Leo Capella 'Being awarded Employee of the Year has been my proudest moment.' 

Meet Leo Capella, autistic man, science fiction writer, and recent winner of our Employee of the Year Award.

Leo chatted to us about life on the spectrum, and why he thinks autism is like a Toyota Supra car! He also discussed his previous role as our charity’s Autism Access Specialist, sharing his proudest moments as well as the challenges he faced along the way – from the joys of exploring different places, to the struggles of navigating office politics and informal social niceties. 

When were you diagnosed as autistic?

I was diagnosed twice: once informally around five years old at Radlett House by Dr Helen Bantock - which kind of brings me full circle as one of the runners up for the Employee of the Year Award is a speech and language therapist from there. 

Then when I was in my early twenties I was diagnosed formally in Cambridge by Dr Asif Zia. Both of my diagnoses were Asperger syndrome, although my later one is borderline Asperger syndrome/PDD NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified).

What is being autistic like for you?

Being autistic is like being the equivalent of a front engine rear wheel drive car, powerful (on things like writing and public speaking) yet at the same time prone to spins too (particularly around informal situations)!

Kind of like a Toyota Supra, which is fitting. Although this car has had its issues, it has had a lot of success in motor racing and is coming back to the Japanese Super GT series next year.

Congratulations on winning the coveted Employee of the Year Award! What did your role as Autism Access Specialist involve exactly?

Thanks! I did three main jobs. 

I administrated the Autism Friendly Inbox which meant dealing with different enquiries on how to make things more autism friendly.  

I oversaw the Autism Friendly Award and awarded it for individual businesses and venues. This was like being the equivalent of an American Football referee, and a sumo referee as it was both technical (in that I judged applications) and ceremonial (in that I awarded the award). 

I was the lead for Autism-Friendly and Relaxed Performances. This included recruiting and overseeing volunteers at events, as well as training cast and crew whether at Matilda The Musical or The Play That Goes Wrong, and recommending adjustments.

You’ve recently moved roles to become a Job Coach at the National Autistic Society. How is that going?

It’s safe to say that we’re getting up to speed and the fun is truly beginning. Our first candidates are soon starting their positions. 

That being said, I’ve already had some interesting experiences - including speaking at the Charity Learning Conference last month on behalf of our team. I also visited an IT company called Forever Beta and the British Association of Supported Employment Conference for our team.

What do you enjoy most about the work you do?

I enjoy the exploring most of all. And I don’t just mean travelling to lots of interesting places and going behind the scenes (which I love doing in any case, whether I’m visiting airports, businesses etc). I mean exploring the different areas (such as employment or accessibility) and meeting new people face to face or virtually. It’s like a dog getting a trip to a beach on one day and then a trip to some interesting fields another day: a sensory paradise!

What has been your proudest moment?

Being awarded Employee of the Year has to be it. I also won an award for being a National Union of Students Disabled Students Committee Member of the Year just over ten years ago, meaning that I’ve got awards in disability as a volunteer and as a professional. So that’s really something. 

I have to say that there have been a lot of points in between where I’ve felt proud, including working with The Play That Goes Wrong earlier this year and doing the relaxed performance with them.

What are some of the challenges you face in the workplace?

Because a lot of meetings and business conducted can be informal and unplanned, it’s about ‘switching on’ when I need to. It’s also about understanding the informal niceties and office politics, which doesn’t always come naturally to me. 

Above all it’s about me pacing myself, especially as I’m now working full time for the first time, and making sure I have enough energy to be as reasonably consistent in my work as possible.

After all work isn’t just about what you do in the office, it’s about getting to and from it too!

How do you think employees, businesses and organisations can be more accommodating to autistic people?

Funny you should say that. There’s an article coming out on the Charity Learning Consortium blog with our top tips on just that! 

Seriously though, I think it’s about making the necessary technical adjustments where possible, including when it comes to the sensory environment. 

Otherwise it’s a combination. It’s also about recognising that in hiring autistic people you’re going to get powerful (maybe not super-powerful) individuals who are going to play for the team they are in. 

Give us the right environment, the right support and be clear in how you communicate with us, including the boundaries you want us to operate in and we’ll be a valuable addition to your team.

What do you do when you are not busy with work? 

I write, from fanfiction (including a Sword Art Online inspired one) to original stories, poetry and a bit of non-fiction too. I also go to the cinema as well as conventions and museums. I recently went to see Promare which was an absolute riot of an anime mecha fire-fighting film - really stylish, really fun and had some neat twists. Otherwise, I enjoy watching sports, volunteering and maybe doing a bit of stand-up comedy, among other things. 

Do you have any upcoming projects you'd like to share?

Employers should sign up for our Autism at Work summit on 4 June next year, which is being held at the BFI Southbank. We’re hoping to bring a lot of people - businesses, employers and maybe the odd employee or jobseeker - together to change the employment landscape for autistic people. After all, with a rate of 16% of autistic people being employed part time and 16% being employed full time, the rate for us isn’t good. 

Autistic job seekers should keep an eye out for adverts which currently get circulated around our different social media channels including LinkedIn. We’re currently running a work experience programme called HB Cares which will be offering part-time placements in hotels, so watch out for that if you’re interested.   

As for me personally? This is the part where I’ll do an impression of a sumo wrestler being interviewed on NHK during a tournament as I don’t want to curse myself and NOT get anything done. So I’ll do my style of writing (including hopefully getting a certain beast of a science fiction fantasy book with autistic heroes published) and my style of campaigning, then see where that leads to. 

All in all, I’ll hopefully be exploring interesting places, doing a lot of clever things and meeting and working with a lot of clever people.

Autism at Work Summit 2020

Are you an autism professional, an autistic jobseeker, or an employer? 

Join us for our brand new employment event next June and help transform the lives of autistic jobseekers and employees. 

Find out more