In praise of youth work
When living with anxiety, it becomes a bit like part of your own DNA and is almost impossible to remove completely. That’s not to say there isn’t any hope of living though. For the persons who helped most with that, try to imagine a cross-over between a good friend and a solid parent/guardian that are willing to be there when you need them, but also prepared to be honest with you when it’s needed. That is what a youth worker is perhaps best embodied as. Unlike most relatives or friends though, there is a unique sense of separation that they are never too close to any problem or difficulty, which places them nicely to provide a fresh voice in perspective.
For me, having these individuals with these roles in position was to play a significant factor in where I would be going and also gave certainty from a shaky transition phase into adulthood.
While I was a student at college, there was something which didn’t feel quite right. Not in terms of adjusting to the new workload from secondary school, but more an isolation from others around me. My previous friendship network had dispersed after school had finished and I had returned back to square one. For autistic individuals like myself, friendships rarely come easy, but being completely spurned from a social group is not an ideal position to find yourself in either. Just having to work towards a qualification alone did not mean a feeling of personal contentment.
By a willingness to explore something I’d not known before, to volunteer for a local project for young people, can in retrospect now be one of the best choices I made. The youth worker leading on this gave back a sense of empowerment, by linking up with people across the community to support our efforts and a giving me a degree of responsibility in creating something worthwhile. Even when I moved to university, technology could always allow me to stay involved.
The increase of volunteers who joined the project too also chipped away the anxiety and isolation that would often be present from my time at college. With the emphasis on an inclusive group of abilities and interests, this enabled the development of friendships within the group and helped them to support one another. While I had times in which I felt under stress for unrelated reasons to volunteering, both the youth worker and volunteers would give the space I needed to help me return to a better frame of mind. Occasionally, I would also receive critical feedback from the youth worker, and whether it was about how I can bluntly speak to others around me occasionally or about written blogs/articles, I would come to accept and learn from it honesty later on than I might have done at the time it was given.
If friends and family could provide the warmth and support for everyday challenges, a youth worker had the ability to ensure I had greater confidence in my own capabilities and became emotionally more resilient towards the challenges I would face as an adult. Having a person of trust who can listen without judgement or underlying assumptions can be a rare quantity, but can be vital for many of us as we grow older. There is little that a class textbook could have given in contrast if I chose to stay on that path alone. I’m glad that I took another route years ago now, for those people I met along the way were worth finding.