have a fixed idea in their heads around what autism is and what it looks like, but it ranges from person to person.

I don’t like it when people try to pigeonhole what is normal and try to take the same approach for different people.  It’s important to remember what works for one person may not necessarily work for another, we are all individuals.

One bit of advice I can give is that if you’re on the spectrum and find yourself being misunderstood is to learn from it.  Also, try not to worry so much after something has happened. What is done is done.

How being autistic affects my daily life

My autism affects me in lots of subtle ways, and an annoying element of it is that it isn’t always consistent. Many things I am fine with on one day might irritate me on others.  A lot of the time I feel ok, however I tend to overthink and overanalyse.

I often feel emotion quite acutely and this can make it hard for me to not let my own views affect my judgement at times.

There have been times where I have put far too much pressure on myself both in my job and in my personal life. I have found it challenging in my personal life to set boundaries with people and not worry unduly about accommodating others even if it was at my inconvenience. This is something I’m still working on.

My autism does however have many positives, such as making me more empathetic. I know how it feels to struggle, so I strive to always be kind. A common myth is that those with autism lack empathy, which is not true. We may not always recognize how others feel but we 100% DO have empathy.

My autism also gives me a unique take on the world. I quite often form my own views independent of what is mainstream. I remember as a child asking why certain adult were in charge of other adults. They explained that it’s just how it is and that there are laws. I then asked them who gave the adult the authority to make said laws in the first place. I wasn’t being insolent; I was genuinely curious.

I know this may be an absurd example, but that is the kind of thing I mean. I think about things differently and I don’t automatically accept this is just how things are.

Admittedly this can sometimes be counterproductive. I’ve learned as I grew older that some things are just part of life and indeed needed. However, sometimes looking at things with a fresh pair of eyes can be beneficial and has helped me as a network chair, for example.

Autism changing with age

In my case, autism has changed over the years, and like everyone else I have grown and changed.

As mentioned, there are things I still struggle with, but over times things become easier. I think being more self-aware has helped me a lot.

With love, patience, and access to the right support, an autistic person is capable of growth and living a wonderful life. Just make sure that it’s the life that is right for you!

Common traits of a person with autism

There are many traits associated autism, however, not all people will show the exact same traits. Some common traits include having focused interests/hobbies, sensory needs/sensitivity, needing routines, stimming, and difficulty reading social cues.

For more information on common traits, I suggest visiting the following websites:

How to get assessed for autism, and my diagnosis.

Assessments for autism can be carried out at 2 years old in most UK areas. You may need to push for this, however. Services for assessment tend to vary depending on the area in which you live and can take considerable time. Each council will have what's called a 'local offer' which will list all support available.

The National Autistic Society has some guidance and information about diagnosis.

I was lucky to be diagnosed as a young child due the diligence of my mother who worked tirelessly. It all very much went over my head as I didn’t understand the significance until years later. I remember very little of my own assessment, and what I do remember blurs into one memory.

What I wish more people would understand about neurodiversity

Again, there is no ‘typical’ neurodiverse person.

Making suggestions is fine, but don’t force someone to operate in a certain way just because you may think it would benefit them. Listen to their personal and individual needs and don’t try to dictate what their needs are.

An example of something that works for some but not for all is when someone had suggested that I use a time management app that helps many neurodiverse people by giving them tasks and reminders.

I do struggle with time, and I make note in my diary, phone, email etc. So, on the surface this would appear as ideal, right? Wrong. I hate pings and notification. I don’t like tracking apps. So, whilst on the surface this may have seemed like a good idea, it just didn’t suit me at all. It’s about balance offering support without forcing support.

I would like to thank you all for reading and I hope you it gave you some insight. At the very least by reading this you’ve shown a willingness to challenge your own perceptions, so thank you.