‘Autism can be a superpower’

When Megan Knight switched from university to study Beauty Therapy at Harrogate College, she was worried about feeling overwhelmed.

Megan is autistic and knew there would be both learning barriers and sensory triggers, due to all of the creams, oils and other substances involved, to overcome while pursuing her studies.

But the college’s staff worked closely with her to draw up an action plan that would remove obstacles and give Megan the very best chance to succeed – and it worked.

Megan, who is in her twenties, went on to excel at her course at both Level 2 and 3, and the college continued to support her when she started applying for spa therapist jobs.

Programme Manager for Hairdressing and Beauty Therapy at Harrogate College, Steph Keedy, said: “We decided to put a little explanation together for the employers Megan was approaching, about why having autism was actually a benefit for the role of a spa therapist.

“This really helped them gain some understanding, and it resulted in Megan gaining employment at a spa, at Hazlewood Castle, which is her dream job.”

Autism Europe says that a ‘serious lack of adapted education and training’ is one of the greatest barriers that autistic people face in terms of trying to gain employment.

Megan is now loving her spa therapist role, but acknowledges the extra barriers that people with autism have to overcome when they are studying and job-hunting.

Pushing past stigma

She said: “I absolutely adore my job at Hazlewood Castle! We have a fantastic team and everyone is super-supportive.

“My Spa Manager couldn’t be any nicer and has been a rock to me these last few months. Despite only being in my role for a short amount of time, I’ve been able to progress so far and I’m so grateful to be given that level of responsibility.

“When you’re autistic and trying to get a job, many employers are unsure about autism as there is still plenty of stigma around it. You just have to push through and keep applying without letting any rejections discourage you.

“If, and when, employers do ask about it I’ve found it best to focus on what autism can positively do – it can be a superpower if you let it be.”

She is full of praise for the help she received at college – and has words of encouragement for anyone else considering a similar journey.

Exceptional support – and a message for others

She said: “Due to all the different sensations you experience during the Beauty Therapy course (through being expolsed to oils, creams, exfoliants and similar substances) there’s always a risk that something will set off a negative sensory response.

“But my tutors at Harrogate were great at setting a calming work environment, so I was less likely to be triggered.

“Autism can also affect the way we learn but, due to me being a visual learner, I was often able to watch a treatment demo before being able to copy it myself.

“For others with autism who are thinking of studying or applying for a job, I would say – never let the ignorance surrounding autism get in your way.

“Despite the difficulties and struggles we can face every day, your autism gives you a creative view on the world, so work with that and let that creativity shine through. Stay focused on your goal and don’t let anyone get in your way.”

Steph added: “Megan keeps in touch with all the beauty team and has told us she would like to come in and share her learner journey with our current students, and demonstrate some of the treatments she now carries out in the spa.

“She has come such a long way in just under three years, what an absolute success!”