Victoria first came to The Retreat to access autism services in 2017, which led to a diagnosis, aged 36. After her diagnosis, and at the same time as completing a PhD researching philosophy and body-mind practices, she attended post-diagnostic support at The Retreat.

Reflecting on her diagnosis, Victoria began to see connections between her PhD research and her lived experience of autism, and considered whether her knowledge might benefit other autistic people, particularly in relation to sensory differences in autism.

“Autistic people often experience high levels of anxiety, and I’m interested in finding ways, through movement and stimming, to calm the nervous system and improve quality of life,” she explains.

So, when Dr Katja Osswald, the Retreat’s Clinical Lead for Autism, suggested that The Retreat were developing a Peer Mentor service, she was keen to be involved.

“Katja was interested in the research I was doing, looking at the relationship between body-mind practices and autism, and thought it might benefit the autism service,” said Victoria.

The Peer Mentoring service draws on mutual lived experience. By using shared experience as a guide, Peer Mentors support mentees to create self-determined pathways to wellbeing, self-awareness and personal development.

Victoria has been involved in developing the Peer Mentoring service at The Retreat and is now employed as an Expert by Experience and a sessional member of staff. This compliments her other role as an Autism Spectrum Specialist Mentor and Study Skills practitioner with Spectrum First Education, based at The University of York.

Most recently, Victoria has joined the City of York Council Mental Health Partnership Northern Quarter Project, as a person with lived-experience, and as a representative of The Retreat.

In this capacity, Victoria is raising awareness by advocating for autism specific pathways in mental health services, and improved access to peer mentor support for autistic people in the city.