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“You are good enough” - autism and my success

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Former truck driver, Gavin Simpson, is a successful accountant and is passionate about neurodiversity awareness. Find out how he used his differences to his advantage.

Before starting my journey to accounting, I was a retail manager. During this time I had a bit of a breakdown (which I later discovered was “autistic burnout”), and decided to be on my own. That led me to truck driving.

It was great. Hard graft, but good money. After nine years I was offered a new opportunity.

They questioned me about my experience with Excel, but I had never used it. So I bought a book and started doing little things. Suddenly I got this buzz about Excel, data and numbers and loved it.

Within a week I was showing my manager how to do things. I don’t know if it's an insult or compliment but his words were: “My god, these last nine years you’ve made a good impression of being thick.” I think that really shows the unconscious bias around people in certain professions.

Poor grades don’t summarise who you are.

As I started to impress, I took part in a management development programme. This programme marked the moment when I started to realise that I was slightly different to many people.

We did an insights exercise where we were asked questions about being introverted and extroverted. You had to take a step either left or right depending on the answer, and I ended up on the other side of the room to everyone else.

And when I had my son, we went through the autism diagnosis for him. That's when I discovered there was something more to it.

Why management accounting?

After doing a personality profile on myself, I researched relevant jobs and the top result was management accounting. I looked at a few different courses, but CIMA just stood out for me. It's got the element of business improvement that I enjoy, as well as financial accounting.

This career path also meant I would be working Monday to Friday, nine to five. This gave me all the things I wanted: consistency, formality and all the things I know now that my autistic mind probably needed.

After joining Travis Perkins I made my way round the business and was noticed for my successes. I progressed into different positions, but even when the Head of Finance was talking to me about jobs I still lacked confidence.

All I saw were these intelligent people that had been to university. Although I wanted to keep progressing, I felt really insecure. But when I joined the team, I realised I've never fitted in so well anywhere in my life.

Social mobility is also important to me. I want to encourage people that have come from a working class background to know that if you want to be a management accountant, there's nothing stopping you.

Studying CIMA with Kaplan

I started doing my certificate level of CIMA and passed before I even worked in finance.

Eventually I studied through a training provider - Kaplan - who are still my provider through Travis Perkins. It’s been great. Being able to contact a tutor on the chat and get an answer straight away is fantastic.

The study materials are great like the little study cards and the online testing, so you can do it under time pressure. All the resources are really, really good.

Study method wise, I have used OnDemand and Live Online (for my case study).

Discovering I was on the autistic spectrum

I'd previously never had any knowledge of autism, I was very ignorant of it. When my son was born, he developed chickenpox very early, so I incorrectly blamed that on his subsequent autism diagnosis.

What I didn't realise is that autism can be genetic. I ended up learning about all the traits and a lot of them matched me. I did a test and it concluded I was off the scale autistic. I couldn't get my head around it though: how different my brain worked, compared to other people.

It took me ages to have the courage to get an official pre-diagnosis, but I was motivated by wanting to make a difference to my son and his peers.

Everyone’s journey is unique, and contrary to many people’s beliefs, autism can affect people differently. I learnt one phrase which I think reflects this:

If you've met one autistic person, you've met one autistic person.

I've now inspired people in my business to be open about their autism, even those who have kept it quiet.

Neurodiverse and social mobility awareness

I'm trying to spread the word about autism and what it's like so people’s experiences can improve. School wasn’t good for me at all. I ended up with 50% attendance in the last few years, but with my late diagnosis, I now understand that period of my life better.

Social mobility is also important to me. I want to encourage people that have come from a working class background to know that if you want to be a management accountant, there's nothing stopping you.

The best thing about studying CIMA is what it has done for me personally, and the confidence it’s given me. I've lived through some really dark times and thought very little of myself. So getting these qualifications has been amazing for my personal morale.

Don’t let anything hold you back

My advice would be - if you want to do something, go for it. Don’t put yourself down, don't let there be any barriers. Don't be afraid to step up and don't ever think you're not as good as any other “social groups”.

If you are neurodiverse, there's a good chance you've actually got some better skills than people who aren’t, such as: your attention to detail and problem solving skills.

I was written off at school and got hardly anything GCSE wise. Poor grades don’t summarise who you are. You can do what I have and gain qualifications later on in life.

Learn in a way that suits you.

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