Our CIT Interview with Jonathan Andrews

Our CIT Interview with Jonathan Andrews

Jonathan Disability Confident 1

Jonathan Andrews is a young and inspiring individual who devotes his time and efforts to raising the awareness of autism in the workplace. Jonathan admits he has a lot of exciting things going on as he is currently working with the government’s Disability Confident campaign, he has featured on London Live and has also written for the FT and the BBC. Jonathan’s strong work ethic on autism awareness has been recognised as has been nominated for the Positive Role Model at the National Diversity Awards 2016.

Once a month, Jonathan sits on the Westminster Commissions Board on Autism in the House of Commons along with a cross-party group of MPs and experts on Autism, who together focus on the problems that autistic people face day to day, sharing their personal experiences within healthcare and their careers. The Westminster Commission on Autism aim to gather enough information to produce a report that will highlight these issues and offer recommendations so the government can act on it immediately.

In light of the upcoming Autism Awareness Day 2nd of April, Jonathan shared his experiences with autism at school and in the workplace, highlighting the importance of diversity and inclusion including tips for corporate employers to attract people with autism.

We read recently an article on the new about a child being kicked out of school because of his autism, would you like to comment?

Yes I did hear about this and it was shocking. In general, schools and teachers will not receive training on autism because it is not seen as compulsory so there is no real understanding of what autism is. There are only negative stereotypes people associate with autism in children. For example they seen as naughty or disruptive but the reality is that children can be the opposite.

Some children can engage socially others can be very quiet, whilst other children can have other issues. What is normal for one person may not be normal for someone else, so it may set a child off but this is because they can’t cope like their peers can which makes them very misunderstood – they don’t mean to be disruptive.

From a personal experience, I did quite well academically at school, I was just not doing well socially. Generally, schools are only interested in getting their grades up, so my autism wasn’t necessarily seen as an issue – which is why I am so eager to raise awareness of the different ways autism can present itself. There’s a gender divide too –  girls tend to disguise their autistic traits, and many don’t think girls can have autism, so it’s harder I think if you’re a girl to be diagnosed.

What advantages can autistic people, and people with disabilities, bring to tech?

Of course everybody is different but there are certain traits that people with autism tend to have such as great attention to detail which is really important in tech. Autistic people tend to be highly motivated and maintain an interest in their work.

Punctuality is also an advantage, and the ability to think differently than everybody else by having visional thoughts helps in the diversity of decision making. In terms of disabilities in general, if you are diagnosed at a young age with a disability, you learn to manage and overcome your issues overtime, giving you the ability to problem solve and cope with things easily.

Most importantly autistic people are tremendously committed to the organisation they work for. I learned this from my own experience at Reed Smith, I have a positive connection with the law firm as they have been very supportive of me – for instance, as well as sponsoring me through law school they allowed their CSR manager to accompany me to a recent award ceremony in Telford, paid for my expenses, and also share my work internally at every opportunity. This makes me want to work there so much more!

Why Diversity is important in the workplace?

It is very good business to be diverse and there is research and evidence to prove this, it is not just my opinion. So there are many reasons but firstly it’s the right thing to hire people from different backgrounds for their unique talents. I personally wouldn’t want to work for an employer who excludes people.

Diversity tends to bring different points of view into decision making.

“Men, women, race, different sexualities or disabilities or social classes together all bring diversity of thought and experience into decision making”

Particularly in business where you are exploring a wide market range, you need people who are able to understand that market. If you are a company who tends to employ people of a particular gender, race sexuality, you will only instinctively understand that group of people and you will miss out.

 “It is very good to be diverse, it’s not just a good thing to do it, it’s a SMART thing to do”

Where can companies go to find talented employees with autism? What resources are available?

There are a handful of places that work to place people with autism and very often in technology like SAP, Microsoft and Specialisterne. The NAS (National Autistic Society) run an employment service called Prospects that will help people find jobs as well as A.S mentoring, which is great because they do interview stage mentoring as well as finding out more about autistic people’s career aspirations and assisting them.

These are great services for people to who have autism and want to get into a company for their choice because they work with companies who are tailored to placing people with autism in these roles.

Certainly for law corporate firms, they will often run open days for people with all kinds of disabilities in London which is great to meet on a personal level.

Corporate organisations should mention that they are open to employing people with autism or disabilities during their open days, graduate brochures and adverts so potential candidates feel comfortable to disclose some adjustments that they may need on the job application forms. This will have people applying to corporates who have these positive initiatives as well as using services like Specialisterne or AS mentoring services to find a job.

Looking ahead, how does the future look for autistic people in terms of employment and progression?

It is positive and things are getting better, more and more organisations are open to employing people with autism because they have seen the benefits of what their talent brings to the company and their bottom-line. Additionally, as the world of technology expands more jobs will be created.

A few years ago a survey found 15 % of autistic people were in full-time work, which is of course not many but thankfully there is an upcoming survey which should state that there are now approximately 30% autistic people within employment in the UK. These efforts have made an impact on and hopefully this will continue.

Also with younger people being diagnosed frequently in comparison to the older generation, they will have learned to understand themselves earlier on and what their strengths are so I think you will see more with autism people apply for jobs than you would have in the past. Additionally, as the younger people who work in creative industries, professional services and law move up in their career, they will be more open to hiring people with disabilities so it’s only going to get better so watch this space.

Jonathan Andrews is a future trainee solicitor at leading law firm Reed Smith and sits on the UK Parliament’s Westminster Commission for Autism. He is chairman of Ambitious about Autism’s Youth Council and vice-chair of Commonwealth Secretary-General Baroness Scotland’s Elimination of Domestic Violence Youth Council; he recently won the National Autistic Society Professionals Award for ‘Outstanding achievement by an individual on the autism spectrum’ and was shortlisted for the National Diversity Awards 2015. He’s also a prizewinning poet“.

Photo Credit: Disability Confident

Jonathan Andrews has been nominated for the Positive Role Model Award – Age Category at the National Diversity Awards 2016. Click here to vote for him!

As mentioned in the article, The Westminster Commission on Autism is conducting an inquiry into access to quality healthcare for people on the autism spectrum and we need your input.  This report will make recommendations to the Government to improve healthcare for people with autism.

  • Are you on the autism spectrum?
  • Are you a health professional?
  • Are you a parent/carer for someone on the autism spectrum?
  • Do you represent a charity or third sector organisation who work with people on the autism spectrum?
  • Are you a professional in the field of autism?
  • Are you an academic in the field of autism?

Please tell us what would help you and your family!

If so, PLEASE send a written submission to the Westminster Commission on Autism.  We need to hear from those who have stories, opinions, suggestions and ideas to help improve access to healthcare for people on the autism spectrum. Click here for the Westminster Commission on Autism link

Find out more about the Disability Confident campaign


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