Trailblazer Seeks Job Opportunities for People of All Abilities
Autism Warrior: Jonathan Andrews
Trainee Solicitor, Reed Smith, and Board Member, Ambitious about Autism
In Jonathan’s main role, he’s a trainee solicitor at international law firm Reed Smith, the market leader in disability inclusion among City of London law firms. After overhauling its recruitment process to become more accessible, Reed Smith has hired more than 10 disabled people on legal training contracts since 2014, two of whom are autistic, and many more in support roles like accounting, travel, catering, etc.
Jonathan sits on the disability task force, driving forward their aim for fair access to professions for people with autism. He’s also a professional ambassador for social mobility organization Aspiring Solicitors and works with charity Pure Potential. In both roles, he provides advice and assistance to people from non-traditional backgrounds, including autistic people, on how to gain entry to such a competitive industry.
Jonathan is also a board member at Ambitious about Autism, the UK’s national charity for children and young people with autism. He leads the charity’s employment initiatives, bridging the gap between education and work by providing job opportunities to autistic students—vital given the UK’s autism employment rate is just 16%. This includes Employ Autism, a campaign to demonstrate to employers the benefits of employing autistic people and the problem-solving skills, drive, enthusiasm, and attention to detail many can bring.
It’s engaged leading international companies and inspired many to offer internships and overhaul recruitment processes to become more inclusive. The charity also co-founded the Autism Exchange alongside the Civil Service, a program offering paid quality work experience to young people with autism across public, private and third sector organizations, and autism awareness training for companies. Both initiatives have been highly successful, with the number of firms involved growing year-on-year, and several internships becoming permanent positions once firms realize how good their interns are.
LOCATION: United Kingdom
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: As an advocate for autism employment internationally, Jonathan has succeeded in helping people across the world to better understand autism. This has included coordinating the Commonwealth’s ‘I Am Able’ campaign, for which he created a ground-breaking toolkit on how people with autism are treated across the Commonwealth. This has since been translated into several languages and shared with community groups and schools across countries as far as Sri Lanka, ensuring that it’s not just those lucky enough to be born in a select few countries who can obtain assistance.
Jonathan has achieved awards including ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ at the World Autism Awards 2017, ‘Campaigner of the Year’ at the European Diversity Awards 2016, a pan-Commonwealth Queens Young Leader in 2017, first European shortlisted for the Commonwealth Youth Awards and was recognized for responsible business initiatives at the House of Lords in 2016, with a British Citizens’ Award. Jonathan said he doesn’t mention these awards out of self-importance, rather because as someone on the autistic spectrum, he hopes he has been able to show people should be treated as individuals, rather than their strengths or difficulties being overlooked or stereotyped. He believes people should be given the chance to succeed on their merit.
INSPIRATION: Jonathan said his inspiration stems from seeing the positive difference people can make when they put their minds to things, and those who may be assumed not to be able to achieve—both those from different social backgrounds and people with autism—proving these assumptions wrong.
“Too often I find there is an assumption that autistic people are simply unable to achieve, or only ever skilled in one area, like IT; these are, of course, the case for some but for many, the reality is more nuanced, with the way society treats them creating added difficulties and barriers, but with people able to bring real skill and passion to wherever their skills lie (and this can be varied – a UK study found most respondents on the autistic spectrum preferred the creative industries).”
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GOALS: Jonathan said he wants people with autism to have the same access to whatever field they want to work in, or path they want to take in life, as anyone else—just like anyone from any background or identity should if they have the skill. Ambitious about Autism and businesses like Reed Smith have made great strides in this area, and he aims to be at the forefront as they further the opportunities on offer.
Jonathan said he aims to qualify as a solicitor in the years ahead and to continue to lead by example in demonstrating the opportunities available when employers give people with autism a chance and hire on merit.
“And I want to ensure all members of the autism community, whatever their backgrounds or challenges, feel included. At Reed Smith and as a board member of Stonewall I’ve already begun ensuring autism acceptance spreads not just to autism-focused charities and non-profits, but to mainstream businesses and charities representing other groups. Ultimately, people with multiple identities should feel just as much a part of the community as anyone else,” he said.
ADVICE FOR FAMILIES AFFECTED BY AUTISM: “As I am not a parent, I’ll share two points others have noted. My parents were often confronted with people trying to comfort them after diagnosis, viewing the diagnosis itself as a negative thing,” he said. But a diagnosis doesn’t make someone autistic, Jonathan added. “Like my mum says, it’s not the same as breaking your leg—a person is autistic from birth. It provides greater awareness of who the person is, can open doors to necessary support, and can help others better understand the person. While the fear of ‘labeling’ a child is a real one, and one I sympathize with, every child is labeled—and without an explanation like autism, often the label given by others will be more harsh,” he said.
“A solicitor colleague has also noted that often, parents grieve at diagnosis as they feel they have lost a child—a completely understandable reaction, and one I wholly sympathize with. Yet, as she notes, that hypothetical child never existed—and being autistic doesn’t make that child any less whole, or any less worthy of love and support,” Jonathan said.
“I’d also say one thing as an autistic person who experienced parenting from the other side. My parents were up-front about my diagnosis and told me early that I was autistic; this allowed me to better understand what this meant, and to understand how my own brain worked. It didn’t harm me to know this, and in many ways, it helped as it meant autism was something I’d become comfortable with by the time I became a teenager and then adult—rather than something I didn’t associate with myself, and then had to come to terms with at an older age. I know countless others who’ve said the same—and that being encouraged to accept their differences helped them better understand themselves.
Website: Autism Exchange https://www.ambitiousaboutautism.org.uk/autism-exchange-programme
This article was featured in Issue 75 – Helping Your Child with Autism Thrive