Autism: A Journey From Diagnosis to Entrepreneur

Having autism means Adam Bradford favours an ordered approach to learning and doesn’t find social interaction easy. But he attended Dragon’s Den star Peter Jones’ Enterprise Academy and is now a successful entrepreneur and campaigner…

Adam Bradford, 23, lives in London, though he’s originally from Sheffield. He’s one of The Queen’s Young Leaders, writes for the Guardian, campaigns for autism and gambling awareness and runs his own business. 

Adam Bradford - autism -

You were diagnosed with autism aged 11, what were the signs that led to you seeking help?
It was really that I struggled to make friends in school, I was really bright but it was the social skills which the school picked up on. I was referred to a specialist and then after being given an 18-month wait for diagnosis I got diagnosed privately. 

In a Huffington Post article, you say that while you were relieved by the diagnosis, your parents were upset. Can you explain this in more detail?
Sure, I was happy to understand myself more. I felt victimised and isolated at school and is if everyone was treating me differently. I just wanted understanding and to be treated like other people, so I was relieved with the diagnosis though straight away it wasn’t easy.

My dad was mostly confused by it, I don’t think he wanted there to be anything “different” about me and he didn’t know how to take the news at the time. I feel like maybe he felt somehow bad parenting had led to an autism diagnosis, but that isn’t true. 

How was your life affected by autism while at school?
It was horrific. I was physically and verbally bullied by other students because I was focused and studious. Not having as many friends did me no favours and I really felt depressed.

I ended up having to move out of my secondary school to complete my GCSEs but I’ve found since focusing on my career, I’ve been much happier away from such challenging environments. The school I was in was tough and it had a reputation for the bullies there.

Who did you turn to for support?
My parents and family. They were the only ones who backed me up and kept me going through the bad times.

Once diagnosed, did you worry that being autistic might affect future job prospects?
I haven’t really thought about that, I applied my autistic “tunnel vision” and told myself once I moved out of that horrible school I would prove all the bullies wrong.

Has it?
I was right!

In what ways did your autism impact on your education; did you find some methods of teaching easier than others?
I find things easier to understand visually and in steps. Not every person with autism is the same but having some order is helpful.

What did you do after leaving school – education/ work-wise?
I went to college and was one of the first to study at Dragon’s Den star Peter Jones’ Enterprise Academy as an alternative to college. I then went on to set up my own business and used the focus and drive from my autism to push me forwards in that way.

Where do you work now and what’s your job title?
I am working with The National Autistic Society on their campaign to raise public understanding of autism and do a lot of other work through my business to support young people. I speak about my work and my digital consultancy business around the world and in schools and colleges. I’m also launching a magazine soon for autistic people, created by autistic people. And I’m one of Her Majesty The Queen’s Young Leaders.

Autism and the workplace

Are you treated differently at work to your employees?
No, though sometimes I worry about prejudice when new people hear I have autism.

You campaign for better awareness and understanding of autism – what promoted you to start campaigning?
Everyone should take time to understand others. Autism as a condition has a high profile at the moment, autistic people don’t deserve to be stereotyped. Ever.

In an ideal world, how would autism be discussed – and people with autism treated?
They should be empowered to use their unique skills and talents and celebrated as individuals, not looked down on as disabled or in any way less capable than others.

What’s your dream, career-wise?
Exactly what I’m doing now!

And for your personal life?
To continue to inspire others and enjoy doing work which has a social impact on people around me.