What follows is a transcript of a speech given by Richard Martin, a Mind Shift Specialist, at the Disablity:IN Wisconsin Kick off event on October 23rd, 2018. Take a few minutes to read this piece. It’s worth the time. Thanks to Richard for allowing us to publish this.
“Good morning. My name is Richard Martin, and I am here today representing Mind Shift, a nonprofit organization designed to help autistic people find and maintain meaningful, long-term employment. I have a master's degree in economics, a wife, two children, and a USCF chess master title. I am also autistic. Through Mind Shift's placement program, I now work at GE Healthcare as a contractor.
Autistic people, just like non-autistic people, come in all stripes with a wide array of talents. However, there are many traits that are particularly common among us which can be useful to corporations. Because autistic people's brains make connections differently than neurotypical people do, we are often good at innovation and devising outside-the-box solutions to problems. Autistic people also tend to hyper focus on tasks, allowing us to perform repetitive tasks without getting distracted. This ability also helps us spot errors in code or relevant details in a mass of data more easily than many neurotypical workers. Scientific studies have found strong pattern recognition and visual skills among autistic people, including a 2009 joint study from Harvard University and University of Montreal. That study found that autistic people are up to 40% faster at problem-solving and visual pattern recognition on average than neurotypical people. Autistic people are also very routine-driven, which makes us very loyal and steady employees. These common skills can make autistic people good labor assets, particularly in detail-oriented areas like data entry, software testing, or analytical tasks.
However, despite those skills, autistic people often struggle to find jobs. Studies have consistently found that between 65 and 90 percent of autistic adults are unemployed, a much higher rate than for other disabled adults. How is this possible? To find jobs, most people must rely on networking, filling out applications, and presenting well in interviews, all of which require social skills that autistic people usually lack. Despite my advanced degree, I was underemployed for years after I finished grad school and unemployed for most of 2017. The way most businesses assess potential hires emphasizes social and interpersonal skills over practical work skills. This process overlooks autistic people who could be very valuable employees.
Enter Mind Shift. Mind Shift is a nonprofit organization that hires autistic people and puts them through a training process to teach them job skills like software testing and data analysis. It also teaches them how to adapt to a corporate work environment. Once they have completed the training program, Mind Shift then contracts those employees out to corporations such as GE Healthcare. The Mind Shift staff then serve as intermediaries between the autistic workers and the company. Mind Shift helps the company resolve any issues with the workers and helps workers get the accommodations they need to succeed, such as quiet spaces, noise-canceling headphones, or the ability to work standing up rather than seated. In exchange, the partnering company gets loyal, hard-working, talented workers with fresh ideas, who address problems bluntly and honestly.
At GE Healthcare, where I work, the benefits of this approach are already obvious. Since November 2017, Mind Shift has on boarded 5 people at GE Health Care in different roles. Our software testers have worked on five software programs in the past eleven months, including Oracle, programs for supply chain and demand planning, and a program for GE Healthcare field engineers to report maintenance updates on medical equipment. One of our contractors works in materials planning to help improve the efficiency of orders made by demand planners, hopefully eliminating millions of dollars in waste per day. Another contractor and I have designed an algorithm to improve GE Healthcare’s demand forecasting by identifying overconsumed products and adjusting projections accordingly. That algorithm is now being implemented at two factories. In addition to these projects, my fellow Mind Shift employees are learning database queries and coding languages to expand the range of projects we can take on. We have accomplished all this in less than a year, but none of it would have been possible without Mind Shift’s training and support.
The ability to make eye contact and small talk with an interviewer shouldn't make the difference between employment and unemployment for someone with good work skills. MindShift is a beacon of hope for autistic people finding meaningful employment because they listen to their employees, focus their approach on autistic people's strengths rather than their weaknesses, and genuinely want to change the world’s perception of what autistic people can do. If you need workers who can analyze data, handle precise repetitive tasks, and learn technical skills, look for autistic people.
Thank you for your time.”