Internships through the eyes of an autistic student

Sep 5, 2022 | Diversity, Opinion

Autistic student Joe Earl explains what it’s like to undertake an internship and his experience of recruitment and work.

I’m 20 years old and in the second year of my degree studying politics and international relations, which I’m really enjoying.

Previous experience of work includes volunteering in a library for a month, part time, while studying A Levels. I also volunteered for a mortgage company for a week during that time.

Getting involved

I received an email from the student support team at university, which described the Ambitious About Autism Employ Autism internship programme. They asked what my preferences were as well as which type of sector, organisation or the type of role I’d be interested in. So I thought I might as well apply!

I was a policy intern for eight weeks working for an MP in Bristol. The role involved drafting and sending responses to constituent enquiries which could be about anything and everything!

From requests to fix a bridge in Bristol, to the Israel and Palestine conflict, to fox hunting.

The enquiries ranged from high to low stakes. I found this part of the role quite engaging because it was so varied and wasn’t ever mundane.

I also received lots of really positive feedback from the constituents I had communicated with, which was great. The team also said that my work was really high quality, and they would like me to come back to work with them after my degree.

I also sat in on weekly review meetings with the MP and the staff team. At first, I didn’t contribute, I just listened, but they eased me in over time, and as my confidence grew I was able to contribute to the conversation. There wasn’t really anything I didn’t enjoy about the role.

The recruitment process

The recruitment process for the internship was quite straight forward. I sent my CV directly to the MP’s office. They must have liked it as they went straight to the next step, which was to choose the start date

Due to background and security checks the start was delayed, however I started working early this year, January through to March.

All of the communication was by email, so this helped with anxiety around unpredictable interviews and meetings.

Also meeting too many people at once can be overwhelming. I didn’t meet anyone until my first day at work and I was introduced to my team individually over the first week.

Remote working

I worked fully remotely and so did the whole team. This meant I could take breaks on my own schedule, which is much easier for me. I didn’t feel isolated, the team checked on me every hour or so and I could message them on Teams should I need something immediately.

I often work better in individual in-person environments, so I felt like this approach helped.

At university I find it easier to concentrate in person rather than through online lectures. I also prefer to go to the library especially if there is only one other person, but I don’t think it would be the same for a busy workplace.

Work ready

The internship really has informed me about the field as well as helped my studies.

Writing policy is very succinct and formal, which has definitely influenced my writing style.

Also, talking about the issues with the constituents and the team has been really informative. I feel like I have learnt more about politics from people who actually work in politics.

The internship was a good opportunity to see behind the scenes that I wouldn’t necessarily learn from studies.

I think internships are pretty beneficial for both the employer and employee. Employers gain an enthusiastic intern who wants to learn as it is related to their studies and interests. The autistic employees gain a lot confidence and skills for the future. It’s a win-win for both overall.

Advice to employers

I would advise employers to be as upfront as possible in order to eliminate uncertainty, I think communication is the most important step in making this possible.

Read about Ambitious about Autism’s Employ Autism programme in their blog on advice for employers supporting autistic graduates in the workplace.


Employ Autism

Employ Autism has helped a lot because even if it hasn’t fully informed me on what I want to do it has given me really valuable experience, which I couldn’t have got on my own.

I feel like I have more confidence. I feel like if I can do this, I can do anything!

I really recommend this programme as I wouldn’t have been able to find an opportunity on my own. I wouldn’t have been looking for this opportunity unless someone had told me about it.

Ambitious About Autism ran a session with advice for working with autistic students at this year’s ISE Student Recruitment Conference. Find out more about ISE events.

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