Autism diagnosis helped me to move forward – and now I run my own business

Sophie Rolls, 27, was diagnosed with autism at 21 after a tough time in education, before embarking on her successful career as an accountant. She now runs her own business SR Payroll Services.

Sophie Rolls on autism and starting her own business

Sophie Rolls struggled in education and quickly realised she learned in a different way to her peers. She discovered, aged 21, that her remarkable memory but struggles with the traditional way of learning were down to autism.

Here Sophie shares why her autism diagnosis helped her move forward, and how she built a successful career as an accountant, including starting her own business, SR Payroll Services.

A head for numbers

“I started my business in April this year,” Sophie explained. “I worked for a company for five years and I ended up falling in love with the number side of things. I’m very good at memorising numbers and I worked out that my strength is my memory. That’s what I have to use to my advantage and you always need to play to your strengths so I started my own payroll bureau.”

But accounting wasn’t initially an industry Sophie knew she wanted to get into.

“To be honest, accounting never appealed to me because I always thought that I wasn’t going enough for it,” Sophie said. “But it turns out it’s actually it’s a strength of mine.

“I didn’t know until one day someone said to me you think differently and you’re good with numbers. I didn’t believe it at first but before I knew it, and with the help I needed, I started to grow and I fell in love with the trade.”

Struggles at school

But it hasn’t been an easy path.

“School with difficult for me I couldn’t read and write and I never understood why I failed,” Sophie explained. “I always worked hard but it didn’t matter what I did and if I stayed after school I always failed.”

It was no easier at college, but the future business owner showed perseverance after suffering a series of knockback.

“The truth about college is I couldn’t get in,” Sophie said. “I went home crying, I was so upset. I managed to speak to them and persuade them to let me in. The only reason they let me in is because of my outstanding behaviour report. That was a hard day for me and I felt like my heart just shattered into pieces because I didn’t want to fail. I started on an art course because I knew I was good at drawing. But after four months I had to leave because my maths and English were not up to scratch.

“Attempt number two at college I ended up doing a painting and decorating, but this didn’t last. Third time round I ended up at a different college, once again I failed the courses that they put me on.”

Never give up

But as Sophie says, ‘failure is the key to success’, and she tried again.

Aged 21, she sat down with her mum and told her she wanted to go back to college.

“My family didn’t think it was a good idea at the time but I knew it was my last chance,” said Sophie. “So I went to college at 21 and I ended up passing the course with flying colours. This was attempt number two at Level 2 Business Administration course and I ended up with English and maths.

“Then I found an apprenticeship at an engineering company. I ended up there for five years and achieved Level 3 Business Administration, an advanced level in the Business Sector, Level 2 in maths and English which is equivalent to an A and C grade. I have also got an A in Money Management.”

Autism diagnosis

Sophie’s diagnosis of autism aged 21 was something which helped her move forward after a period of turbulence in her education.

On what pushed her to go to seek the diagnosis, Sophie said: “I was sitting there at college with 16 years olds in the classroom and when it came to learning I knew the way my mind works was very different.

“I ended up going to the doctor and explaining to them what had happened in my life so far, how I learn and I that have an amazing memory.

“My memory is so advanced I can tell you what happened when I was very young. I never understood why my memory was like that because not everyone remembers everything like I do.

“But I also didn’t understand why these 16-year olds could read and write and I couldn’t. It’s not like no-one tried to help me. Teachers and my mum didn’t know what to do with me. I had to work out for myself how I learned. It took me a long time but I worked it out.

“When I found out I was autistic it wasn’t a shock it was more of a disappointment that I went that long and went through what I had to go through. By the time I was diagnosed, I had my job, I had my qualifications and I had to suffer to get them.”

Autism doesn’t hold me back

Sophie said autism no longer impacts her life, but it wasn’t always that way.

“It really used to impact my life mentally and socially but now, to be honest with you, I work in the business sector,” Sophie said. “I know how to communicate with people, I know how to shake a hand, I know how to speak and look at them in the eye.

“As a 27-year old woman, my autism doesn’t affect me. But if you’d asked me this at 21, I would have said it affects me in crowds, around strange people, I get impatient in queues. Now I can enjoy myself in a mosh pit, I can speak to people, I can go to house parties and not feel uncomfortable, I can do everything I want now. I used to hate flying but now I can go on an aeroplane with no fuss. I used to be petrified of heights but I have sailed down the Spinnaker Tower just to prove I can do it.”

Having her own business is another way Sophie has proved to herself that she can do anything, and this is a message she wants to share with others.

“I always wanted my own business one day but I never thought it was going to happen. I always believe that you have to believe in yourself and live up to your dream,” Sophie said.

No such word as ‘can’t’

On what advice she’d give her younger self, Sophie said: “Let’s go for 14-year old Sophie, she was quite shy and unconfident. I remember one person said to me once if you carry on working hard you will succeed in life.

“There’s no such word as ‘can’t’, just remember you can be who you want to be. You just have to push a little bit harder than others. It may take you longer but it doesn’t matter, when you see yourself in 10 years time you come to realise that you will not be a failure. Always trust your heart, never go with your head and always believe in yourself.”

And for those who want to go into accounting, she said: “Do your research first, make sure you work with a high accountant that can help and explain things to you and make sure you study and write a year-to-year plan on a target.”

We’re all amazing in our own way

Despite her struggles through college and school, Sophie has made it in her career and is making plans for her growing business.

She said: “Ten years ago I was just a lost girl, I didn’t know what I was doing. I lost it because I always failed but I picked myself back up again.

“Every woman out there, we get a canvas and we need to take that and we need to mould it into something amazing. We are all amazing in our own way, we’ve just got to find what we’re amazing at.”

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