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Jobs For The Autistic

They’re growing up.  They need work.  A life.  Maybe work the rest of us might fail at.

Specialisterne Consultants at work. (Specialisterne)

Specialisterne Consultants at work. (Specialisterne)

More and more Americans are being diagnosed with autism. One in 88 American children is the latest figure.  It’s been called a tsunami.

They will grow up and they will have lives to lead. But what kind of lives? And what about work?

A new push is on to recognize and apply the special talents, special character, of people with autism in the workplace. To structure jobs that autistic minds and temperaments may be especially good at. To find the workplace upside in autism.

This hour, On Point: the autism advantage, at work.

-Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Gareth Cook, a columnist for the Boston Globe, his article in the Sunday New York Times is The Autism Advantage.

Thorkil Sonne, CEO and Founder of Specialisterne, which employs 35 people with autism as consultants to 19 companies in Denmark.

Randy Lewis, senior vice president of distribution and logistics, Walgreens.

Leslie Long, director of Adult Services for Autism Speaks.

From Tom’s Reading List

New York Times “When Thorkil Sonne and his wife, Annette, learned that their 3-year-old son, Lars, had autism, they did what any parent who has faith in reason and research would do: They started reading. At first they were relieved that so much was written on the topic. “Then came sadness,” Annette says. Lars would have difficulty navigating the social world, they learned, and might never be completely independent. The bleak accounts of autistic adults who had to rely on their parents made them fear the future.”

NBC News “Nationwide, only 35 percent of working-age Americans with disabilities had full- or part-time jobs in 2004, according to a survey by the National Organization on Disability. People without disabilities had an employment rate of 78 percent; in Anderson County, it is closer to 90 percent, according to county economic development figures.”

Washington Post “‘Next year, I turn 18 and I am in your [district],’ Fleischmann said to the senior senator during an October gathering hosted by the Nantucket Project, ‘How do I, someone with autism, pick the candidate that is right for me when a lot of the candidates don’t keep their word?’”

Nantucket Project Panel discussion on autism, moderated by Tom.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Shag_Wevera

    And the most important question for patriotic Americans;  maybe they’ll work cheap!!!

    • Ellen Dibble

      What I’m reading in the article by Gareth Cook is that the Danish government subsidizes this, both for those who screen and train these workers, and by making sure the employees get a full-time salary for part-time work.  In putting down some roots in the US, the project is projected to break even in three years (“And while two Delawalrel charitable foundations have pledged $800,000 to Specialisterne, Sonne estimates that it will take $1.36 million, and three years, for the business to become self-sustaining), but I’m thinking the idea might be that Microsoft, for instance, would get some kind of tax break.  “Specialisterne is also talking with Microsoft about setting up a pilot program in Fargo, ND, where it has a large software-development operation.”  Putting the stockholders first, I suppose.

      “”in Denmark, the government helps cover some of the additional expense of managing autistic workers, and it pays Specialisterne so it can give its employees full-time salaries even though they only work part time.”  (Between $20 and $30 an hour, the article continues, so it isn’t clear if these people are paid by the hour, or by some other way.)

      • 1Brett1

        During the long transition needed to truly get the corporate world to buy into the idea that hiring a “disabled” person can be a genuine asset to the company because he/she can bring certain advantageous, unique qualities to the environment, tax incentives will need to be (and some already are) in place. It’s a bit of a PR campaign, though (from personal-professional experience) to get a given employer to see the benefits on the front end regarding hiring a person with a “disability.” There are many “fear-of-the-unknown” factors that can spook a potential employer.

        Also, “non-disabled” workers need some training and understanding. And, they need some perspective change/enhancement to peacefully coexist, in many cases. 

        Paying a “disabled” person full time wages for part time work if the “non-disabled” person is getting part time pay for part time work, might be counterproductive to a well-functioning company workforce.  

  • kmh5004

    Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and i think there are plently of good jobs which autistic individuals would be well suited for.  I think a lot of people who might consider this exploitation need to consider the pride and life satisfaction that comes with earning for oneself

  • viacarrozza

    In response to the previous comment: High functioning forms of autism (like Asperger Disorder) are noted for their astonishingly specialized abilities that often pay handsomely!  

  • 1Brett1

    Generally, in the US, whether its in publicly or privately- funded human services, or in for-profit business/the corporate world, the view of people with disabilities is from a deficit/need/weakness perspective rather than from a surplus/desired gifts/strengths perspective. It’s a problem-oriented paradigm. That has to substantially change for the work world to buy into the idea that hiring someone with a disability can be a huge asset to any work environment.

    Also, it is common practice for employers of people with known, documentable disabilities to pay them at a reduced rate by utilizing what are known as time-motion studies, which have been around for nearly a century. Originally, those types of studies were designed to measure productivity/efficiency. Now, with respect to the employment of people with so-called disabilities, they are used to determine at what rate a given company can legally get away with paying a person with a known, documented disability.

    An industry standard of a pay rate is established; top-performing non-disabled workers are sampled-tested (usually for very brief periods) to determine the “proper” 100% efficiency rate, then the “disabled” worker is tested for longer intervals and on several occasions to determine his or her efficiency/productivity. So, if the non-disabled industry standard is $20 an hour, and a “disabled” person is measured at 75% of that standard, he/she is paid $15 an hour…This has to change, as well, because non-disabled workers are not held to such standards. 

    Then there’s the corporate use of “piece rates” which is another can of worms…and it’s detrimental for both disabled and non-disabled workers.  

    • AspieDad

      Huh? Time Motion Studies?! Would Einstein pass these? And who cares? I see what you are saying, but it seems that you are focused on someone bagging groceries or doing piece work on a factory floor.

      What I like about the program is how it is highlighting those functions where an incredibly bright, think-outside-the-box, problem solver is given a very non-routine, or if routine, a high priority goal, which most Neuro-Typicals cannot (or will not) do.

      • 1Brett1

        I liked the outside-the-box thinking about the show, as well…

        No, I wasn’t referring to things like “bagging groceries,” which time studies wouldn’t be used in a job like that, anyway. I also wasn’t referring to “piece rates;” in fact, I made a distinction by saying anyone doing piece rate work can be subjected to piece-rate pay, and it doesn’t matter to a factory paying in that way whether a person has a disability or not (that that corporate approach is bad for all people). Time motion studies are a distinctly separate thing from piece-rate work, and a lot of companies use “time studies,” especially those where production is an integral component to their bottom line.

        At any rate, my overarching point is that there is a potential for employers to take advantage of employees, something I hope can be addressed openly in any discussion about seeing people with disabilities as valuable in the workplace. That someone who is considered different than “neuro-typicals” (to borrow your phrase) is not only considered an asset to a company, but is well compensated and not taken advantage of.

        I was a case manager for over 30 years in a county government agency and worked very hard to find placement for people, placement that was outside the box, that wasn’t jobs such as “bagging groceries,” that tried to provide all of the necessary supports for the individual, as well as the employer…I did find that there was, unfortunately, a certain tendency for employers to attempt taking advantage of people in many cases. I just hope that changes, and I hope there can be some honest examination about the more unsavory aspects of the proposition to bring genuinely meaningful, fulfilling employment to people considered different.

        While there are a lot of positive changes happening re: society’s view of people in the autism spectrum, we are not in a place yet as a society (and particularly in a sluggish economy) where it’s all raspberry scones and Devonshire clotted cream. 

        If, in the interview process, a prospective hire has the discussion with the prospective employer about any kinds of special skills/unique qualities and “autism spectrum” comes up, accommodations of some sort may need to be discussed on some level. This brings with it all sorts of issues that involve more than simply envisioning an ideal where it is a tacit assumption that a person with autism will only bring benefits to the situation and the employer will only reward and value all that is that individual. 

        While these considerations may not be something you or your child care  (who cares?) about, they are real considerations, and many employers DO care about them.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/QMDZ3LH5U2B4GAT7J2HS4TCP6E Jim

    i remember there was a kid interviewed in 60 minutes who has Autism was going to graduate from Purdue University at 13. it is quite amazing and yet this is considered an illness.

    • recyclingOT

      not an illness, a challenge….

  • Talisker23

    I’m convinced that with enough time, we all will be diagnosed as having some type of issue.

    I’ve worked with both autistic and asperger kids. Sure, they have their quirks but we all do.

    • recyclingOT

      I find this attitude disconcerting. We are all individuals with a range of abilities and challenges. It is heartbreaking to watch a child try to make friends but other children avoid him because he can’t understand social cues, is overwhelmed by a sensory processing disorder and impulsivity prevents engaging in typical games and activities. Parents want support and services so that their children can grow up succeedeing in school and having   a friend or 2. My son is a college student and after a long struggle finally doing well, but i still worry that he will be all alone in this world when we pass on. Please don’t minimize the disbility and challenges loved ones face.

      • Doubting_Thomas12

        One thing I will say- it may have been harder to make friends, but all the “popular” kids knew me as just a nice kid with issues, and left me alone. After grade school, never bullied once, and even got advice/help dealing with things a few times.

    • AspieDad

      Have to agree with recyclingOT — your work must have been intermittent and superficial, or you were not really working with individuals too severely challenged by AS. While many may be able to function pretty well on some levels, there are also many moments when the world crashes around them, or they totally misread a situation and end up in a horrible place b/c of their inability to navigate NeuroTypical behavior or environments. Quirks is way too muld an adjective for the majority of people dealing with AS…

      • Talisker23

        I’ve worked with many, many kids. Truthfully, perhaps they were higher functioning. But, I have to say that there are few teens, and even adults for that matter who never, “totally misread a situation and end up in a horrible place” and there are few who don’t do it frequently.

        My point is, I understand and agree that these kids have ability, just like everyone else. I was not trying to belittle their difficulties.  

  • Wahoo_wa

    I wonder how much autism is misdiagnosed.  Could some who are diagnosed with autism just be poorly socialized and focus their attention on details because it feels “safe and knowable”.  Could diagnosing someone with autism actually just be coddling an impertinent child when teaching social skills could be a better solution?

    • recyclingOT

      There are many variations in parenting styles but parents of children with behavioral/sensory challenges often find that the time outs, limit setting, reinforcements etc. all the usual techinues that work with other children don’t work in the same way with children who are crawling inside their skins.  Teaching social skills will always be important but certain children need an exhausting amount of intervention and even then struggle to be socially tolerated by others (including teachers) because of their impulsivity, lack of ability to read social cues etc. We parents wish it as simple as ‘teaching social skills”.  

      • Wahoo_wa

        Thanks for the insight.  I have to admit I will not have children so it is hard to comprehend the issues involved.  From the outside I see popular parenting techniques that are extremely accommodating of bad behavior.  I bet the issues surrounding raising a truly autistic child are compounded by poor parenting. 

        • recyclingOT

          I am also critical when I  see what looks like poor parenting, but one never knows what others are going through, thanks for your thoughts.

          • Wahoo_wa

            Parents (with autistic children or non-autistic children) are much stronger people than I am….LOL  I just would not have the patience!

          • recyclingOT

            glad to know that you will not be having children LOL

          • Wahoo_wa

            I know right?!  Those poor children!

    • viacarrozza

      The diagnosis is incredibly involved and time-consuming!    
      Even with high-functioning spectrums like Asperger’s Disorder, the presentation is very specific.  You can teach social skills to these kids but it is a hard slog.  It takes years.  Another telltale sign is that the other children in the same family (who are not autistic) are well adjusted and well socialized.  

    • yankeegirl1

      It is not that simple. First of all autism is a neurological disorder that often effects a child’s ability to speak and understand language. Many of our kids have difficulty with expressive language and some have no language. Some kids have chronic seizures, tics or self injurious behaviors.  Please go on youtube and view some of the videos autism parents have posted. Just do a search, “children with autism” or “coping with a severely autistic child”.  There is a huge difference between a poorly behaved kid and a child who is expressing frustration by head banging because they cannot communicate. Since the age of 1.5 years, my son has been in social situations and has even particpated in social skills groups- he is now 9 years old.  He simply cannot process language well and has difficulty communicating which leaves him at a huge disadvantage. Autism has nothing to do with parenting style or “coddling an impertinent child” actually. Most autism parents I know work hard at helping their child socialize. This is a true medical condition.

    • Doubting_Thomas12

      This is definitely a possibility. I personally know many who’ve been diagnosed and prescribed adderall, but didn’t need it. Most of those went off it because it didn’t help them. Misdiagnosing can be dangerous, because prescribing what essentially amounts to a poison that fixes GABA brainwave frequency distortions, when one DOES NOT HAVE SAID DISTORTIONS, isn’t good for you. It’s controlled speed.

      Not a doctor, but from what mine tells me, and my pharmacist friends concur, not such good times. It took several years, from ages 4-7, to properly diagnose me. But others are not so diligently analyzed.

  • recyclingOT

    My 24 year old son with ASpergers is studying to be a nuclear medicine technician. He, like many others excel at visual processing. Of course, I worry that his social skills will limit him to get into the program and succeed at the work setting. I am an occupational therapist and have observed that even though my son is granted disability supports in college many advisors and teachers do not know how to addres his needs to be as successful as he is capable. You may be interested to read about the business he created making backpacking stoves out of bottles. he is resourcefuul, creative and very smart. http://www.bottlestoves.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

    As I understand the autistic spectrum, there are varying levels of tolerance to external stimulus. A higher functioning individual may very easily & competantly work in an environment where s/he isn’t expected to be involved in the social politics of the workplace, for example. I admire the capacity for solid focus which I’ve observed in folks who have been diagnosed along the spectrum. If social manipulators have a place in the American workforce (advertising, the media, etc.), so do autistics. Let ‘em rip! 

  • L armond

    One must consider how other’s minds work as well.  But, as to the new DSM designation, and the status of Asberger’s syndrome and the “Spectrum” of autism, I heard in passing that Asberger’s individuals desire not to be designated in this way, 
    as we know what Defense dept. has done to PTSD victims who declare, and    most importantly –  REMEMBER DAVID REIMER – and how physicians, psychiatrists, etc., we actually afraid to confront John Money at Johns Hopkins as it would effect their careers.   Physicians are not known for giving more than 15 minutes, and are frequently outside their area of competence. Even yet, they are effected by time, place, and outside forces. No asberger’s person should put their life under this “State of the ART’ US Medical System.

  • stillin

    Where is the best place in the northeast to have a young person tested? Should his school be testing him?

    • recyclingOT

      the schools are obligated to provide the testing in all areas (OT,PT,Speech, behavioral/psych,IQ,  education etc) and use the test resuults to determine if there are delays that indicate a need for supports. The supports may be in one area (the 504) or more global with IEP. There is also testing in private clinics such as  OT associates in Waterotwn with the focus not on school needs but sensory processing and how to impact it to improve function ini all daily living skills at home, community and in school settings. there is also private neuropysch testing which may be more extensive than what schools offer but very expensive….

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000167181972 Kathy Perkins-Manning

      Someone above posted this site.  I havent’ checked it out yet.

      http://aane.org/

    • 49penfield

      Ladders at MGH is renowned and can be hard to get an appointment. My son was tested at Boston Medical Center. He had two previous similar diagnoses and the 3rd was sort of a tie-breaker.
      Don’t rely on the school, do whatever you can afford to get the right diagnosis. It goes a long way.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000167181972 Kathy Perkins-Manning

    As a mother of a now, 23 year old son, who was diagnosed with asperger’s syndrome in the 8th grade, I too, thought it was “just him”.  However, it’s NOT.  Yes, they’re high functioning, but they still have limitations.  It never ceases to amaze me when people like Wahoo_wa make comments you did.  Just because they look normal doesn’t mean they THINK normal thoughts.  Just spending time with these individuals in a school setting does NOT give you the full spectrum of their issues.  Yes, I would LOVE to see socializing skills taught; not just to these individuals but to ALL children these days.  Trust me when I tell you, putting them in social situations does NOT get them socialized…  I live this daily and the way my son thinks is very different from what he was taught and what his peers think or do.
    It’s very frustrating for me and for him when people don’t understand the he looks normal but has limitations.  Yes, we all do but some of us can overcome them more easily than others…  Give ‘em a break and LEARN about the disability and limitations rather than judging them!!!!

  • yankeegirl1

    I completely disagree with Gareth Cook’s downplaying of the autism crisis. This reflects the extent of denialism that exists and gets perpetuated.  Mark Blaxill is 100% correct. CDC reported last April that 1 in 88 American children have been diagnosed with autism and 1 in 54 American boys. AUTISM IS A NATIONAL HEALTH CRISIS Mr. Cook. Although many of our kids are indeed very bright, they still have huge challenges.  My son is almost nine and very academically delayed and behind his peers. The reality is that many of our kids will never be able to work or will only qualify for low level work. Many of our kids are non verbal. Consider the entire spectrum not just those that are high functioning. Take your blinders off.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002595936029 Chuck Clemens

      I know your feelings of pain personally but you have to understand that “AUTISM” has a very very wide spectrum of functionality. They just moved Aspergers into the range of Autism. An ASPY is totally functional person that may have simply been labelled as SHY only a few years ago. So this show is merely raising awareness so that some SHY people are not just labelled handicapped and a burdon. 

      The Autistic label sticks and has huge negative connotations which are just not true in every case.

      • yankeegirl1

        I agree ASPY’s are very capable and bright. I want those kids to work. I want those kids to be fully independent and productive members of society. That said, I think more acknowedgement  should be given to the rest of the spectrum including the low end where there are many children. The rate of autism has skyrocketed and that needs to be acknowledged. We need to recognize there are those who will need services throughout their entire lives. Maybe it a topic for another On Point show– How do we help all these kids who will need lifetime support who will never be able to work or live independently?? The other side of the spectrum

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1416409474 Tonia Voegele

    How important is an early diagnosis? I think my daughter may have Asperger’s, but worry about what the diagnosis will mean for a 14 year old girl

    • recyclingOT

      I found that the value of dx is in helping to get a school iep, disability accommodations and supports in college and SS #. The school should provide services based on what the student needs in order to succeed in school.
      that is determined by evaluations and should not be dependent on a DX. My son even had extended time in taking the SAT because of his DX and that was a huge help since he is so slow to process, he needed extra time just to level the3 playing field.

      • Doubting_Thomas12

         Definitely. The sooner the better; I was diagnosed “officially” at 7, unofficially at 4.

    • viacarrozza

      The Asperger Association of New England (AANE) is a good resource to check out online.  It’s been around for 20 years. (aane.org)

  • Ellen Dibble

    I think I had one of those jobs actually tailor-made for people on the autistic spectrum — detail, laser focus, and leave the interacting to everyone else.   The personality and the brain shrivel in those circumstances.  It’s like prescription early Alzheimer’s; you can be terminally bored into dementia (overstating it, I know).  I have thought that our school system is designed to nurture exactly those qualities — systematic, regularized, detail-oriented, with no exceptions.  I consider the opposite sort of job, about the same level, is probably receptionist/office manager.  For the opposite end of the spectrum.

  • recyclingOT

    As Tom asks what percentage of people can be employed…. it depends on what supports have been provided through the person’s school years and in the work place so that they were able to develop the social, communication and work skills that lead to a job. People with AS range in cognitive abilities, from being most appropriate for a sheltered worksho job assembling bird houses, all the way to being a brilliant Einstein or bill Gates type. Another aspect to answering this is what jobs expect of the employee. If the work setting suports the person with social and sensory challenges more people can work at good paying and rewarding jobs. 

  • http://twitter.com/ambercita30 Amber Taylor

    I worked for several years as a teacher at a private school that received various applicants on the autism spectrum.  The parents told us that they chose to come to our school mainly because it offered a different teaching and learning environment than the public model.  And one of the greatest challenges that individuals on the autistic spectrum face, as has already been mentioned, is testing and learning style.  I am greatly concerned about the direction of public education (on a national level and through current federal programs) that puts great emphasis on standardized testing, testing that I view as inhibiting rather than promoting learning in the classroom.  Specifically as it relates to autism, do you see this as an area of concern?

  • anon_somerville

    As a young woman with Aspergers, I’ve found great success academically and professionally as a technical writer. I have a great employer who lets me work from home which helps me avoid the social situations in the office that I find so challenging and distracting. I strongly encourage anyone in the northeast with questions on Aspergers to contact the Aspergers Association of New England (aane.org) about resources for testing and social supports. My recent diagnosis (I’m 28 now) has helped me understand the issues I have in social situations and with language processing. So, having a job with clearly defined goals that is mostly conducted over email, remotely, is ideal. Good luck and thanks for reading!

  • jandave

    What is truly amazing is how long it has taken for “the rest of us” to realize what an incredible set of  unique skills autistic people possess. Yes, it is a great advantage in the right setting. Amanda Baggs has turned autism research itself on its head. There is a researcher who uses an autistic lady to dble check the logic of his autistic research!  Doesn’t that may perfect sense? I have questioned for years why autistic people are not better utilized for their abilities, esp in medical research. To be able to see patterns that “the mainstream” cannot see and the great concentration not to miss the slightest detail.  Essentially it is like being a human -computer hybrid!  There has to be an advantage there somewhere! Not to mention the difference in a happy life, due to the perfect job match.  Temple Grandin  just got lucky.  This concept of “Jobs for the Autistic” is brilliant!!

    • Doubting_Thomas12

      There is… it’s just tough learning to deal with “normal people”. In the end it’s something we have to do, because it’s patently unfair to force the rest of the world to adapt to us. Thanks for your understanding though!

      And I didn’t want to say it, but you’re completely correct about the biological interface with a computer concept. Not all autistics are the same, but I’ve always loved computers because they “think” very similarly to the way I do.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mary.decristoforooliva Mary De Cristoforo Oliva

    I have 4 children, my 3rd was diagnosed with PDD-NOS when he was 2, he is now 15.  The thing that I think we should all look at is the fact that we say that we are “typically developing”, and that these children/adults are Austistic for various reason etc….

    What does typically developing mean?  Society says this but if you were to look at most autistic people, they are the most intelligent, the most kind, sensitive and intutitive people, who are loyal, law abiding citizens than the rest of us (normal) people and we say that we are the “norm”?  I wonder if they” the Autistic’s” are of a higher being and we are just trying to catch up?  How many autistics do you know bully others, cheat, lie or steel? 

    These traits generally go against what most Autistics believe.  I have learned more from my son and his friends than I have with my other children, although I love them all equally. 

    There is nothing that people need to be afraid of.  I just hope more people embrace the autistic world and learn from them.
    Mary
    Hopedale, MA

    • 1Brett1

      I hear what you are saying, and I appreciate many of your sentiments. However, I don’t particularly care for the “higher being” view, or that a person with autism is not as likely to “bully” or engage in what is considered less than desirable behaviors in which non-autistic people engage. I feel it places an unrealistic view on autistic people, and appears patronizing, as well as asks others to see things in people that may not be present or may promote the idea of separateness from humanity. 

      While people with autism may have certain qualities that are unique to people with autism, they are still human beings. And within the spectrum and population of people with autism, one will find a whole array of personality traits that one finds in non-disabled people.

      • Doubting_Thomas12

        Lol definitely. Kids who are bullied either become bullies themselves, do their best to blend into the woodwork, or rancorously stamp it out where they can find it.

        The creativity comes from being forced to approach problems in a different way than “normal” people.

    • http://www.facebook.com/marina.rizzo.50 Marina Rizzo

       I so totally agree with you,Mary!
      Mother of an autistic boy.

  • http://twitter.com/HynesMom Dee Boling

    I would love to see an On Point show like this dealing with ADHD. Current CDC estimates peg ADHD at 10-15% of kids yet there is no general method of teaching these kids in our schools.  If 10-15% of kids in public schools were blind, every school would have someone on staff specifically trained in education for the blind and every classroom would have braille books. We are teaching ADHD kids in ways that do not play to their strengths and do not tap their creativity and intelligence.  These are the kids who, as adults, could come up with novel solutions to problems, but schools treat them like they are stupid and not as good as their more conventional peers.

    • Doubting_Thomas12

      I was wondering if anyone was even considering this- thanks!

      All I have to share is my own story, but I didn’t do well in school until I decided to skip class and just study on my own. Grad school was a little different, but most of my learning still gets done outside of a classroom and on my own..

  • KRSure

    I would love to know where kids are being diagnosed with “autism spectrum disorder”.  After my son had a neuropsych test in second grade, where he had high verbal/low non-verbal scores, the school kept wanting to diagnose him with aspergers, or on the “autism spectrum”.   We never signed off on that diagnosis because the description of asocial, non-emotive affect never fit our son.  He’s now in 7th grade, and clearly his difficulties in school have much more to do with his version of dyslexia.  And he never ever came close to having the disabilities we associate with severe autism.

    Can you give more information about how “autism spectrum” disorders are diagnosed?  Sometimes I think we are just diagnosing “boy”.  After all, MIT, where I worked for twelve years, is full of very high achieving kids who are great at math, technology and science, have lousy social skills, but are seriously focused and are considered very successful. 

    • recyclingOT

      this is frustrating because some kids fit some of the dx criteria but not others. my son has Aspergers and great fine motor skills, that is unusual. some kids have friends, others are too challenged to make and keep friends, much variation. the dsm criteria centers on repetiive actions, missing social cues, inflexibility, other symptoms that some may or may not have. often (but not always) dyslexia and ADD coexists along with an Austism spectrum disorder and a sensory processing disorder usually coexists with AS.   so it is a challenge to tweeze out what is what…. regardless these kids need services, supports in school and future jobs. what I am describing here are higher functioning  kids…..but then again, if you read Carly’s Voice you have to wonder if some nonverbal children have great cognitive abilities that are not manifested to others….

    • AspieDad

      Assume you saw other comments re:

      http://Www.aane.org

  • J__o__h__n

    I like the new end of show announcements of the next day’s topic.

  • http://twitter.com/LeisaHammett Leisa Hammett

    To the last mother who wrote in: my 18/y/o daughter has moderately severe autism, has intellectual disAbilities and a severe speech/language disorder, but is a gifted and successful artist: http://www.GraceGoad.com. There was a lot of emphasis on the show about not being blinded by what we cannot see or what seems to be readily the case. Work hard. Don’t lose hope. If you do you will see the forest through the trees. She is still very young. You cannot judge when young what the future will be.

  • recyclingOT

    Hey Tom, please interview me !!!!
    http://www.recyclingOT.com

  • vtleslie

    I have a comment for callers like Melanie, whose son is struggling at college academically.  As a college instructor and parent of a young man with Asperger’s, you might want to try to work with the school to identify why your son is struggling academically.  Often, once the student transitions to college, many of the supports that made the student successful in earlier schooling are no longer there.  For example, can the student plan his time?  Can he keep track of assignments?  Does he have the advocacy skills to ask his professors or classmates questions when an assignment isn’t understood? Does he get a reasonable amount of sleep? Can he consistently attend class on time?  Is he eating properly?  Deficits in any of these areas can make a huge difference in the ultimate grade in his courses, and I’ve seen students struggle with all of them when they are on their own for the first time.   If the school has a responsive special services program, there may be mentors who can help out, and help the student improve in these areas. There also might be study skills types of classes that consist of regular check ins to help the student with minor problems before they balloon into major problems — which is when the frustration can really get in the way.   Just a few thoughts — if you haven’t already pursued this kind of research with your son (keeping in mind that it is worth meeting jointly with professors in some cases), it might be worth it before giving up on college.

    • AspieDad

      Vtleslie hits it on the head; the “wheels fell off” once our son entered a (very competitive) college. His intelligence, and some (we did not know in k-12 what the issues really were yet) intermittent assistance from some teachers, kept him above water. But the sheer scheduling, independence, judgment and socializing skills required at university level were overwhelming. Getting the special abilities office, campus “learning center” and individual faculty or deans to understand what an Aspie can and cannot do (with some help) will be critical if your child wants to be successul post-high school. A job and/or life coach is also a very good idea.

  • Eli37

    I have a comment for Melanie. I’ve also got a son with Asperger’s (among other diagnoses) who’s in college; he’s also a sophomore and also very smart, although it sounds like he’s having more difficulty socially than your son. He’s interested in music, but I worry about whether he’ll move forward with it, so I can very much identify with your concerns. 

    If your son is interested in English, have you considered the possibility of him working as a freelance editor? If he can get some help getting into the profession, it would be a place he could use his writing skills; he’d be required to look over other people’s writing with a close, critical eye and notice (and correct) the details of their writing. As a freelancer, he’d also be able to work from home if working in-house would be stressful for him. Is that something he might be interested in?

    • stillin

      My 18 year old is a gifted writer, never been tested, socially uninterested in groups, not doing well academically, goes up and down, but his writing is fantastic. Had a college ta look at it and say it was above anything she had read. I am going to be checking all of this out so I can help him as best I can. I am his number one supporter! He is an adorable son, interesting to talk to, but not the least bit interested in the public school system. I work in it and I find his view completely rational.

      • Eli37

        I’m glad he has you for support! I find for my son it’s hugely important to have a parent’s support since he doesn’t have the peer group of friends to lean on. Good luck!

  • David Robinson

    I’m in my fifties, and for 30 years I’ve been trying to get a degree. I always knew there was something wrong other than an assumed character flaw and got tested. Turns out I have a nonverbal learning disorder,with an extremely high verbal IQ and much lower nonverbal. Now I know, finally, why I have so much trouble with math, with visual/spatial acuity, graphs, spread sheets, etc. I am going to back to school, this time with the proper help and accommodations. I wish something could have been done about this in 1968 when the problems surfaced in earnest while in the third grade. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000167181972 Kathy Perkins-Manning

      God Bless and Good luck!!!!  I commend you for your diligence!

    • Doubting_Thomas12

      Lol our brains are mirror images then :P . Congrats! Not so fun sometimes though, ain’t it.

      It’s good to see attitudes shifting though, with enough famous and successful people having such disabilities and speaking out about them. My family, and most recently my girlfriend took awhile to figure it out, but hang in there. It gets better.

      … said the younger man to the more experienced man.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kalie.hearrell Kalie Nicole Hearrell

    I feel that workplaces should have a spot for individuals with autism. They are usually bright young individuals who excel in one area or another. They just need to find a job in those areas. I think jobs should be excessible to these individuals and I am glad this site is looking into this situation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=216200185 Krista Monin Rumage

    I really enjoyed this.  I am a psychology professor and the mother to a wonderful little boy with Asperger.  Even in my profession, though I knew Clay was different, I wasn’t convinced he was on the spectrum.  He can socialize, but it is not as easily as some.  He has empathy towards family, less so towards others.  His emotional responses are not alway appropriate.  He is also incredibly gifted intellectually, and at 4 is reading at a 2-3 grade level, completing math worksheets in double-digit addition and subtraction, and even doing some 5th grade level work.  To some, he seems like a typical, bright child.  Get to know him and you see the issues.  He has terrible tantrums when his expectations are violated.

    I firmly believe everyone should do what they are capable of, and a great number of those with autism are quite capable of employment, with some capable of quite remarkable feats.  Yes, some do have the disorder to a devastating degree, but many don’t.  It makes me feel so optimistic not just for my son, but the children of friends who are on the spectrum.  That they are being treated, more and more, as the capable human beings they are, I think the stigma will start to change and I hope these children and young adults will go on to have successful, fulfilling lives to the highest degree possible for them.

  • Janet Conover

    As an employer I cannot choose a poor functioning person  over a high functioning person.  I certainly can not pay them minimum wage plus taxes and unemployment insurance and health insurance.  My disability insurance premiums would skyrocket.  Don’t expect employers, struggling in a soft economy, to subvert their business, the livelihood it provides to others, because your little Johnny can’t and will never get his act together.

    • JGC

      Ouch. “Little Johnny can’t get his act together”. You make it sound like a choice.  Hey, BTW, do you support Obamacare? Or do you think employers should be out of the health care insurance business altogether? 

    • 49penfield

      Janet I must say I am absolutely appalled at your cooments. Many employed people not only function but excel at their jobs and careers as they function with Autism. Asd an employer I am sure your business would benefit if Temple Grandin organized your workplace or if Albert Einstein were around to protect your computer password as I am sure somebody hacked yoor account and made these egrerious and callous comments.

      • J__o__h__n

        It would be great if Temple Grandin helped her organize her workplace. 

    • AspieDad

      Janet, that is a woefully disappointing statement. Clearly, you are wearing blinders — we are talking about (some) Aspergian people with better skills than you would find at strong colleges or universities. Look into the stats — the significant %age of students at MIT, or living in the Boston and Silicon Valley, who are deemed to have some form of autism or Asperger’s. Please put your positive thinking hat on and look for the incredible talents some of this population can bring your company. A few names you might read about more: Larry Summers, Temple Grandon, Nicola Tesla, John Elder Robison, perhaps Bill Gates and many others. Please take a few minutes to read JRobison’s excerpt (and his whole book if you can…):

      http://www.johnrobison.com/publicity/lookmeintheeye_qa.pdf

      • Doubting_Thomas12

         Yeah I wasn’t going to mention it, but all the names you listed are examples of why our government has financial incentive to take care of this, not to mention moral. Einstein wasn’t full-blown autistic or aspergers, but was far enough along in the spectrum to seem “off”.

    • JGC

      Another of your other comments this evening:  “The best social program is a job.”  But with people like you doing the hiring, who will be employed?  Muffy and Brad from Parmi Nous or from Skull and Bones?  I guess your MBA program forgot to include a segment on ethics. I never thought this about any of the people who comment on  On Point, even with deep political disagreement,  but really, this is disgusting.  I hope it is a hacked account, as suggested below; just a sick joke.   

      • Doubting_Thomas12

        Actually JGC, the number of autism-spectrum affected in those circles is above the national average.

        It’s a disability in the same way that a 64-bit processor is a disability compared to a 32-bit. The 64 moves exponentially faster for some tasks, but slower and with greater difficulty in others. Tradeoff.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/JH46YFNLETLIW2BLHVJMXRLWGE S

      “Little Johnny can’t and will never get his act together” Do you even KNOW anyone with a disability? It is not a matter of getting your act together, you ignoramus.

    • Ryan Healy

      Does “a high functioning person” ignore re-reading a sentence to make sure it follows grammatical structure, much less standards of social diplomacy?

    • LivingwithAutism

      Janet your comment is disgusting.  shame on you.

    • joefixesall

      Would you rather us live on disability? Why would you think we can only make minimum wage. I have aspersers and OCD ,so just I am a little socially awkward does not mean I’m not intelligent. I’ll bet your business involves computers in some way. I will also bet that in one day I will find multiple errors with your network, your system and holes in your security. I hope you are never burdened with a child or family with any disability. One more thing learn to spell and punctuate.   

    • David Robinson

      More like people like you can’t and will never get your act together because you choose to be willfully ignorant and callous. Or maybe you can’t help being callous, petty, and unable to show empathy. I’m pretty sure plenty of high functioning people have willingly chosen unemployment over working for a possible psychopath like you.

    • Doubting_Thomas12

      Janet,

      I’d almost want to ask what you do then. Autism spectrum tends to favor high value added positions, rather than minimum wage and low-skilled.

      Perhaps if you were doing something intellectually challenging, say in the sciences, engineering, law, or finance, you would find such a person useful. Otherwise, perhaps not.

      Also, depending on the severity, normal interaction with others is simply an acquired trait. It’s the same concept as a language that wasn’t learned during childhood. The time duration of that acquisition is merely a function of how quickly they learn.

      I’d have to know more about you to determine the veracity of your statements and claims. All I have for now is bemusement; businesses that don’t adapt and learn tend to die off rather quickly. Have you passed the five year mark yet?

      Edit: … so using the intertubes works better than condescending questions, my bad. Two years so far.

      Best of luck with your budding enterprise. I would advise you not to discount someone who’s skilled, disabilities or not. Classic business dilemma- does what this person brings to the table outweigh potential problems that might come up? All autism-spectrum means is that there are greater extremes than with others. Some truly are worth their weight in gold due to possessing skills and abilities more commonly found in a computer, while others aren’t.

      EDIT2: Also, in concern for what you’re trying to build there, I would suggest that you PLEASE be careful about what you post and where. If I can find quite a few things out based on the scraps of information you left here, in less than five minutes, others can too. Publicly broadcasting controversial opinions, or politicizing business decisions, is NEVER a good idea. All businesses are supposed to do is make money and keep quiet as to not offend potential customers. Just ask Chick-Fil-A or Papa Johns. You can’t afford that, since you’re not on Wall Street, and haven’t bought off most of our politicians while endorsing corporate socialism and “capitalism for thee, but not for me”.

  • Patrick McCann

    Can’t they just live off unemployment like the rest of the 47%?

    • jake4485

      That comment does not even deserve a response….ignorance at it’s best.

    • Steven Barwick

      You have the wrong forum…Talking out of your butt is a different thread…

  • AspieDad

    For Boston area people, please immediately go to the AANE (Asperger’s Assn of New England) web site and get engaged:

    http://www.aane.org

    Parents of children, and those with Asperger’s will find much material and references of great benefit. Then go to some of the programs and activities. You will be amazed at how fortunate we all are to have this incredible organization and its vast network right in our backyards!

    • recyclingOT

      wonderful resources at aane…..

  • JGC

    I find it personally upsetting that names like Patrick McCann and Janet Conover use this forum to abuse folks who have so much to contribute and who are struggling with finding their place in a society that does not understand people with these challenges.

    • Doubting_Thomas12

      Appreciate the concern, but I just find it amusing. *shrugs* I learned awhile ago that condescending to notice their remarks with more than a smirk and passing glance was counterproductive.

      Your words strike me though; I agree wholeheartedly. The aforementioned posters don’t have a clue what it’s really like, living in a world full of people truly fundamentally different than us. The Earth from an autism-spectrum’s eyes is a different color than it appears from their own.

  • AspieDad

    Cool — just hit the “minus” sign at the right of their names, and their comments just disappear! We can ignore them now…

    • JGC

      Thanks for that. You know, I never noticed that until you mentioned it.  It should come in handy…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1645599394 Ronni Mott

    I took on a young man with Asberger’s as an intern in the summer of 2011. I work for a news weekly and was concerned at first about his lack of social skills, but I did some research to be able to communicate with him effectively. Once I understood a little of how his brain works, I found the relationship one of the most rewarding of the hundreds of interns I’ve coached. I’m far from an expert on the condition, but I found him incredibly conscientious and intelligent. He was (and continues to be) enormously eager to please and easy to coach. It’s always surprising how open he is about his disability. The key for me in this particular relationship is precision in my directions. Almost without fail, when he is unsuccessful at a task, it’s my vagueness at fault. His inability to abstractly reason or extract meaning from ambiguous direction is not easy sometimes–so much of what we do is has to do with following our hunches and instincts. There are a number of tasks, however, that he performs much better than many of his age (early 20s), such as fact-checking, internet research and data entry. We also provide him with basic writing assignments that require a good bit of detail in short pieces. We hired him about a year ago. He does an excellent job at the tasks we’ve identified that play to his strengths. He has enormous integrity and a terrific work ethic. He’s worth his weight in gold!

    • 1Brett1

      Excellent comment! I like the way you recognized that some of his problems with task completion were in the way you gave directions.  

    • hennorama

      Having sensitive and adaptive employers is the key to the employment success of all individual employees.  This is true for all employer-employee relationships, but shows up much more clearly with exceptional interns/employees, as in this case.  Well done.

    • Roberto1194

      -Great to hear.
      I hope you have been paying him accordingly…
      R

      • Rhonda Conklin

         Thank you for bringing pay up!

        • Roberto1194

          Yes…?
          Thanks for responding.
          Have you?
          It’s bad enough that ‘neuro-typical’ interns are often not paid or are only nominally compensated… It’s bad ‘business ethics’ (and a moral hypocrisy) to continue to employ useful workers beyond a brief training period without fair wages.

  • Steven Barwick

    My son was diagnosed with Asberger’s synd during in his 10th year…He’s struggled through grade school, middle and High school.  He did graduate but it with a great deal of assistance.
     
    He’s currently studying electronics at a local technical college and is doing well but he is underachieving intellectually: To study to do simple electrical technician work…
    He’s chief issue is with social anxiety and is hypersensitivity to criticism and it quickly becomes crippling.  He’s 6′ 6″ tall and over 325 lbs – He stands out in most any group and has suffered horribly over the last 10 years.It’s my wish he will find some place which will see and treat him like a person with a unique brilliant mind. If not addressed he will be placed at a box electronics store fixing laptops.  Given suitable support he has the potential to work for JPL.  How does parent get an adult Asberger’s child “Suitable” accommodation to excel at school and later in the workforce?

  • quilter200

    As usual,  no one on the panel with Aspergers or autism. Still, extremely good to hear the positive side of Aspergers. So happy to hear from the panel that this is not necessarily a disability but really depends on the context. 

    Tom, I’ll ask again, please let someone with Aspergers speak on the panel next time you have one of these shows. 

    Very glad you do these shows but people with Aspergers are able to speak for themselves.

  • Kristin77

    Excellent overview of identifying abilities rather than focusing on disabilities.  I am a Special Education Administrator who has spend a good deal of my professional career on Transition Planning for students with disabilities.  The federal law requires us to write a collaborative plan for transitioning students from high school to adult life, however, most educators are not really trained in how to do this.  Often it takes parents to really make the kind of significant impact that is happening here.  

     It is respectful to use Person First Language when referring to a person with a disability.  So… instead of the Autistic, please say people with Autism.  Thank you. 

    • 1Brett1

      As someone who has worked in the human service field for a long time and who has loved ones with autism, I have used person first language for a long time. However, not all people today with disabilities prefer such language. There is a whole activist movement  going on that advocates not using person first language, that an individual is NOT someone who has a disability (but that the disability is such an integral part of the person and is a defined strength of the person, it IS who they are and not really a disability).  

      I have been admonished for, “a person with disabilites.” Fact is, whether, “a person with disabilities,” or, “a disabled person,” or, in this case, “an autistic person,”     or, “a person with autism,” doesn’t matter. “A brown haired girl,” or “a girl with Brown hair,” is the way many are now seeing this “issue.”

      Neither is disrespectful; although, saying, “the autistic,” in and of itself, I would refrain from…”the” anything would sound bad to me and sound disrespectful/ perpetuate “the other,” e.g., “the gay.”

      We need to move past the, “what is the best euphemism,” game, or what is known as the, “euphemism treadmill.” Demanding “person first” language is part of that.

      P.S.-I don’t know if the “77″ indicates a year of birth; if it does, it indicates, and is heartening, to me that fine, caring people are still choosing careers in special education and human services. If it doesn’t indicate such, I still thank you for choosing the field of work that you have!   

      • Kristin77

        I appreciate the discourse around person first language and will contemplate and research points of view around this. I have made a concerted effort to educate those I have taught and work with to be conscious of this because I have seen that assumptions are changed depending upon how we refer to people with disabilities. I am particularly conscious of this in working with students who have emotional and behavioral disabilities. When people refer to them at BD kids- they are generally viewed as “bad” kids and hard to been seen any other way. Anyway, thank you.

        • 1Brett1

          Children, in particular, I feel, benefit from person first language, especially as they are still assessing and forming a sense of themselves. If I were still working with those who are not yet fully actualized, so to speak–who are not yet seasoned adults–I would definitely use person first language. I would want to promote a self-actualization process in a child/soon-to-be young adult that gives the person a feeling of being encouraged by those around him/her toward non-limiting possibilities (within a framework of feeling good about oneself through acceptance of limitations, which we all have). 

          Through the years, I have been encouraged, even amazed, at how much progress people can make in self-actualizing/self-realizing if they have developed a positive self-image…

          Anyway, thanks for your interaction, Kristin, and thank you for choosing the line of work you have chosen. Too often educators–as well as other care providers–are the last to receive praise for their efforts. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anne-Dachel/100000492400392 Anne Dachel

    What better example of America’s acceptance of autism—no questions asked? We’ve seen two decades of soaring rates that have not been a cause for concern. Now the autism generation is aging into adulthood with nowhere to go. Shouldn’t this lead to questions? Shouldn’t people ask why this is happening? Countless articles from around the country describe the impact of young adults with autism. We never demanded to know where all the children were coming from and we’ll probably continue to scratch our heads over all the young adults with autism too.

    • 1Brett1

      If vigorous, ongoing public discourse over why rates of autism have soared, over the last decade and longer, is not an indication of “cause for concern,” what does it indicate? 

      This show dealt with new ways of looking at finding employment for people with autism and NOT potential causes of autism. 

      There have been other On Point shows and other On Point discussion forums on potential causes of autism; perhaps your “questions” would be better addressed on other forums?

  • Pingback: AnneDachel.com » Blog Archive » NPR Boston: Help for autistic young adults

  • Orlando Vidali

    Specialisterne - that is brilliant. Makes so much sense.

  • Pingback: Autism In The News

  • http://www.facebook.com/stlevine Steve Levine

    If MY son can get and hold a job, then anyone with autism — or a severe disability of any kind — can do the same.

    I am so proud of my 23-year-old. He can’t speak or read or write and has far too many limitations to list in this space, but he is gainfully employed in the competitive job market. In fact, this week he will receive his five-year pin at a workplace ceremony.

    I had read and shared Cook’s story about Thorkil Sonne’s program and was pleased to hear this story on KUT-2 in Austin (one week delayed so I couldn’t call in.) Of course the young men and women that Sonne is hiring as his consultants are a minority of the thousands with autism, but the point is he is hiring them and they are being successful.

    I really wished I had been listening to this story live at the very conclusion, when Mr. Cook casually dismissed the “non-verbal” and “profoundly disabled” people with autism from the workforce. I wanted to scream my son’s story from the rooftops right then and there. YES THEY CAN!

    Not all people with autism have those “special” skills, any more than any of us have special skills. The point, as was made several times throughout the show, is to focus on what they CAN do, not what they can’t. That’s how my son got his job. His employers — a large convention hotel here in Austin — were determined to find a job that matched his skills and interests (isn’t that what all employers do when they hire people, any people?). And they’ve gotten a good worker who produces as well as anyone else on his team. They get their money’s worth.

    Thanks, Tom, for exploring this very important issue. On behalf of my family (especially my wife who is an evangelist for helping people with severe autism get real jobs), keep it up.

    • DN_SW

       The arrogance of your reply is really quite offensive to innumerable people with autism who are trying very hard to accomplish traditional employment.  What you seem to completely overlook is that your son’s success was and is absolutely dependent upon finding an employer willing to hire a person with autism and to thereafter provide whatever workplace support is needed.  “Isn’t that what all employers do when they hire people, any people?”  No, actually it isn’t.  Personal biases of all sorts can creep into any interview and frequently do.  Ultimately, the ability of any solution to be realized is absolutely dependent upon the particular unique individual employee of the company who is doing the interview and probably also the hiring.  Until it is a confirmed statement that most employers do in fact understand the advantages that autistic employees can bring, many will continue to choose less challenging job candidates.  For now, most job interviewers have so many applications between which to decide, that they look for any reason whatsoever to eliminate any particular individual from the competition. 

  • http://twitter.com/LTOVentures LTO Ventures

    It’s very encouraging to read in the comments about the successes that adults with ASD are having finding competitive and rewarding employment.  Here in Nevada, we have the highest unemployment rate in the US, so we can’t wait for existing employers to start hiring again. 

    Our nonprofit is launching in January a new project called the Autism Entrepreneurs Center to: 1) start up new real businesses created by typical individuals to employ ASD adults in real jobs paying real wages; and, 2) start up new real businesses based on the unique talents and ideas of certain ASD adults, whether sole proprietorships or full-blown corporations. 

    More at: http://wp.me/P1ZYZ5-6l

    • http://www.facebook.com/otha.melton Otha Melton

       That is an excellent idea because there is an overall lack of employment programs available for individuals on the autistic spectrum because most autistic people, especially those with high-functioning autism or Asperger Syndrome, are unemployed or under-employed in the United States.

  • greysurfer

    At least you folk in the USA are recognising the problems and making a concerted effort for change. I see none of this in the UK. As a parent of someone with Aspie traits, it is soul-destroying listening to employers banging on about applicants should be great socialisers, go-getters and management ladder-climbers; hungry for new experiences, forward-looking, blah blah blah; it’s enough to frighten youngsters to death.
    And job opportunities in the UK are so heavily geared towards “retail”, public relations, sales, all the “people-person” stuff that Aspies don’t really relish (in general).
    I know the sort of things that my unemployed offspring could cope with, it’s just not easy to find; and if you dare write down any disability on your cv, the chances of getting an interview are much reduced.

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