#accommodation

Show Me Your Superpowers!

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This blog was originally published by Cortnee Jensen on October 2, 2016:

"I saw an episode of “The Big Bang Theory” where Sheldon and Raj were looking at data to identify anomalies that would indicate an object in space. Sheldon looked at the computer screen for about 3 seconds and said “Found one!” Raj told him that was impossible, but sure enough he had. Raj asked how he found it so quickly. Sheldon: “You know how when you see prime numbers they appear red but when they're twin primes they're pink and smell like gasoline?” Raj: “No?” Sheldon: “Huh, I guess I'm a special boy.”

While this may be an extreme version of pattern recognition, it is common for critical information to jump off the screen for some of our folks on the autism spectrum. Exceptional pattern recognition makes those individuals particularly efficient and accurate in data management tasks like data entry or data scrubbing. Likewise, user experience testing for apps and websites brings out their best. Identifying the errors or inconsistencies on a page or from page to page is engaging and even invigorating for them. Catching the thing that nobody else noticed gives them a chance to show off their super powers. Superman may have x-ray vision, but an eye for detail can be just as revealing." 

Mind Shift would like to wish everybody a happy and safe Independence Day.  We'll be closed on July 4th, and then back at it again on the 5th.  If you want to learn more about how leveraging the strengths of the autism spectrum can benefit your business, email info@mindshift.works.  You can do good work while doing good.

 

THEORY OF MIND (or, Remember Other People Have Thoughts and Feelings Too), Part 3 of 3

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By Kate Bringe

“By not understanding that other people think differently than themselves, many autistic individuals may have problems relating socially and communicating to other people. That is, they may not be able to anticipate what others will say or do in various situations. In addition, they may have difficulty understanding that their peers or classmates even have thoughts and emotions, and may thus appear to be self-centered, eccentric, or uncaring.

Although this is an egocentric view of the world, there is nothing in the theory of mind to imply that autistic individuals feel superior to others.” *

 

In fifth grade I wanted to grow up to be a Vulcan. Unencumbered by emotion and impervious to the desire to fit in, I would instead rely on pure logic to govern my life. These awful things called “Feelings”? Didn’t need ‘em! Didn’t want them. I practiced raising one eyebrow and saying, “fascinating” when people told me things. I always stood, unsmiling, with my hands behind my back, which made for wonderful class photos. I’m pretty sure I drove my mother bonkers.

I was bullied all the way through school. I was consumed by anxiety and dread every school morning, knowing that I’d only make it through the day by sheer force of will. I remember the cruel words, the shoves, the hard-packed snowballs to the back of my head. I remember the looks, the laughter, and the acid vitriol from a girl who first pretended to be my friend for five months before viciously turning on me. I endured her poison from seventh grade through my first year of college.

That thing adults tell you about bullies? The one about ignoring them so they’ll stop? It doesn’t work. Once you’re their target, ignoring them only makes it worse. They want a reaction. They want the power to make you react. I continued to follow the advice of the adults and ignore it, being a model Vulcan, and the bullysphere grew larger. Other kids started to join in, emboldened by the Head Bully.

By my own logic, without the benefit of Theory of Mind, I must be doing something to cause the bullying. I began to believe them when they told me I was stupid, fat, and ugly. I wouldn’t lie to them, so they wouldn’t lie to me, right? Their words cut me to the bone, but Vulcans don’t have emotions, so I did what any Vulcan would do and showed no emotion. It made no difference.

I don’t understand bullying. I don’t understand why anyone would want to crush the light out of someone else. Hurting someone else does not take away the pain in your own heart. It is completely illogical.

By the time middle school rolled around, my efforts to become Vulcan had finally paid off. My daily interactions with other people were emotionless. My feelings were carefully boxed up and buried deeply within an internal “warehouse” of sorts. Each morning, I donned a metaphorical suit of armor before leaving the safety of my world. My warehouse of emotions was like the final scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, with boxes and boxes stretching on forever, only much tidier. My boxes were sorted neatly upon shelves. It’s a strange sensation, memories without feelings and feelings without memories. I could clearly remember the girl that pretended to be my friend. I remember the vicious delight in her blue eyes as she stood in the hallway and ground me under her heel with words carefully chosen to pierce my heart. I know she hurt me deeply, my joy at having a new friend shattered. Though I could see that moment clearly in my mind, I could feel nothing as I watched the memory play. The feelings would come later, when I was alone. Tears streaking down my face as I cried myself to sleep. Grief, loss, and anger at myself for being so stupid as to trust her, yet knowing I’d probably do it all again for the chance to make a new friend and feel like a regular kid. In that moment in the hallway, however, I simply stood there and took her abuse. Her words washed over me, but I gave no reaction. It was as if I didn’t care, my face carefully blank. She finished and awaited my reaction.

I raised one eyebrow at her and replied, “Fascinating”.

Her face flushed dark red. Before she could unleash a blistering retort, the class bell rang. I turned on my heel and strode off, seemingly impervious to her words. To the world, I looked completely uncaring. In reality, the feelings inside me were too huge to cope with. I didn’t even look at them. I stuffed them all into a box and locked the whole works in my warehouse.

The “feelings warehouse” is not a viable long-term solution. Feelings need to be worked through and understood. Other people’s points of view need to be talked about and put into terms we can understand. We need to experience, name, and work through emotions. Leaving them festering only hurts us.

I never understood what drove the bullies in my class. I still don’t. I’ve been told that putting other people down gives them a sense of power and control. How miserable must they have been? Probably as miserable as I was, but for different reasons. I don’t understand how hurting me would’ve made them feel better. I bear the scars of their misery, but I shouldn’t. No one deserves that kind of malevolence.

I never felt superior to other people. As a Vulcan-in-training, I acted superior to others because I was going to be a Vulcan. Cool logic and rationality are always superior to knee-jerk reactions and gut feelings, right? But acting superior and feeling superior are two very different things. Acting superior is armor against a world that is often baffling, painful, and frustrating. How could anyone feel superior when we endure bullying, discrimination, and repeatedly hearing the message that we need to be “cured”?

Our most vulnerable need us to guide them. We need our parents and family members to make a safe place for us to talk about what’s happening inside us. Emotions swirl so quickly that they’re here and gone before we can even identify what they are. We need someone we can trust to help us make sense of what we feel so we don’t need to put on armor and bury our feelings. We need acceptance for who we are right now and encouragement to become our best selves.

As I entered adulthood, I worked my way through the dreck in my warehouse. Left untouched in the dark, the boxes had started to seep. I slogged through them, pinning feelings to memories and working through them. Anger was named for what it really was: fear or disappointment. Getting to the core emotion makes it so much easier to deal with. It’s an ongoing process, this emotional integration I now have. Sometimes I need more processing time to really figure out what I’m feeling, and sometimes I don’t. I experience more stress than I used to, but I believe it’s for the better. I can only control myself and that’s all the control anyone really needs. I control how I react to situations. I control what feelings I choose to dwell on or not. It’s a conscious choice, action instead of reaction. I spent so long reacting that I never realized that I could choose to act instead. Once I embraced that, life became so much more manageable. It’s not perfect, because nothing ever is, but I’m more present in my life instead of lost in my own head. I’m not responsible for anyone but myself. I care about other people and want them to be happy, but I’m not ultimately responsible for their emotional well-being. I’m responsible for mine, and that is enough.

Live Long and Prosper.

 

*Quote from Stephen M. Edelson, Ph.D.

- As always, the thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are my own and do not necessarily reflect the experiences or opinions of others on the Autism Spectrum and/or Mind Shift.

 

 

 

 

The University of Washington and Microsoft Change the World of Work!

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In the article, “How UW, Microsoft are pitching in to help job-hunters with autism”, author Rachel Lerman introduces her readers to Project Search, a program through the University of Washington and Seattle Public Schools that trains people with ASD in skills that are important in the world of work.  Along with the training opportunity, Project Search also helps individuals on the autism spectrum find great job opportunities.

Lerman discusses the challenges that individuals on the spectrum face when entering the world of work. One such challenge is the spectrum itself.  This wide-ranging spectrum makes structured educational and training programs difficult. 

To resolve this concern, Project Search partners with businesses to provide internships to participants as often as possible, so training may be more personalized.  

Lerman also mentions the challenges that come from traditional recruiting and hiring methods, specifically she discusses the resume and the interview process.  Both of which, as many hiring managers will tell you, do not always present accurate or predictable information.  

To resolve these challenges, Lerman talks about Microsoft’s Hiring Academy, which not only works as a recruiting tool, it also offers training opportunities through classes on communication, tests for technical understanding and ability, and group games and activities.  

Opportunities like Project Search and Microsoft’s Hiring Academy are part of a nationwide movement by businesses to actively recruit individuals on the spectrum.  While, yes, these programs provide individuals with ASD opportunities for independence, they also provide benefits for our communities and our society at large.  But most importantly, and this fact is not lost on our business partners, it makes good business sense.  This is an untapped labor pool of people with skills, talents, and abilities that are of direct benefit to business.

Mind Shift appreciates this perspective.  We want our business partners to work with us because it makes good business sense.  We want to be considered an organization that provides exceptional talent that helps businesses move forward.  As we like to say, we help businesses do good work while doing good.

To read Rachel Lerman’s article, follow this link: https://www.seattletimes.com/pacific-nw-magazine/thinking-differently-about-employment/

And to learn more about how Mind Shift can help your business, visit www.mindshift.works!

Do Your Recruiting Methods Disqualify Great Job Candidates?

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In her article, “The Tricky Path to Employment Is Trickier When You’re Autistic”, Sarah Carr addresses a topic that is obviously close to Mind Shift’s heart, the challenges to employment faced by adults on the autism spectrum.

The author talks about a 39 years-old gentleman named Leigh.  Leigh has a master’s degree in Library Science, he has years of experience with a Boston library, and a 145 IQ.  In spite of this, Leigh has spent the past eight years working a minimum wage job in a position for which he is overqualified.

The article explores the challenges that present themselves through our traditional (and some would say antiquated) means of recruiting and hiring.  Resume writing, interpreting job descriptions, and the job interview each complicate the application process in such a way that often highly qualified individuals disqualify themselves.

Carr discusses the societal challenges that come with milder forms of autism.  As Leigh states, “I’m so high-functioning that I don’t really register as disabled, but I’m not high-functioning enough that I can easily utilize anything social.”  This is a reality we often see at Mind Shift.  People who are high functioning don’t always qualify for the support or assistance they need.  These are the individuals that fall through the cracks.  

But they are also individuals that have an abundance of skill, talent, and intelligence.  They are often the most qualified fit for high-demand jobs. And by simply taking into consideration the challenges that come with high-functioning autism, they can bring a substantial amount of value to the workplace.

Carr goes on to discuss how changes to our dated recruiting and hiring methodology, along with greater understanding of autism spectrum disorder, not only brings valuable skill and intelligence to the workplace, it allows high functioning adults on the spectrum the independence and integrity they want and deserve.

You can read Carr’s article on the slate.com website by following the link below:

http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2017/09/how_autism_complicates_the_path_to_employment.html

And to learn more about autism spectrum disorder, and how those on the spectrum are using their talents to benefit business, contact Mind Shift at info@mindshift.works.

Theory of Mind (or, Remember Other People Have Thoughts and Feelings Too), Part 1

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By Kate Bringe

 “Theory of mind refers to the notion that many autistic individuals do not understand that other people have their own plans, thoughts, and points of view. Furthermore, it appears that they have difficulty understanding other people's beliefs, attitudes, and emotions…” *

My internal life is frenetic. A million thoughts, feelings, and sensory registrations happening every waking moment leave little time to consciously dwell on other people’s thoughts and feelings. The way my mind processes information is like a machine. Input comes in and is analyzed, collated, categorized, and filed for later reference. Things like someone being unhappy because the shirt they wanted was sold out in their size are considered frivolous garbage-data. Their shirt sob-story has zero do to with my current task or the twenty-three other things currently pending in my internal queue. My initial reaction is to dismiss them and move on, but I need to catch myself. I have learned how important it is to acknowledge them and show empathy, even if I don’t understand what the big deal is about a shirt. I mean, can’t they just order it online and move on? Problem solved, right?

Their problem, in my mind, equates to:

Right shirt not available at store = order shirt online = problem solved.

Their problem, in their mind, equates to:

… ?? …um…give me a sec…uhhhhh …

Nope, I’ve got nothing. I have no idea what their problem is with this shirt. I don’t get it. I mean, it’s a shirt! It’s not like that time I went to buy pink, frosted, six-sided dice and they didn’t have any so now I have to wait four whole days for them to come in the mail! I really wanted them today and now I’m so disappointed because I was really excited and…oh…wait a minute … their shirt thing is EXACTLY like that time with my dice.

Suddenly, I can relate to their shirt boggle. I understand now! I may not be emotionally invested in their disappointment, but understanding why they feel that way makes it easier to take time away from my task and interact with them without frustration.

This is very much a learned skill. I’m certain that I have appeared cold and uncaring because I couldn’t comprehend why someone was telling me something or displaying an emotion. While I usually understand the words, I often don’t understand the emotion behind them.

If you’re angry, tell me with words. Don’t just tell me something while making an angry face. I might miss the angry face or mistake it for something else. Tell me straight out that you’re angry with me and why. Tell me when something is bothering you. If you don’t say anything, I consider everything to be going fine and will be surprised and confused when you come to me with a long-standing issue.

Being able to relate to others on an emotional level is critical to the success of autistics in the working world. If we do not learn, and practice daily, the skill of relating to others as unique beings, then we will fail in our efforts to develop and maintain social relationships and fulfilling employment.

To be continued in Part 2, arriving in two weeks.

*Quote from Stephen M. Edelson, Ph.D. 

- As always, the thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are my own and do not necessarily reflect the experiences or opinions of others on the Autism Spectrum and/or Mind Shift.

What Mind Shift Means to Me

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Hope.

Mind Shift means Hope.

By the time I reached adulthood, life on the Spectrum had taught me to be guarded and never  really, fully hope for anything. I grew up in the age where Autism was thought of as an affliction that required institutionalizing, and no one even knew what Asperger’s Syndrome was; the research wasn’t even translated from German until after I’d graduated from High School. My diagnosis didn’t come until I was twenty-nine years old. By then, I had internalized that I was broken, defective, an outsider. I didn’t fit in with others, struggling to understand the non-verbal cues. I’d struggled to get and keep jobs, worked below my education level and agonized over all the daily social interactions. No matter how hard I tried to fit in, at some point I’d see “The Look”.

The Look is a slight narrowing of the eyes and a tilt of the head, always signaling that I’d done something socially incorrect. Sometimes the consequences were a puzzled query from the other party, offering me an opportunity to correct my unintentional blunder; other times it was immediate ostracization from my coworkers and subsequent sidelong glances until the pressure became too great and I’d resign, humiliated and angry with myself for not “getting it”.

This became a repeating pattern, and I came to believe I’d never fit in anywhere. The social pressures were enormous. I’d spent years learning and mentally cataloging non-verbal social cues, so I could superficially pass for “normal” within limited time frames, but it was never enough. Extended periods of social interaction were exhausting as I expended my energy interpreting and making my best guesses to the nuanced meanings behind neuro-typical conversation. As time went on, I found myself avoiding social situations, even when I wanted to participate, because the emotional toll was too great. For each social gathering, there is a price to pay and I need varying amounts to time to recover and become energized again. Imagine being dropped onto another planet with no frame of reference to interpret the native language. The words mean one thing to you, but something different to them and you lack the necessary parts to replicate the “correct” meaning. Every social situation becomes a minefield.

How does any of this relate to Mind Shift and the Hope it gives me? Mind Shift accepts and accommodates my current ability level and encourages me to stretch those boundaries. It provides a place for me to learn of how much I truly am capable, instead of placing unattainable expectations on me from day one. The expectations of a “regular” job, without accommodations, were a guarantee of failure. I’d work so hard to meet them that all else in my life would suffer: home, friendships, nutrition, sleep, everything. There was no balance. Every ounce of my focus was on meeting the work goals and not losing the job. It didn’t take long before I’d start seeing The Look, and people who were previously friendly became distant. I knew my time in that position was limited.

Mind Shift is different. It’s a place of support, encouragement, safety, understanding, and most of all, Hope. Each day I go to work, I know that I’ll be productive, valued, and given the tools I need to excel and grow. My position at Mind Shift accommodates my current abilities and helps me expand those, growing as a person and employee. Mind Shift helps me realize my potential. What does my future hold? I don’t know for sure, but I do know is that what I learn and contribute at Mind Shift makes me a better person and helps me prepare for that future and the challenges and opportunities it will bring.

Each morning as I head to work, it happens. This huge, crazy bubble of Hope rises up inside me and bursts forth into an uncontrollable smile. I finally fit in.