woman in a red coat

 

Meet Willow May, an autistic woman who volunteers with the Highland service delivering talks about autism to parent groups, schools, librarians and many more…

What is you role as a volunteer at the National Autistic Society?

I go to primary and secondary schools and all different types of businesses to deliver autism awareness training, to educate people about what autism is, and what it’s like to be autistic. I also use the sessions for discussion, answering questions and making suggestions on how to support autistic people.

What is your motivation for volunteering?

I was diagnosed at 38 years old. Very late. My daughter was diagnosed late also, she was in secondary school. I gave up work due to the pressures upon me and my very poor mental health. After diagnosis I began to learn about my own autism, and proceeded to become mentally well, the National Autistic Society were very helpful to me and my family during this time.

Once I became well, it became my passion to debunk the very many myths about autism, spread autism awareness so more people get diagnosed earlier and to use my own experiences before and after diagnosis as a tool to help other autistic people in the community.

Compared to many other disabilities, I’ve noticed autism understanding is way behind. This is not acceptable. There is a lot of pressure for us to fit into a society that by its very nature is excluding in many ways. So in my very small way, I am thoroughly enjoying supporting the National Autistic Society’s work to change this!

What do you like about volunteering?

I do not plan to go back into paid work due to the strain it puts on my mental health. But I still feel passionate about contributing to society as I have a lot to give.

However, the absolute beauty of volunteer work is that I can pick and choose what I do depending on what I feel I can manage. This has led to a better quality of life for me in a long time. Volunteering for the National Autistic Society gives me so much satisfaction. I’ve a wonderful new sense of purpose to be doing something so worthwhile and of course my self-esteem and confidence has improved massively.

What has been your most enjoyable moment volunteering?

I love how everyone involved in the sessions I deliver are so motivated to learn about autism and how to support their autistic customers/pupils/children. I love receiving the comments at the end especially when the feedback is that they learnt so much about autism and now feel more empowered to support autistic individuals. That makes me feel so happy I can’t tell you!

Also the positive impact my volunteering is having in the community… for example, having my hand shaken and being told that my training was life changing. Someone saying they’ve changed the way they work with autistic people due to new understanding and being told that my session was the most worthwhile training they’ve had at their school in years is amazing.

Do you have any funny stories about volunteering?

At times, I’m distracted and put off temporarily by a noise, the temperature or smell for example during my talk delivery. I laugh about it and explain after the noise has stopped, the windows are opened or we move to another room – that here is an excellent example of my sensory issues! It’s light-hearted and amusing, and it really gets the message across!

Would you recommend volunteering to people you know?

I couldn’t recommend volunteering enough! I’ve volunteered for many organisations since childhood but only with the National Autistic Society recently.

All my experiences, both positive and negative as an autistic woman, can be used to contribute to change in society. If that’s not enough, well it’s thoroughly enjoyable, totally empowering and it’s worked wonders for my self-confidence.