On the occasion of World Autism Acceptance Month, Peter Barron continues the story of a young man with autism who made his mark with a special gift for illustration – and a world-renowned artist who was told he would never find a job
FIVE years ago, the subject of this column was Jonathan Raiseborough, an autistic teenager who didn’t quite fit in, struggled to make friends and faced an uncertain future.
Today, during World Autism Acceptance Month, it is a joy to continue Jonathan’s inspiring story, as a way to break down the barriers that often surround the lives of people with autism.
To recap where we left off in 2017…Jonathan was always different and there were times when he was bullied growing up in Darlington.
It wasn’t until he reached elementary school that he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, eventually giving his family an explanation for the challenges he was facing.
But Jonathan wasn’t just different – he was special. It quickly became clear that he had a gift for art and he developed a childhood ambition to become a children’s book illustrator, like Quentin Blake, the artist who brought Roald Dahl’s books to life.
I first met Jonathan in 2016 when I attended a youth awards night in Darlington and his artistic talents were rightfully recognized. By a happy coincidence, I was looking for an illustrator for a children’s novel I had written, called Snowdrop The Spikeshuffler, about an albino hedgehog who emerges as a hero after being bullied for being different.
A conversation between us led Jonathan to illustrate the book, which was published with the support of the North East Autism Society (NEAS).
Jonathan’s story was later featured on a national television show, titled This Time Next Year, and he became an ambassador for NEAS.
But that was just the beginning. Five years later, Jonathan’s talent has taken him far. The boy who didn’t fit in, found the confidence to go to Teesside University to study for a degree in graphic design and illustration.
Studying during the pandemic gave her the inspiration for her latest big project. Entitled Time Out In Nature, it was an illustrative campaign to encourage young people to visit nature reserves. He made it 2:1 and the graduation ceremony takes place on April 29.
During this time, Jonathan has built an impressive portfolio as a freelance illustrator, including being commissioned to work on a book called My Brother Tom Has Superpowers by Harriet Axbey, a teacher and PhD student at Durham University, who also has autism. .
The story is about an autistic girl who thinks her brother has superpowers because he can read minds, but she discovers that everyone has special abilities.
Jonathan has teamed up with me again for a book called Zizu Loses His Stripes, about a little zebra whose adventure in the jungle demonstrates the power of friendship.
The book was commissioned by Teesside businessman Maaz Rahman and his partner Nicci Knight, who run Zizu Nursery and Learning Center in Middlesbrough town centre.
The book will be published in June, and sales will help support the Zizu Foundation, which is dedicated to helping fund early childhood education for children who might not otherwise have this opportunity.
To top it off, Jonathan has now started a full-time apprenticeship as a digital marketing manager, working for Zizu’s daycare and learning center as well as a digital transformation agency, Dynamo Kings, also run by Maaz. Rahman.
“I never thought so much could happen,” says Jonathan. “There can’t be many people who, before they’ve even graduated, have already published two books, with another on the way.”
“The North East Autism Society was where it all really started. They gave me the confidence to go to college and realize that I could achieve my dream of being a professional illustrator, and I can’t thank them enough for making it possible.
“And finding employment with lovely people like Maaz and Nicci, who are so supportive and flexible in also allowing me to pursue my freelance work, is amazing.”
Maaz says Jonathan was offered the job because of his “meticulous eye for detail and creative spark”.
“There is so much talent in the world, but because of the society we live in, a lot goes unnoticed because people are different or neurodiverse.
“Jonathan is a perfect example of someone who deserves an opportunity just like anyone else, and we are absolutely thrilled to have him on our team,” he added.
So, Jonathan has this message for Autism Acceptance Month: “Employers need to better understand autism and make work more accessible. People with autism have different skills and abilities, and they should be supported to do what they want to do – and know that they are valued and supported.
JONATHAN was one of the guests on Friday when world-renowned artist Mackenzie Thorpe officially opened a school named in his honor.
Middlesbrough-born Mackenzie was in South Bank to open the Mackenzie Thorpe Centre, run by the North East Autism Society.
Mackenzie is proud to be a Patron of the Society and to mark the occasion he unveiled a dramatic and poignant work of art, specially produced for the charity, called Welcome To My World.
In a moving speech, he recounted how, while at school and held back by dyslexia, he was told he was “fat” and would never get a job because everything he knew how to do was to draw.
“I could only do one thing but I could do it better than anyone, so I drew and I drew and I drew, and now I travel to America, Japan, and all kinds of places. other places because I can draw,” he said.
“You don’t have to do everything, you just have to do one thing, do it well, and never let anyone tell you that you can’t be what you want to be.”
The man must be cherished.
- The North East Autism Society has a dedicated department called Employment Futures, which focuses on removing barriers to meaningful employment for people with autism and those with learning disabilities. Learn more about: www.ne-as.org.uk/employment-futures-home
FINALLY, a personal thank you to Redcar Racecourse for naming the Monday 3.50pm race The Happy Big Birthday Peter Barron Novice Stakes in recognition of my 60th birthday.
I had no idea this was happening, but by far the biggest surprise was that racing wasn’t just for old gray geldings carrying a little overweight.