My Journey to Kickstart
I’m Saraya! I’m currently the Kickstart Programme Assistant here at The Neurodiverse Museum. I’ve been able to spend the last year involved in lots of museum activity. All of which has brought me to this exciting position.
For a bit of background on me,
I myself am neurodivergent (ND). I was diagnosed as autistic in late 2020, at 18 years old. This was after around 2 years of trying to convince professionals to assess me and being unable to continue attending secondary school because of the inaccessibility.
Secondary school didn’t work out for me like many other disabled and ND individuals. There simply was no support. And with conditions affecting me that seemingly no one had picked up on, my needs just weren’t met.
I can’t confidently say that they ever would’ve been, even with a diagnosis, because of how the education sector generally continues to approach neurodiversity. There is a widespread disregard for the wellbeing of students. Issues are blatantly ignored, discriminatory practice is commonplace and there’s often a refusal to meet need.
My feelings towards education were heavily damaged. And my previous aspirations of higher education no longer looked feasible because of this experience. All of this left me pretty cynical about my dreams of entering the cultural sector. Ones I’d had from a young age. Lots of my special interests and hyperfixations ultimately lead me to positions in this area. I’ve always been (and still am) fascinated with community spaces and the workings of libraries, museums, and galleries! But there didn’t seem to be any alternate routes into this competitive area of work that I felt I could succeed in.
Still undiagnosed and severely put off of mainstream education, I attempted to apply for college. The pressures of neurotypical society made me feel it was the ‘right thing to do’. I also had very little alternative options. The places I enquired at told me they wouldn’t make accommodations for me. Or I heard nothing back at all. I was stuck and I gave up.
At the start of the year, I decided I’d try my hardest to do anything that was available to me. I still wasn’t professionally diagnosed and hadn’t realised that it wasn’t me who was the issue. I wanted to volunteer in a library. I’d had my application ready for months waiting for the positions to open.
Then a pandemic happened. Like everyone else in the world, my life was kind of put on pause. I felt even more stuck. But ultimately, I was stopped from going down another path that would’ve most likely ended in more burnout.
Summer that year, a SEN college called me to enrol. One I had applied to the year before and forgot about. I was unhopeful but went along with it.
And all in all it wasn’t that bad. It was my first time attending a place of education being aware of my neurodiversity and disclosing it. I learnt things about myself and my needs that continue to help me work today. And I had got some well needed validation and support from the staff there.
Much to my surprise, through college I got the ideal opportunity.
I began a work placement with Leeds Museums and Galleries (LMG). My placement was part of a programme called ‘Careers for All’. Before I started, the time was taken to talk about my interests, how I work best and what support I might need. The whole process was highly individualised with no pre imposed expectations of me which I found made everything easier for all involved.
I first helped out with autism staff training. Over a couple of weeks, I commented on the script and shared some of my experiences, preferences on language and places I’d initially learnt about autism myself. To have been involved in that process and to have my input on the training valued, was very important to me.
I then started working on a blog with another LMG employee. It was about ‘Ancient Egyptian Spirituality’ and I was very excited about the whole ordeal. Being able to fully indulge in a special interest in this way and essentially infodump about it every week to someone who was happy to hear it was great. I got to learn new things about their collection and share with them some of my knowledge and different ways of looking at things. It was a beneficial experience both ways.
As the year went on,
I got involved with The Preservative Party, a youth panel for Kids In Museums and youth panel for the Leeds Industrial Museum. Inclusion and diversity was at the heart of everything I worked on, which made accessibility a continued priority. Because of these experiences, I now know that there are ways for ND people (specifically ones with less education and financial privilege) to be a part of the sector in a more thoughtful, accessible, and mutually beneficial way. Getting to know staff and other young people passionate to change museums has empowered me in this fact. And allowed me to secure a paid position.
What I’d like people to take away from my experience, is that;
- Without having staff and management who clearly understood neurodiversity and the barriers for me.
- Without flexible, holistic, practical support and unwavering backing.
- Without focusing on my interests and the areas and skills I excel at then making adjustments where needed.
- Without the alternative, more informal interviewing processes.
I would not have had the confidence to continue in this sector let alone succeed in the work I’ve been a part of. And I believe that they are some of the few key things to think about when hiring ND people in museums (or spaces alike). There must be a holistic approach. Centre inclusion, diversity and put more ND voices in charge. Hire neurodivergent people because of their neurodivergence and not in spite of it.
By Saraya Hall