An award-winning CIC is helping autistic people through the stresses of life and work

As someone who was diagnosed with autism in her thirties, Charlotte Fox knows just what it is like to feel slightly out of step with the world.

Throughout her life she always knew she was different from other people.

"You feel slightly out of sync with people and the community and society around you and that you’re not quite living at the same pace as other people, not quite enjoying the same things that other people seem to get a lot of interest and joy out of,” she says.

"I was very social when I was younger. But I would go on a night out then it would take me two or three days afterwards to recover from that social interaction. I was exhausted from the sensory input that I was getting from interaction.”

Charlotte began her career working in digital marketing but began experiencing mental health issues in her workplace.

She says this is a common experience for autistic people, with only 22 per cent in work of any kind.

"I started to read about autism and autistic adults and their experience and it started to really chime with my own life experience.”

Charlotte was diagnosed with autism in 2018 and set up Carlisle-based community interest company Aupeer a year ago to help others.

Aupeer runs regular online peer support group meetings as well as specific sessions for autistic parents and one-on-one sessions.

"It's just a safe space for people to come into to meet other autistic people who share similar life experiences," says Charlotte.

"Sometimes they can be a very happy positive space. Sometimes we're finding things a bit more challenging and that can come into it as well. We do a lot to support mental health.”

In its

s first year Aupeer has worked with 60 people from across the UK, Ireland and internationally.

In May Charlotte’s work was recognised when she won the Social Entrepreneur of the Year award at the Cumbria Social Enterprise Awards.

She says the low number of autistic people in employment is not a reflection of their ability.

“That's a correlation to the fact that the workplace and the workforce isn't set up for our needs,” she says.

“Every person that I meet in these groups are extremely capable, intelligent people. The majority of them are unemployed or underemployed because we cannot survive within a normal workplace.

“Most of us, if not all of us, at some point have had to take up grievances with work or go to tribunals because we're getting bullied for being autistic. There's massive issues there.”

She says businesses and employers can take simple steps to help autistic people be more comfortable and productive.

For example, autistic people may prefer speaking to somebody face to face rather than over the phone.

"We have different processing styles and being asked questions on the spot can be quite difficult,” she says.

“It's not because we don't have the knowledge. It's just because our brains work slightly differently and need time to process.