Ever been to Deal, the seaside town in Kent? I ask because there’s a man who lives there called Aissame El Bakkali who can often be seen swimming or paddle boarding after a long day at work with his little dog, Daisy. They must cut quite a dash especially as Daisy has her own yellow life jacket!
In fact, Aissame stands out in more ways than one, the tide of life having brought him to the Kent Autistic Trust via several countries and as many oddly different careers…
Born to an Italian mother and a Moroccan army father, Aissame has variously lived in France, Spain and Morocco and his first job was in banking. It didn’t take him long, however, to realise he was clearly a fish out of water, preferring to deal with people rather than money, bored by the mechanical processes which didn’t allow for his mind to improve anything.
So, having grown up in a coastal city and with the sea in his blood, he trained as a Scuba Instructor until the centre in Agadir closed. A spell in Insurance was miserable as his job was to go out to people and find reasons not to pay out. He went travelling, became a Web Designer and met his wife Samantha.
Still only 24, they moved to the UK and Aissame chanced upon a few shifts for Kent Autistic Trust. 15 years later, he continues to make a splash there and can think of no better place to be:
“This work gives you a purpose to live for. In terms of the autism area, finding the function of behaviours is so important, and by solving the reason for the behaviour, the impact on the person and their families can be profound and heartwarming: I get a lot of pleasure from doing that.”
Aissame went on to tell me the story of a client who habitually swallowed coins and buttons in order to be sent to hospital, even pulling buttons from his mother’s clothes. From Aissame’s experience, a noisy, chaotic hospital would usually be the last place someone with autism would want to go, so he went along on one occasion in order to ‘find the function’:
“Having completed observations and recorded all the data from staff support and the rest of my team, we found the function of the behaviour was the sensory stimulation from the blood pressure cuff and the stethoscopes, so we brought these items and now use twice weekly which has prevented further hospital admissions and what could have potentially killed him. In this way, I have helped improve someone’s life. That’s where I find pleasure and purpose. It’s that simple.”
Cluster Manager, Aissame runs three centres in Ashford with 32 staff and hopes to take a further Teams course at the Institute of Applied Behavioural Analysis because it’s intrinsically clear to him that behaviours (which can often be challenging) are displays and indicators of needs unmet. So, PBS (Positive Behaviour Support) is a key ethos for Kent Autistic Trust.
Aissame is especially proud of his team and truly believes in the simple, timeless adage of treating people how you yourself would want to be treated:
“My team is a great mix of various ages, races, cultures and abilities and empathy is vital. Carers don’t get paid a lot, so they absolutely need to feel appreciated and valued. Richard Branson, in his book, said that employees stay with you because they’re happy, ultimately. This is very important to me: if we can put our heads on the pillow at night and feel the purpose in caring and making a difference, then that is contentment which is precious.”
The other careers lost Aissame but he has found himself over here, on the Kent coast and though doubtless chillier than Morocco, he’s brought a whole bunch of warmth with him to clients and staff alike.
“Sometimes people ask if I’m going home this year etc. I reply that I’m going home at the end of the day at 4.30pm. Deal is home and Morocco where I was born. I don’t miss place, I miss people!”
Here’s to smooth sailing all the way, Aissame!