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World Autism Acceptance Week

Fiona Temple
HR, Academy and Communications Director

World Autism Acceptance Week starts on Monday 27 March. This is an event particularly close to our hearts at the Lloyd’s Market Association (LMA), as the National Autistic Society  is our chosen charity partner, voted for by our staff.

There are about than 700,000 people with autism in the UK; more than one in every hundred people is on the autism spectrum. People with autism may face different challenges to neurotypical people. They may find it hard to communicate or interact with other people, for example. They may find it hard to understand how other people think or feel, they might find things like bright lights or loud noises overwhelming, stressful and uncomfortable.

One of the LMA’s core values is inclusivity - we aim to enrich the marketplace by developing people and seeking ideas from a wide variety of backgrounds, culture and skills. We want to be sure that people are able to bring their whole selves to work, and that their needs and gifts can be accommodated and celebrated. Our partnership with the National Autistic Society has helped all of us to gain a deeper understanding of this and to find ways to make working at the LMA and in the Lloyd’s market inclusive for everyone.

Autistic people have an often unique perspective on the world that we should champion; not only does greater acceptance make life easier for people with autism, it can bring huge benefits to the workplace when we can embrace diversity of thought and skills.

I have a particular connection with autism. Our daughter, Matilda, was born in London in August 2012 just after the London Olympics. She was a brilliant baby - apart from the sleep deprivation that I wasn’t quite prepared for- and she was a perfect little girl. She’s still perfect today, although not so little at age 10 and 167 cm in height.

I returned to work after 10 months maternity leave, back into the insurance industry into the same job I had before Matilda’s birth. A lot had happened while I was away, and the first day back was, frankly, horrendous. Coupled with that, the thought of leaving my baby at nursery five days a week filled me with dread. But I managed to negotiate a flexible working pattern of working at home one day a week and leaving the City at 4.30pm … how life has changed.

When Matilda was in her early years of school, we were alerted to the fact that things perhaps weren’t quite the same for us as for other parents. Matilda would have melt downs if we had to stand and queue in a shop – I just put that down to childlike naughtiness. She would only eat certain foods - often beige in colour - and she was very fussy about what she wore and the feel of fabric on her skin.

We even found play dates hard as she didn’t like sharing her toys, and we put this down to her being an only child. Matilda was at a wonderful school, but she was struggling sometimes to understand instructions or what to do if given an open-ended task. I dreaded the times that my mobile would ring and the name of her school would flash up: “Mrs Temple, are you in London?  Yes … oh, we think you need to come home as Matilda is very upset.”

Both my husband and I had worked in London since before Matilda was born. We did the juggling of school drop-off and morning commute from Surrey and after a while, the phone calls between us about who would go home became more and more fraught.

After a series of diagnostic sessions, Matilda was diagnosed with autism at age six. To be honest, we didn’t really know what it meant. We worked with her school to give her additional 1.1 support and we managed the situation as best we could. 

Often girls are not diagnosed with autism at such a young age, as they tend to be good at masking the situation they are in. But when they get home to a safe environment it can all kick off. Home time was sometimes hard for us all, as it was a safe environment for Matilda to be her true self. 

I have always worked hard in my career and it’s very important to me. Balancing work life and home life with a child on the autistic spectrum wasn’t easy. In the end, we decided as a family that my husband and I couldn’t both continue to commute into London and that something would have to give.  My husband took a job locally so that he could be nearer to Matilda’s school and be there when the phone calls came to ask us to collect her.

The lockdown happened. This was a hard period for all parents and children, let alone those on the autism spectrum. Matilda wasn’t interested in home schooling. She didn’t see why she had to do it and the frustration of online teaching, plus the ambiguity of the situation and missing her friends, was horrendous.

Luckily, the Lloyd’s Market Association supported its employees in a way that was beyond what I could dream of – by enabling us to put family first. I was still able to do my job, but going for a bike ride at lunchtime, or playing netball for an hour in the afternoon to keep Matilda entertained, was the perfect way to make the situation more bearable – for all of us.

The National Autistic Society was chosen by our employees as the LMA’s charity partner for a three-year term from 2022. As an organisation, we have walked, run marathons, sky- dived, taken part in sweepstakes, gardened, donated IT equipment and bikes, and gifted Christmas presents.

And the partnership has opened up discussions about the challenges and rewards of parenting a child with autism. From talking more about autism in the market, I have met so many people who parent a child with autism and shared stories. This awareness and support is invaluable to all.

This year, as part of the Autism Awareness Week, Matilda is undertaking the Spectrum Colour Walk in London on Sunday 2 April to raise funds for the National Autistic Society on behalf of the LMA. She loves London, but crowds and lots of people are often daunting for her. But she knows how fortunate she is to have the support of both her family and friends, as well as my work colleagues.

Matilda loves the LMA; she has remembered reams of facts about insurance and the iconic Lloyd’s building and she loves knowing where I go when I go off to work in London. She knows most of the LMA’s employees having joined so many lockdown calls. And she loves the LMA chocolate!

Being autistic is an intrinsic part of someone’s identity – it’s part of what makes them who they are. Accepting and understanding autistic people is not only the right thing to do, it’s an important thing to do to make workplaces more diverse and function better. I consider myself very lucky to work somewhere like the LMA that recognises this and is doing its bit for a charity that means so much to families like mine.

If you wish to sponsor Matilda to help the National Autistic Society, please visit her Just Giving page.