Autistic & Employed: My Journey - Chapter 3

Written by Greg Smith - Chocolatier at Harry Specters

As I continued at Harry Specters into 2018, it was full of new experiences. During the Easter rush, ITV National News came into the factory to report on Harry Specters’ story and why unemployment rates for people with autism are so high. I was very nervous to speak to them but was glad for the opportunity to share an autistic’s point of view and proud that I got to speak on national TV.

It was a fantastic first year working at Harry Specters, and more media came to hear about us including BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and a camera crew for the BBC’s “A Matter of Life & Debt”.  The opportunities really built my confidence and helped me find my feet. I continued to develop my chocolate making skills and was more confident in asking for help when I needed it and now I can handle trickier circumstances on my own.

Since then, the last few years have flown by. The onset of the pandemic and lockdown gave me a good chance to reflect on how working for Harry Specters has changed my life. Working at Harry Specters has given me a sense of purpose and helped me gain perspective on why I came to the factory in the first place. Beyond making chocolates, I’ve been able to raise awareness of those with disabilities and the need to provide more opportunities for others like me to be part of the mainstream workforce.

My advice for anyone with a disability looking to get into paid employment would be to not be afraid to come out and share your story in a job interview because it will help employers understand who you are.

Outside of the factory, I am a Club 100 kart racer. Club 100 is one of the fastest hire kart series in the country and last December, I became the first ever Lightweight Sprint Class 3 Champion. I travel the country to compete, taking my own race kit with me as I travel. On my helmet, I proudly carry the “Autism Awareness Ribbon” to help others recognise who I am. I want to encourage change in the Motorsport community to help others with disabilities feel confident striving towards their dreams. Excitingly, Harry Specters have agreed to sponsor me for my race schedule, so I’ll be able to further support the cause whilst out racing.

This summer I was interviewed by Anna Kennedy OBE for her radio segment “All Things Autism” where we had an hour-long conversation about my life story, my racing career and experience working for Harry’s, and I was also on BBC Radio Suffolk speaking to Wayne Bavin about my experience of living with autism, which was my first ever live national radio interview.

Thanks to these interviews, I have been asked by SENDAT Academy in Ipswich to give a talk about my experience to parents, carers and students at their Post-16 Transition Evening. I am feeling nervous, but now that I am so much more confident I’m excited to share my story and encourage students who are about to leave school that with a positive mindset, you can get past the barriers that often get in our way.

Looking ahead – and if I ever do decide to hang up my boots at Harry Specters – I’d like to become a race car driver in the British GT or Britcar Endurance Championships because I see them as the “cricket tournaments” in Motorsport. To do this, I plan to start approaching businesses for potential sponsorship opportunities which is something I now feel confident doing thanks to my time at Harry Specters. I’ve learnt so much and so I’ll always be an ambassador for Harry’s and promote its cause.

I’d also love the opportunity to do more public speaking or even make a TV programme about my story and why the unemployment rate for people with disabilities, like autism, is so high. I want to be a role model for those in my community and advocate for changes to the public/private sectors, as well as in sport, to help others with disabilities.

With hard work, commitment and luck on my side, I do hope that moment will come in time.

My journey to paid employment may be complete but my life journey is still work in progress.

Published by Shaz Shah

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published

Shop now