YEARS of being disruptive at school saw Kieran Toner leave with few qualifications and the prospect of an uphill struggle to find a job before he was finally diagnosed with autism.

But the young chef at Gleneagles Hotel will this weekend urge other employers to “take a chance” and hire people with learning disabilities.

The 23-year-old said: “People with learning disabilities have a lot to offer. Gleneagles took a chance on me and look where I am today. Just because someone has a learning disability, doesn’t mean they don’t have a talent.”

Mr Toner, from South Lanarkshire, will share his story with hundreds of guests at Saturday’s annual Enable Scotland Ball at Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

In Scotland, the employment rate for adults with a learning disability is estimated at 5.3 per cent, compared to the overall employment rate of 75.2 per cent.

Last year Enable Scotland’s Ball raised more than £150,000 to help children and adults who have a learning disability.

Mr Toner, a chef at Gleneagles for two years, had a turbulent time at school and throughout his teens. He said: “I was disruptive at school and teachers didn’t know what to do with me. I had additional support in the classroom, but even then, it was hard to focus on my work. Nobody was able to tell my parents why I was getting into trouble, and I didn’t know how to describe what I was feeling.”

In school he received help from Enable Scotland through its Enable Works programme, which supports thousands of Scots employers to welcome people who have a learning disability or other support needs into their workforce.

He added: “Enable helped me to get work experience in a top restaurant in Glasgow and that was my breakthrough into cooking.

“From there I went on to college to study cookery and it was my tutor who recommended me for the job here. I now work with Jonathan Wright, head chef at Strathearn Restaurant. He’s supportive and has taught me a lot about food and why we use certain techniques. I learn something new every day.”

Six months ago, Mr Toner was diagnosed with autism. “When I was diagnosed it felt like for the first time my experiences made sense. The way I was as a youngster and even why I love cooking. It’s all related. I was lucky to have support from Enable Works, even though back then I hadn’t been diagnosed. They stepped in when I really needed it.”

Mr Toner insisted he does not want to be known as the “chef with a learning disability”, but to be judged on his work.

“I love the creativity of cooking, of trying new things and exploring tastes and textures. But I also like the logical side of cooking. When you follow a recipe, there are very precise steps you have to follow. It’s like a roadmap of getting from A to B by using the ingredients in front of you. It’s thrilling. And it’s even better when people genuinely enjoy the food.”

Jonathan Wright, executive sous chef at Gleneagles, said: “Kieran is a rising star and we are lucky to have him on our team. His personality and enthusiasm come across in everything he does, as has an exceptional talent and love of food. We are proud of Kieran and everything he has achieved here.”

Theresa Shearer, CEO of Enable Scotland, said: “Kieran is an inspiration. We want anyone with a learning disability who wants to contribute to the workforce to be afforded the same opportunity”.

The charity has launched a programme with the University of Strathclyde Business School and ScottishPower to break down barriers into education and employment for people with learning disabilities.