Why You Should Hire Someone On The Spectrum

As I have said before, it is a common misconception that Autism is a childhood disorder.  But, if you are born with autism, is it here to stay.  One may learn to “mask”, for better or worse, and blend in, but one will always be autistic.  There is no cure.  This is probably not what a lot of parents of newly diagnosed children want to hear.  They want a cure and they want it now!  So, let’s look at some of the very positive sides of autism, and why hiring someone on the spectrum can be a great addition to your team.

  • Attention to detail.  People on the spectrum are thorough in their work and very accurate.  They can see the tiny details that others on the team may miss.
  • Deep Focus.  When I am into a project that interests me, their is no stopping me. My husband says I become “monomaniacal”.  My abilities to focus and concentrate deeply are intense.  When I am really into a project I am unable to be distracted from it.  Literally, a bomb could go off in the next room and I would hardly flinch.
  • Observational Skills.  Autistic children and adults do best with a listen, look, learn approach.  Let them explore with all of their senses and then turn them loose.  They are never happier then when they are observing and digging up new and interesting facts.
  • The ability to retain and absorb facts.  Most persons on the spectrum have excellent long term memories and superior recall.  Small children may recount for you, verbatim, an event that happened five years ago.  This will stand them in good stead when they enter the work force, as they rarely miss a trick.
  • Visual Skills.  Autistics are fantastic at visual learning and, once again, have great recall.  They are incredibly detail focused.  This ties back into my earlier point about attention to detail.  This is the kind of computer programmer you want analyzing your code for bugs.
  • Experts in their area.  Autistics have incredible in-depth knowledge of the things that interest them.  They also have a high level of skills in this area.  Sometimes these things are just for fun, such as when I became fascinated with the six wives of Henry the 8th, as a child.  I could talk for hours about the Tudor family.  Did this do me much good in the working world?  No, but I learned to turn my laser sharp focus on to the things I needed to be successful in my career.
  • Methodical Approach.  Autistics are often very analytical and excellent at spotting patterns and repetitions.  This is useful for computer programmers, musicians, and mathematicians.
  • Novel Approaches.  Autistics have unique thought processes.  They see the world through a different lens.  Think of Temple Grandin pretending she was a cow and looking through the eyes of a cow in her job dealing with the meat packing industry.  She looked a the world the way a cow would and thus revolutionized humane animal treatment.  Her ideas were innovative and they worked.  She, like many others on the spectrum knows how to think outside the box. Come to think of it, I am not certain that autistics know how think wiithin the box!  It may be startling to a boss to see their employee take what seems a totally random approach to a problem, but wait and see what the solution is.  It may be something ground breaking.
  • Creativity.  Autistics have vivid imaginations and unique ways of expressing their ideas.  Once, again, I refer you to Temple Grandin thinking as a cow.
  • Tenacity and Resilience.  I often imagine myself as a bull dog when I get into a project.  I latch onto an idea and work it out, often with a lot of blood, sweat and tears, until I get to a good solution.  As Robert says, I am monomaniacal.  The part of this trait that may be startling to bosses it their employee may challenge long standing opinions or beliefs.  It is the job of the person on the spectrum to learn enough tact to present a new idea with diplomacy, rather than telling his/her boss that the way the company has been doing things for the last 10 years is stupid!
  • Accepting of differences.  Autistics are much less likely to judge others.  By and large, we do not judge others, we just want to keep our heads down and do our work.  On the other hand, this does not mean that we won’t question norms!
  • Integrity. If you hire a person on the spectrum, they will give you their all.  They are honest, loyal and will be a committed part of you team.

This blog came to me in the middle of the night during a violent thunderstorm.  I had one dog under the bed, whimpering, and another tucked under my arm, shaking.  Obviously, sleep was not going to happen.  So, I started thinking about all the positive things that can come to an employer if they would take chance on that interviewee who seems to march to the beat of the their own calliope. They may not have had the most polished interview, but why don’t you give them a task to do and watch them go to work?  I promise you, you will not be disappointed.



Special Olympics, a new season

Last weekend was the area track meet for Team Magic, Boo Bear’s Special Olympics team.  Despite a brief rainfall which disgusted all the athletes, we had a bright, sunny day to enjoy ourselves on the track.  Boo Bear competed in three different walking events, the 25 meter walk, the 100 meter walk, and the 400 meter walk.  He came in second, third, and first place respectively.  The ribbons and the fuss over him were not what made me so happy about our day on the track.  Unlike last year, Boo really seemed to enjoy himself.  He was not nearly as anxious or overwhelmed by the crowds and the noise.  He seemed delighted just to have a day to hang out with his mom and A. He also did a good job staying in his lane, which was a bit of a challenge last year.  We are looking forward to our state meet which is the third weekend of June.  Boo will celebrate his 17th birthday by being an Olympian.

On another note, Boo Bear is now 14 weeks seizure free.  I hope I am not jinxing anything but putting this in black and white, but it is definitely cause for celebration.  Autism does not scare me, but epilepsy certainly does!

If anyone local has some spare time the third weekend in June ,please come down to the University of St. Thomas where the state meet is being held.  There will be runners on the track, swimmers in the pool, basketball players on the courts and gymnasts in the gym.  These athletes work their hearts out for a smile and a high five.  Please come cheer them on.  See you at the track!

Eat, Sleep, Grow

It’s been a pretty quiet few weeks for Mr. Boo.  He had a great time at the Autism Amped conference and hung out with a bunch of his sorority sisters.  His sibling and her friends ran rampant with the sensory activities and had a great time.  Mostly these days, though, he is focused on growing.  I put him to bed at night and swear that he grew 3 inches over night.  A and I measured him yesterday. Though he was a bit wiggly, we are sure that he is at least 5 foot 8.  In short, he towers over me and now comes up to Robert’s nose.  His feet grew two whole sizes in less than one month.

So, what does this mean?  It means he is spending a lot of time sleeping and eating.   Growing this fast is hard work.  He sleeps hard at night and it is difficult to get him up for his beloved bus in the morning.  We are both looking forward to summer break so I can just let him sleep in.  When he is not sleeping he is raiding the refrigerator.  Cheese seems to be his favorite good at the moment and he eats it by the fistful.  When he is not eating and sleeping he enjoys going to school, track practice, going on adventures with his PCAs, and generally hanging out.  His area track meet for Special Olympics is this Sunday.  He is competing in the 25 meter, 100 meter and 400 meter walk.  We are still working on keeping him in his own lane, as he tends to wander. He, A, and I have a hot date on Thursday at the local track where we will just work on staying in one lane.  More updates after the meet.  Stay ausome!

A Random List of Things

I am the first to admit that I am a luddite and was very late in appearing on the Twitter scene.  Once I arrived I discovered it was a treasure trove of bits of wisdom from people on the spectrum.  What a find!  I found things that made me laugh, made me cry, and just made me shake my head.  In no particular order, here are some of the gems I uncovered.  I cannot give credit where credit is due, but thank you to all you wonderful autistic folks on Twitter.

10 Things Autism Is Not:

  • Autism is not being socially awkward.
  • Autism is not avoiding eye contact.
  • Autism is not lacking empathy.
  • Autistic people do not lack imagination.
  • Autism is not black and white thinking.
  • Autism is not a learning disability.
  • Autistic people are incapable of lying.
  • Autistic people are not polite.
  • Autistic people are good at math.
  • Autistic people do not grow up.

Another point I would like to add is that having a child on the spectrum is not a sure fire way to ruin your marriage.  Autism Speaks floated this idea years ago as a scare tactic.  They claimed, with no facts to back it up, that 80 % of couples who had a child on the spectrum would divorce.  There is no basis for this claim.  Autism Speaks just likes to scare people into thinking that they are the only savior of Autism and salvation only comes via a cure.  I assure you that most autistic adults do not want to be neurotypical or “cured”, and the divorce rate among married couples with an autistic child is about 50 %, much as it is in the rest of the U. S. population.

I want to talk a little bit about masking.  Masking is when autistic folk pretend to be neurotypical.  It is hard work and comes at great cost, but most of us feel compelled to do it, just to be accepted by the rest of the world.  I found this marvelous quote on masking.  Sadly, it was anonymous, so I cannot give proper credit.  “Masking is pretending to be neurotypical. We all do it, spectrum or not.  It’s how we fit in, assimilate.  We act differently at work, at home, with friends, spouse, lover, etc. Folks on the spectrum wear the mask like armor, so you won’t be scared of us.  You don’t know I am autistic, so you expect more of me. But, I see your sideline glances, hear your Rain Man jokes.  But, even though I try really hard to be like you and blend in, there are somethings I cannot do.” The author continues in this vein for a while and then closes with a powerful statement. ”  Sometimes, though I push myself so hard that I get to a point where I can’t mask any longer, and I am not home yet so you will see: My behavior will change.  You may think I am clumsy or rude, aggressive, awkward or weird.  In a child this looks like a tantrum. In an adult it looks like a sudden shutdown without a reason.  Later, after this, I feel angry because I chose to do what you wanted of me over my own self care.  There is nothing wrong with me, nor any real reason I should change myself to conform with your standards of normality.  It’s a burden I carry for you and I wish I wouldn’t do it.”

Okay, so masking it hard.  Sometimes, being on the spectrum is hard. So, what are the positives? Glad you asked! Presenting, Autism: the positives.

Attention to detail: Thoroughness, accuracy.

Deep Focus: Concentrations, freedom from distractions.

Observational Skills: Listen, look, learn approach.  Fact finding.

Absorb or retain facts: Excellent long term memory. Superior recall.

Visual Skills: Visual learning and recall. Detail focused.

Expert: In depth knowledge, High level of skills.

Methodical Approach: Analytical, spotting patterns and repetitions.

Novel Approaches: Unique thought process. Innovative solutions.

Creativity: Distinct imagination. Expression of ideas.

Tenacity and Resilience: Determination. Challenge opinions.

Accepting of Differences: Less likely to judge others.  May question norms.

Integrity: Honesty. Loyalty, Commitment.

I will close with one last quote that I am extremely fond of, and it involves cupcakes!

“Imagine is Autism was described like types of cupcake.  You have some with icing, some with sprinkles, some chocolate, some vanilla, but they are all cupcakes.  ‘But how cupcake is it?’  ‘What?’  ‘Like, is it a little bit cupcake or severely cupcake?’  ‘It…it doesn’t work like that.”

Autism is like cupcakes.  You are either autistic or you are not autistic.  You can’t be just a little or a lot autistic.  Autism is your neurology.  You may have greater or lesser needs for support, but at the end of the day you are still autistic.  But, that is a rant for another day.  Closing in the words of my dear friend, Alissa, “Be good humans.”







Special Olympics and Autism Advocacy

Last night was a great opportunity to talk about two of my passions, Special Olympics and Autism Advocacy.  I was running a table at a resource fair for parents of kids with special needs.  I was representing Boo’s team, the St. Paul Magic.  It was three hours that went by in a flash.  I talked to so many parents that were amazed that something like Special Olympics existed and that their son or daughter was more than welcome to join the team.  Let me explain a bit.  As soon as your child is diagnosed with autism, or just about anything else, the naysayers, the doctors, the well meaning friends and family will immediately jump in to tell you all the things that your child will never be able to do.  To say the least, it is very depressing.  A mom was telling me about this last night.  I asked if these people in her life had crystal balls.  She looked surprised and said, “No”.  “Right”, I responded,” And neither do I.”  Only time, patience and work will be able to tell us what your child is capable of.  Your doctor did not receive a crystal ball when he got his MD.”  She thought about that for a moment and smiled. I continued, ” I am here to tell you what your child can do.  Your child is welcome to join our team, in whatever capacity he is able, and he will be loved and accepted.  Please, join us!” I gave her our schedule, our business card and a list of the sports we play and she departed, smiling.  I had multiple, similar interactions throughout the night.  It was such a blessing to be able to say to parents, “Yes, your child can do this. Please come!”

Parenting a child with autism can be a lonely road.  Your child probably cannot join in the things his typically aged peers can do.  People look at him oddly when he stims in public, or goes mute when you look at him.  Parents go without self care, dates, vacations, etc. for years.  We just keep putting one foot in front of the other and go on.  But,  when the rewards come, they are so rich. Your child reaches a new milestone, says or signs a new word, goes for a month without a seizure, the list is endless.  These are the fleeting moments that make everything okay.  We live for these moments.  Special Olympics helps provide these moments.  Special Olympics lets you see your child stand on a podium after a track meet, medal around his neck, when his PT, OT, whoever, said he would never be able to walk.  Special Olympics brings lonely parents together, united as a single force.  If your child is 8 years or older and has a disability, they are welcome at Special Olympics.  If you have a neurotypical child who would like to participate, they can become a Unified partner.  This is available to parents and guardians as well.  I am a Unified partner and this lets me be with Boo Bear when he competes in track and field. Alissa is his Unified  partner when he competes in bowling.

I have said it before and I will say it again, no one has a crystal ball.  You are under no obligation to listen to the naysayers.  You don’t have to let you them have access to your child or teen.  I know who believes in Boo Bear and who does not.  I am very choosy about who I let come in contact with him.  He has a wonderful support team and Special Olympics is part of this.  If you would like your child or teen to be involved in this wonderful organization, please shoot me an email or DM and I will help you get started. Peace and blessings. Harriet