Each month we feature an inspirational individual or team who overcome barriers to make a real difference in their communities. This month we see how John Morris, Expert by Experience at Certitude, uses his own personal experience to advocate for others
Like many people with autism, James was once labelled as “challenging and aggressive’, but now, receiving the right kind of support from Certitude and living in suitable accommodation, James is turning his life around and using his own experiences to challenge social stereotypes.
James lives in an innovative housing scheme in Richmond specifically designed for people with autism. He has his own apartment – which means he isn’t forced into routines which don’t suit him – but can use the communal spaces to get together with his support team and the other people who live in the block, when it suits him.
“I love where I live, especially the area,” says James. “I like to have my own space and I go out locally – a new Costa has just opened which is good – and it’s easy to get into central London.”
James recently won a place on the prestigious Learning Disability and Autism Leadership List which was officially published online and in The Guardian newspaper. The list features 60 extraordinary people with learning disabilities and autism who are helping make society better for everyone.
“It was amazing and breath-taking to receive this award,” says James, but I think I deserve it. I want people to understand what it is like to have autism and how society could change to help people like me. I think it’s important that, as I can talk, I try to speak for other people with autism who can’t.”
James regularly writes blogs and videos explaining the challenges faced by people with autism and works with Treat Me Right! – a Certitude project which trains healthcare professionals in how to interact more effectively with people with autism and learning disabilities.
“I talk to doctors and nurses and describes to them how it feels to have autism,” explains James. “Of course I don’t know how everyone with autism feels but I think that society could be more understanding. I would like Treat Me Right! to train other people who work with the public – like the police.”
Last year James combined forces with the Gypsy Hill Brewery and Certitude to help create a craft beer called Hops Not Hate designed to raise awareness of the discrimination faced by people with autism in pubs and restaurants. It was sold across London and the money raised went back to Certitude to provide more support. You can watch a film about this project here: https://youtu.be/FONGQ-pagqo
It’s not all work, work, work for James. He likes to perform and has taken drama courses with the Brit School and, in the near future, is interested in making films of his own.
“I like adventure films and documentaries and I love Departures on Netflix which is a travel programme about two young guys going around the world. I would like to make films about people and how they feel and I am planning to take a film studies course this year. I also want to travel more – I have family in Germany and I love it there.”
Mark Wallis, a Certitude Manager who has been supporting James since he moved into his own flat, believes James has a valuable contribution to make in helping people understand autism. He says: “James has come a long way in his own life and is making a real difference for others. His gift is his ability to use his insight into autism to help other people understand autistic people better.”