About this episode:
Another inspiring episode today, this time featuring Ritu Kiran-Jackson, who has turned the impressive skillset she honed in the corporate world towards supporting and advocating for autistic members of society, particularly as they enter the world of work. Ritu’s journey began when her young son was diagnosed with autism at the age of two, and in founding Aubilities, Ritu is helping to drive societal change in a world that is still overwhelmingly designed for its neurotypical inhabitants.
Hi everyone, thanks for tuning into today’s podcast. I’ve got a real treat for you today. I’m introducing you to Ritu Kiran-Jackson, a phenomenal woman, someone I’m coming to know and have gotten to know quite well over the past year or so, and I had to bring her on, honestly, to share her personal story and the incredible endeavours that she’s doing, which we’ll talk about later on in the podcast around promoting neurodivergent talent in the workplace.
So, a little bit about Ritu. She is the founder of Aubilities, and Ritu enjoyed a corporate career for many years, having started a career initially working for Accenture, which is one of the major global management consultancy firms. She specialised in HR consulting and HR projects and later moved into global learning and development and HR operations. She has worked with huge companies like Zurich, Lloyds Bank, Barclays, BMW, BG Group, Rentokill, Virgin Media and GoDaddy.
In 2016, Ritu gave birth to her beautiful baby boy Kyan, and in 2018 he was diagnosed as autistic. This spurred Ritu to begin researching, networking and understanding more about autism. After experiencing a tragic near-death experience in 2019, Ritu found her mission in life, and that was to use her corporate skills to help understand and promote autism and wider neurodivergent conditions in the community and in our workplaces, and that’s how Aubilities was born. And so it’s an absolute honour and privilege to have you here today. I know you are a super, super busy woman, so thank you very much.
Ritu Kiran-Jackson: [2:08]
Ohh, thank you, Reena. It’s been great for you to invite me and I’m really looking forward to having a chat about neurodiversity.
Thanks. So, let’s start with your ‘why’. What is it? What happened? Why do you feel like this is your mission to make the world more accessible for our autistic children?
As you already mentioned, Kyan, my eldest son: born in 2016, diagnosed at the age of two in 2018. And at that point, I really didn’t know much about autism, as I think many parents face, because unless you’ve got a neurodivergent child, why else would you know about it? Or unless you have a connection to it through another family member? So, I started doing a lot more research and understanding the statistics that are out there, the opportunities, the challenges that autistic people face.
And actually, I realised in reading a lot of that information, it’s a pretty poor picture in almost every aspect of life, whether we talk about schooling, whether we talk about other types of education, mental health, the workplace, even the criminal justice system. It was pretty poor statistics. And so it got me thinking, I want to make a change here. How do I take everything that I’ve learned in my experience in the corporate world and help the neurodivergent community, which obviously includes autistic people? Because ultimately, my son, he’s now six, but he’s going to grow up in this world. And at one point, hopefully he’ll be independent enough to find his own job. But actually, what are those job opportunities going to look like, not just in terms of him going to find a job, but going through the interview process and then retaining the job, having the right support mechanisms in place?
So, for me, I realised that’s where the opportunity was, where I can really use my skill set from what I’ve learned in the corporate world and apply that to make change, so that by the time he and his peers – his generation – are all entering the workforce, they’re entering a better environment which helps them thrive.
Yeah that’s amazing. And they grow so fast. It won’t be long before they’re hopefully pursuing their – whether academic or non-academic – paths but to create a world where they feel like they belong.
Ritu Kiran-Jackson: [4:25]
That’s it. And, you know, there’s a lot of work to be done and I’m sure this is not going to be an easy or short-term endeavour. It’s going to be decades until we get to that place. Because if you think about it, the world’s always been designed for neurotypical people, right? And now we’ve got the highest increase of diagnosis rates of neurodivergent people. And that’s what we’re finding, that they – not all of them, but a large proportion of them – are struggling to live and work in a world that isn’t designed for them.
Yeah, absolutely. And I think we’ll touch on that as we as we go on, about actually just getting your foot in the door, however well suited you might be for the job, but just getting your foot in the door because of the processes that people have to go to, mean that so many neurodivergent people don’t get the opportunities that they ought to, based on their skills and abilities.
So, tell me a bit about – how did you feel when you got Kyan’s diagnosis? He’s your eldest. I mean – like me when I had Evy – it didn’t occur to me that he was autistic. I just put it down to being a boy, being the first child, being the only grandchild on both sides of the family, and I’d always rationalise his behaviour and his outbursts. Because I had nothing else to compare it to. I’m also one of the eldest in terms of who got married and had children. I didn’t even have people around me or a peer group who had had children that I could use as a sounding board. What prompted you to pursue a diagnosis and how did you feel when you got it?
Ritu Kiran-Jackson [6:04]
It’s interesting, your story is not too dissimilar from mine. I’m not the eldest, but I was the first to have a child amongst my immediate family, and once we had, then we obviously enjoyed maternity leave and enjoyed bringing him up, but actually because we didn’t really have much exposure to other children, we didn’t know what neurotypical behaviours or milestones looked like. We didn’t really recognise that he was neurodivergent. So, the first clues when I look back in retrospect now is that every baby that’s born has certain milestones that they’re supposed to achieve – by six months do this, by 18 months do this. He kind of achieved those milestones, but he always did it right at the end, like literally the last day or the last week of that milestone. So we just thought ‘That’s OK, that’s just him’, but he’s actually still achieving the milestone. So, we didn’t see any issue and we put him into full time nursery, because obviously I was a full-time working parent as was my husband, so we put him into full-time nursery.
And as time went on, actually the nursery would say to us at pick-up time, ‘You know, you’ve still got your health advisor’ – every child in the UK has a health advisor up to a certain age – and we said ‘Yeah, we’ve still got the health advisor, we’ve still got the contact details’. ‘Oh, we really think maybe you wanna go and just do a routine check with Kyan and with your health advisor’. And they said this a few times and they wouldn’t let it go. And so, my husband and I were like, ‘Why are they pushing us in this direction?’ Now they’re not medical practitioners in any way, so they could not ever say, ‘Well, we think he could be neurodivergent’ and they weren’t comfortable saying that. So the best thing that they took as part of their responsibility – because they see children every day, they have classrooms of children, they know what neurotypical children’s milestones look like, they can see where Kyan is – so they encouraged us to do that. And at that point we still had no idea really why they’re encouraging us to do that.
So, we took him to the health advisor and she did some routine checks and tests and things, and she said to us, ‘Actually, he could be autistic. But in order to confirm that we need to have a series of experts to come and evaluate him’. So, an educational psychologist, and we had I think a pediatrician, and we had a few others come and evaluate him. That was really the first point that we were aware that he could be different, and it took six months from that first point to then have those professionals come and evaluate him. And they did it in his nursery setting, and we were present at the end of that evaluation so they could give us the conclusion. So those six months first were super – I don’t know – daunting I’d say, because we’re entering a place where we don’t know if he’s autistic or not, but if he is, what does that mean? And if he isn’t, then how come he’s a bit slower on his milestones?
So, it was a place where we just didn’t know. And the best thing I did in that time was just research and understand. The more I researched – this is before his diagnosis – the more I was convinced that he’s autistic. Because what I would research and read, I could see those behaviours, such as stimming, for example. I could see him do it and then I was thinking, ‘How could I have missed this?’ But then it’s my first child so I didn’t know to look out for any of these things. So eventually we got to the evaluation with the professionals, and they did the evaluation and we came to the nursery, they gave us the results and told us he’s autistic. And my husband and I left the nursery, we went straight to the pub to have a drink, to process what we’ve just gone through and I just cried. Even now saying the story, I get emotional. I just cried. It’s hard as a parent to hear that about your child, and it’s not that it’s a negative thing, and I’ve learned that through the process of starting up and setting up Aubilities and meeting more neurodivergent people.
It’s not the end of the world, but you process that information. You have expectations on your child, especially coming from a minority community. You already have expectations on your child and it’s processing what that means for him, what that means for you – you’re still a parent, but you’re also a carer role now – and also what happens to those expectations that you had. You have those expectations even before he’s born, even before you’re pregnant, you know you’re going to have a child and you have these expectations on that child based on your background. So, for me it was a very arduous, long process. I’d say it took multi years, because although I had accepted that he’s autistic, what I was processing is what that actually meant for me, for him, for my family. And while I was processing that, I asked my immediate family not to disclose that to anybody. Not to my wider family or anyone else, because I needed the time to understand it before anyone else gets involved.
I completely hear you. I think a lot of the work, and a lot of the parents I speak to struggle, especially at the very beginning, because the child that they have is different to the one that they thought they’d have. And people mean well when they say things like, ‘Oh you’re such a high flyer, and so’s your husband – your child’s going to have everything, they’re going to be amazing’, and kind of feed into that. And then when you have a child who struggles, it can feel like there’s this real tension. Well, I’m going to let myself down, I’m going to let my family down, I’m going to let my community down. And we don’t even realise the burden that we’re carrying within us. Even as we’re going through that, we don’t understand sometimes until we actually consciously step back and think, ‘Hang on, why? Why is this impacting me in this way? Why am I finding it so hard to accept that they’re different?’ And often it’s not actually about the child, it’s about our own cultural conditioning.
Ritu Kiran-Jackson: [11:52]
I think you’re absolutely right. Growing up myself as an Indian girl and one of the first generations in my family to go to university, there’s a lot of pressure. I grew up with that. You must do well at school. You must have good grades and then you must go off to university. And not only do you go off to university, but you must do a subject that means you can get a good job after. You can’t do a fluffy subject, in other words. And when you have that ingrained in you as you’re growing up, that is where your thinking is. So, when you think you’re going to have a child, you think, ‘Oh well, I see where my parents are coming from now. They want the best for me. I’m going to instill the same values in my child’. And actually, what was happening while I was processing Kyan’s autism, was I had to break down all those values and those notions. I went to the University of Oxford, for example, as a postgraduate. And I’m thinking, ‘Oh, it taught me so much there. That’s where I want him to go’, and all of those things. That’s just one example. But all of those types of expectations that are placed on him and myself, I had to completely break them down. And much of the process, as you say, isn’t really about accepting his autism. It’s about understanding what pressure you put on yourself, what expectations you put on yourself, and now stopping to take those away, because it doesn’t mean he can’t get there. Maybe he can, right? But it means we don’t know and we don’t know what the journey is. We don’t know what the path is and there is a possibility he can’t get there.
And of course, you could have that with neurotypical children too. You can have all these grand plans and it doesn’t mean a neurotypical child will get where you want them to be. But I think the difference is when you realise it’s a neurological challenge – you approach it in a completely different way. And for me, I think that was the biggest learning, right? Like okay, we’re breaking down all these expectations that I had for him. But now, how do I approach him? How do I guide him? How do I make sure he does okay in life? And there’s no rule book – there’s no manual.
Not for children generally, nor for autistic children. So it’s a tough gig. Yeah, I completely hear you. And I think my experience really echoes yours, in the whole ‘what subjects you do, and why you do them’. And I found often, that our definition of success can be quite narrow, so that we see anything that’s not on that linear path of higher-education, degree, potentially multiple degrees, very high-paying job – anything that doesn’t fit that mould is not deemed successful, and so therefore not deemed with respect, of worth, and all of that. And then we can sometimes internalise that, and we end up projecting that on our children. So, I think for you to have accomplished all of that thinking and consciousness on your own, I think it shows that you’re a super, highly evolved being actually, because I’m still on that journey.
Ritu Kiran-Jackson: [14:48]
It takes time. I mean, you saw I got emotional just telling the story. It takes time. It takes time. And it’s only through meeting fabulous people like yourself and others who are advocating in this space that you really realise that autism or any type of neurological diagnosis, isn’t necessarily a disadvantage. It’s about understanding it and understanding where the strengths lie within that. And then harnessing those strengths, right?
Absolutely, absolutely, yeah. And so you talked a bit about telling your wider family and asking them not to disclose – when you told them, what sort of reaction did you get from them?
Ritu Kiran-Jackson: [15:23]
So, I come from a relatively small family. I have one brother and my parents. And when we told my parents and my brother – my brother works in the field of science; he’s an academic – so of course, he took the science route and he’s just about understanding more around it and working out a pathway forward. Whereas my parents are probably a bit more emotional and emotionally invested in their first grandson. So, for them it was emotional; it was a very emotional journey and it took them time to really understand and accept it. I’ve had to do a lot of work, especially with my parents, to understand what is okay and isn’t okay on a daily basis to help him. So, for example, setting expectations: if you say you’re going to be here at a certain time, you have to be there, because he’s expecting it. And if you’re not there, he’s going to not only ask why, but he’s going to have a meltdown. He’s going to get really upset because his expectation hasn’t been met. And that’s not just part of him, that’s part of his autism, right? And so it was really trying to help them to understand behaviours like that, where typically they could say to me, ‘Oh we were going to meet up, but we we’re not coming anymore for XYZ reason’. That isn’t possible now, right? So it was educating them and I could do that because luckily I decided to change my career and go in a direction where I learned more about autism. So I was happy to educate them. But not everyone’s as fortunate to do the same, right? But actually, telling my wider family – so aunties, uncles, cousins – it took me two years until I was able to tell them. And it took me two years because I needed time to process, and I needed time to be in a place where I was comfortable to disclose to them, to say, ‘Hey, this is my journey that I’m on and this is my story and this is my son’. And even after those two years, I remember telling some of my cousins in the States and the reaction I got was, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. I’m sorry to hear that’, and I responded saying, ‘Don’t be sorry, because I’m not’.
It’s really challenging, isn’t it? I remember telling people, and probably the most common thing I heard – I still do get it actually – is ‘Oh, he doesn’t look autistic’ and it’s like, ‘Man, do I have to have this conversation again?’ Like okay. ‘So, what do you think autism looks like?’ And then they’re going into this whole… and there are times when I’m just, like, ‘Really?’ I think it is incumbent upon everybody in society to make themselves aware of the makeup of society. Whether it’s race relations, or you’re talking about neurodivergence or anything else, take the initiative to learn stuff. It should not be upon the people who are minoritised to then have to also bear the burden of having to go out and educate everybody. And saying things like ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘He doesn’t look it’ – as if that’s going to make me feel any better – or that ‘Well, if you pray…’ I used to get a lot of, ‘If you pray the autism might go away’, or ‘Maybe it was something you ate’. So, you have to really be in quite a place of strength, I find. And sometimes when you’re dealing with representations like that from people, it can be quite fatiguing.
Ritu Kiran-Jackson: [18:43]
I totally agree. I think that the biggest challenge with coming from an ethnic minority background is, people just aren’t educated. If you look at some of the most successful people in the world, who have done really well in terms of either fame or money or both, many of them are autistic, right? Let’s take Elon Musk. He came out last year saying he’s on the autism spectrum and yet people need to start – especially in minority ethnic communities – recognising that there are some strengths here, so it doesn’t mean ‘Oh, it’s all downhill from now’. It means, actually, let’s understand this individual better, let’s work out their strengths, and then let’s nurture them and encourage those strengths to make them great. And I think that’s the biggest thing. We don’t have education amongst minority communities to really help advocate and show the positivities of neurodivergence.
Yeah, absolutely. And that’s one of the reasons we’re doing this podcast and all the other fabulous work that we’re co-collaborating on. Because we want to show parents – not just talk about it, but actually demonstrate – empowered parenting. Because I think, from what I hear, there are so many parents out there who are struggling on their own because they feel like they’re the only one. And the irony is that the data tells us the highest prevalence of autism is in Black, Chinese and Asian communities, but we’re just not talking about it. So yeah, it’s great that we’re having this conversation because hopefully there’ll be parents listening in who may feel like, ‘Actually, I am empowered to embrace my child’s diagnosis and to actually reframe my beliefs’, in the way that you’ve described that you did.
Ritu Kiran-Jackson: [20:25]
Yeah, and it’s not always easy. It is a journey. And I think one thing I learnt as well is not to be so hard on yourself. There is a journey and everyone walks that journey in different ways. Some people take longer; some people take less time. I think talking to other parents with autistic children, what I learnt was: we actually all experienced the same emotional journey, just at different peaks and troughs. And what I mean by that is – I’m sure it’s similar for you Reena – but when I found out about Kyan’s autism, for me, I almost felt a sense of disbelief and almost – grieving. Grieving the child that I thought I was going to have versus the child I have. And I don’t mean that in a negative way, but again, it comes down to the expectations, right? And then I felt guilty for grieving and I thought, ‘How can I be doing that? That makes me an awful person and an awful parent’. And actually, when speaking to other parents of autistic children, I realised they go through exactly the same emotions. So sometimes we are so hard on ourselves because we think we shouldn’t be feeling a certain way or thinking a certain way. And actually, I’d encourage people to feel it and think it. As long as you go through that process, you can come out the other side feeling better for it.
Absolutely. I think a lot of that also is to do with our conditioning as women, that we so often present in the way that we think other people expect us to present. though. We’re so hyper conscious that we don’t want to displease anybody – and I don’t mean that in the very superficial sense – but we mind our Ps and Qs when we’re talking to our elders, or we want people to like us, and that is just the way that there has been such ingrained gender bias in society throughout all cultures. That means that even showing grief is something that – like you’ve just said – you felt ashamed just for feeling that, and actually that’s the process you had to go through to get to the other side.
Yeah, absolutely, absolutely.
And I don’t want to forget about little Novah because there’s a beautiful other little boy in the background. So yeah, Kyan’s got a little lovely brother. How do they get on?
Ritu Kiran-Jackson: [22:42]
I mean it’s challenging. I will say – and you probably experienced similar Reena – when you have your first child being autistic, your fear then is ‘If I have another child, is that child going to be autistic?’, whether it’s a boy or a girl as well. And this time you are better informed, you know what the signs are, you know what to look out for. But there is that fear because raising an autistic child isn’t easy. It’s very much a person-centric approach. You can’t just treat children all the same. So, if you have another autistic child, then you’ve got to do two-person-centric approaches. It’s more on the parent, right? It’s more on them to do, and not everybody realises that. So, we were very mindful of having a second child, but the reason we decided to have a second child was because what we feared more than that, was at a time when we’re not around, Kyan will be on his own, and we thought ‘He needs a sibling’. He needs a sibling and someone who can provide that comfort of familiarity if there’s a time we’re not around, so that’s why we consciously had our second child Novah, who’s now two years old. And it’s beautiful seeing their relationship evolve.
It’s very different, I think, from having two neurotypical children, because you’ll often find Novah will copy some of Kyan’s behaviours and vice versa, Kyan will copy some of Novah’s, but there are things that trigger Kyan that Novah is not familiar with; that’s a trigger point because of autism. So Novah would do something and it would trigger Kyan. But Novah’s not familiar with autism or what that means. He’s too young, so he will keep doing it and it will keep triggering Kyan, no matter how many times we tell Novah to not do it. So, it is challenging.
I’m probably going to say something a little bit controversial here, but I actually find it slightly easier in some respects, raising my neurodivergent child than my neurotypical child, because Kyan loves rules. He loves rules. So I can say, ‘When you enter the house, shoes off’, and he has a photographic memory. So now I’ve told him that rule, he will remember that all the time, and every time he comes to the house, he’ll take his shoes off. So I’m like, ‘Brilliant’. And if I tell Novah the same thing – he’ll forget. He’ll come inside the house with all the shoes, all the time, with mud and everything else. He’ll go around it and he’ll forget right? So in some respects, sometimes raising Kyan, with that type of mind he’s got is actually easier than raising Novah. In other respects, obviously, it’s more challenging.
I completely echo that. Absolutely anything rule-based – Evy’s there. He’s with me. If anything, he reminds me of the rules: ‘Don’t forget PE day is Wednesday!’. ‘Yes, thank you for that’, but actually yes, our biggest challenges are with social and emotional or mental wellbeing. So, whereas that’s less of an issue for Eashan, but yeah – Eashan and rules: chalk and cheese.
Ritu Kiran-Jackson: [25:29]
Exactly. Exactly the same, but they are opposites. Both of the boys are opposites. You know, there’s very little research done in the space of siblings and the experience on siblings. So, it is something that we’re mindful of, but again there is no manual, there’s no rule book, there’s no research, so it’s something we’re just going to have to learn our way through.
Yes, but I do feel that the person-centric approach – you can’t go wrong. You’re not trying to shoehorn your child or their identity into being a particular way. You’re looking at them as an entity of themselves, as a conscious being, and then tailoring the environment around their needs – to meet their needs. So, I can’t in my own mind – and that’s the way I try to parent my both of mine – I can’t see, in the absence of any data, that could go ‘wrong’, for the want of a better word.
Ritu Kiran-Jackson: [26:19]
Yeah, I totally agree with you. I think that we are now evolving to a place where that’s the same approach we should be taking in the workplace as well, right?
Yes, absolutely, and that is a beautiful segue into Aubilities. Tell me a bit about Aubilities.
Ritu Kiran-Jackson: [26:34]
Yeah, absolutely. Aubility stands for ‘all abilities’ because that’s what we’re really focused on. We focus on neurodiversity, so that’s a range of conditions. Obviously, we spend a lot of time on autism, but we know there’s other conditions like ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dysgraphia, etc. etc. in one sentence, I guess our vision is to help organisations become more neuro-inclusive, so that people who are neurodivergent who are already in workforces feel more supported and feel accepted.
Absolutely. What would you say are the most typical challenges that neurodivergent people face in trying to enter the workforce?
Ritu Kiran-Jackson: [27:17]
There’s several. But if I maybe mention a couple of the highlights – the big one that everyone talks about is the recruitment process. It’s a big barrier, because most recruitment processes involve interviews where you sit in front of someone that asks you a series of questions. And you usually answer them off the cuff, on the fly – based on your experience. And you can recall those. Whereas neurodiverse people – they can struggle with that. A) interviews are very much measuring social aptitude and ability. How socially can you converse with this person? And B) not everyone can, off the cuff, recall memories or experiences. Some people require more time. And then C) people often find that if they disclose ahead of the interview when they’re applying for a job, they think, ‘Perhaps I won’t get the job based on the fact that I’ve disclosed’, because there is still stigma and there is still judgment. So, one area is the recruitment process and how that needs to evolve and change and adapt, so that we can make it neuro-inclusive.
Another great example is buildings and organisations. How do we make buildings and organisations a more neuro-inclusive environment? So, it’s about, when you walk into an office building – or even a retail outlet, anything – how do you make sure the design of that place really appeals to neurodivergent people? Because at the moment the world is designed for neurotypicals. You will know this, but a key example is a supermarket and how that can be just a lot for a person who is on the spectrum, or any type of neurodivergence, because of the lighting, the smells, the colours, the noises – everything. So how do we change that experience where actually neurodivergent people can easily shop in a supermarket, but also that the design appeals nicely to neurotypicals? These are just a couple. I mean, there’s lots more, but they’re probably the most prevalent ones.
Amazing. Something I’ve heard – and tell me if you agree with this – that most changes or adaptations we can make in the workplace actually wouldn’t just benefit neurodivergent employees, but would benefit all employees.
Ritu Kiran-Jackson: [29:27]
Yeah, that’s absolutely true. Think about it. Like I was saying, the world is designed for neurotypicals in mind, and neurodivergent people struggle with a lot of those things. Whereas if we use universal design and design with neurodivergent people in mind, neurotypical people wouldn’t necessarily struggle with that design. So actually, you’ve now designed and created space for everybody, rather than a neurotypical space that you’re trying to get neurodivergent people to fit in.
I spoke to a retail outlet this morning on a client call and they mentioned how they’re thinking about opening up a quiet hour in their retail stores for neurodivergent individuals. And I said, ‘Well, that’s great, but it doesn’t really make you inclusive’. And they said, ‘Why? We’ll dim down the lights, we’ll put the music off’. I was like, ‘That’s just two aspects. There are many other aspects that can make the place more neuro-inclusive. How about you don’t do a quiet hour and you just design the store to be neuro-inclusive, leave it like that for all your opening hours. And that way neurotypical people can still walk in and neurodivergent people can walk in at any time too. And they said, ‘OK, we haven’t thought about that’, so they’re going to go and think about that. But it’s those kinds of things. There’s a great UK bank who’ve done this very thing with one of their offices up in Scotland. They’ve made the entire design neuro-inclusive and they’ve had such great feedback they’re now going to be rolling out to other sites. And that is what we need to move towards.
Yeah, absolutely. I completely agree, because I understand people’s intention in trying to have this quiet hour and things like that. But you’re still perpetuating the otherness – you’re still creating this barrier of, ‘This time is for you and the rest of the time is for everyone else’. And actually, the more we can break down those barriers, then people don’t have to feel that there’s segregation.
Ritu Kiran-Jackson: [31:18]
Yeah, I totally agree. We’re talking about the workplace, because that’s what Aubilities focuses on. But this isn’t just for the workplace. I’ll give you another example. Last year, after we came out of Covid, I was looking to celebrate Kyan’s birthday. I looked up bowling venues. No –too noisy, too loud, too colourful. I looked up soft play. No – too noisy, too loud, too colourful. I looked up a multitude of venues. Some of them did offer a time for SEND children – special educational needs children. But the times were: the Friday evening at eight pm. Well, I’m sorry, Kyan’s in bed at that time. That’s not going to… So, what I quickly noticed was, it seems to be a tick box exercise that okay – we’ll offer this, but we’ll offer a time that’s unsociable, or our business isn’t going to really generate a lot of money, so we’ll offer at that time. Okay, well, that’s not really helping the cause. And so what we ended up doing was we just built our own building in our garden and made that sensory space for Kyan, and invited all his autistic friends and had a great time. And every parent doesn’t have the facilities to do that. We need to get to a place where we are thinking differently about design, and we’re thinking differently about process. So, we’re including – like you said – neurodivergent people. So, there isn’t this otherness or, ‘Okay, this is an allocation for you’. Actually, it’s for everybody.
Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s amazing. It’s phenomenal that you have actually literally built your own space.
Ritu Kiran-Jackson: [32:43]
What can I say? At the end of the day, every child deserves a birthday that makes them comfortable.
Absolutely. Totally. And that’s the acid test, isn’t it, for true inclusion in the workplace and in society? If you can feel like you belong in that space, you can say you have accomplished inclusion. Well done.
As well as the recruitment side, I know that you do a mammoth load of training as well that you’re developing, to help workplaces first understand how they can support their neurodivergent employees, but also to actually educate them on all the different types of neuro-diversities.
Ritu Kiran-Jackson: [33:29]
That’s it. What we realised in all the research and all the client conversations that we have, is this is a movement that’s just starting in the workplace. And a lot of people are still unsure of the correct terminology, unsure of the different types of conditions – or at least the most common ones – and really unaware of if they have neurodiverse colleagues. Because of course, unless people disclose, you won’t know, because it’s a hidden disability or disabilities. So, we do a lot of training: classroom training, virtual training, digital training as well, digital content to help educate the workforce. Because it starts with that. When everybody’s got a foundational knowledge on neurodiversity, then we can progress to, ‘Okay, how do we make some change? How do we make things more inclusive?’ But it starts with that foundational knowledge.
Amazing. Well done. I know you’re going to do amazing things – you are doing amazing things – and it will continue to grow from strength to strength, because it’s powered by your passion and it’s so needed. So really, hats off to you for taking your own personal experience and turning it into an entire mission, that will no doubt massively impact the society that we will leave behind for our children.
Ritu Kiran-Jackson: [32:42]
Thank you, and same to you Reena, same to you.
Thank you. So just on a final, final word – for any parents tuning in, maybe parents who have young children who aren’t sure if they might be autistic, or maybe just received a diagnosis, or are somewhere on their journey – what would be your one message to those parents?
Ritu Kiran-Jackson: [35:07]
Yeah, it’s a good question. So, I would say, rather than accept it – embrace it. When you go through that journey, you’ll go through a series of emotions. Embrace those emotions; it’s part of your journey. It is part of who you are; it is part of what you will become once you go through that journey. And not just that, it’s not accepting everything that’s thrown your way necessarily. And what I mean by that is, there are certain protocols in the UK, like EHCPs and things like that, which will be part of your journey. But embrace it. Think about, ‘Okay, how do I improve this?’ Just because that’s the process, or that’s the way it works, doesn’t mean it has to. Your experience and the way you go and navigate your journey is so valid, and giving that feedback to others who have set up these processes is valid. So don’t just accept it. Don’t just accept this is the way things are. Embrace it. Because that’s what can make change.
Absolutely. Amazing. We hadn’t obviously talked about this at all, but that’s basically the mission, right, to embrace autism and to enable parents to feel empowered. Because when you do that, that’s the space you can operate from and it’s so much more powerful. And massively even impacts the way you conduct yourself and the joy that you experience in life.
Yeah, that’s exactly it.
Thank you so much Ritu, it’s been an absolute pleasure. And yeah, if there’s like a resounding ‘We want more!’ call, then I’ll call you back on and we can talk more about the work.
Yeah, of course. Of course. Thanks very much.