ASD

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.

 

 

 

 

Hire for Culture Fit, not just Role Qualifications

 

When looking for a new recruit, employers typically focus on the needs of the particular role or position.  They ask: ‘Can the new employee take over the tasks of the old employee?”  But cultural and organizational impact is also important. Individuals with autism often bring characteristics to a business that can contribute to a healthy and sustainable culture.

Here are 5 ways that individuals with autism can benefit business culture:

1.      Integrity and honesty: Individuals with autism often are characterized as having black and white thinking. They “tell it like they see it.” While this honesty can be surprising, it is also effective in getting to the heart of issues that are often disguised behind niceties and office politics. This allows issues to be resolved long before they reach a boiling point.

2.     Focus: Individuals with ASD often excel at tasks that can seem repetitive and overly complex.  Their ability to focus for extended periods of time allow them to efficiently engage in the task at hand, often surpassing expected deadlines and falling well below acceptable margins of error.

3.     Detail Orientation: Specialists often are able to process and work with complex sets of data effectively and over long periods of time. They are able to find differences and changes in patterns that might typically be overlooked.  They will not only find the needle in the haystack, they will enjoy it.

4.     Process Optimization: Often, with their eye for detail, individuals with autism will recognize steps that aren’t necessary to complete the objective, and won’t hesitate to communicate these inefficiencies. This can lead to a fresh perspective on old systems, which can lead to time and money saving changes that will benefit the organization.

5.     Loyalty and commitment:  There is a saying about individuals with ASD: they don’t dig many holes, they dig one hole deep.  Individuals with autism aren’t typically jockeying for that next promotion or great business to jump to. They want to be accepted and appreciated for the skills and ability they bring to the job, and want the opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way.   

Because of the way they process information, and the unique way they see the world, individuals with autism bring value to a business not only in their ability to excel at particular tasks and roles, but also in the way they influence the organization as a whole.    

 

 

4 Ways to Increase Clarity, Transparency and Innovation in your Workplace

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is just that, a spectrum.  And as such, it is not accurate to assume there are behaviors that apply to all diagnosed with it.  But if we look at characteristics common among those diagnosed with ASD, we are able to gain an understanding of it, and can work to make an environment where everyone can thrive.  

Here are 4 simple ways to make your office ASD-friendly that will benefit your entire organization:

  1. Clearly define expectations:  Often individuals with ASD are “black-and-white” thinkers.  They can’t always interpret more nuanced, passive communication.  Because of this, clearly defining what is expected and what success looks like, can benefit their effectiveness.  And by alleviating the ambiguity of expectations for all employees, businesses will find opportunities for greater accountability and positive outcomes.
  2. Create a less distracting work environment:  Individuals with ASD can be acutely affected by the work environment.  This means that florescent light, or subtly buzzing machinery, or an odd smell emanating from the break room can become a distraction.  A person on the spectrum will quickly and honestly communicate any of these distractions, while a neuro-typical worker will suffer from them in silence or in ignorance until their effects on productivity or mood becomes apparent.
  3. Create an opportunity for safe, clear, communication: ASD is often referred to as a social disability, and with it come challenges to navigating the social environment most take for granted.  By creating a workplace where everyone can feel safe communicating, all employees will feel more inclined to speak up, and know their communication will be received and appreciated. This will result in a transparent culture, a trusting workforce, and an increase in company loyalty. This can also result in more frequent procedural innovation.
  4. Focus on strengths:  Too often, we assess performance to improve upon weaknesses instead of working to reinforce strengths.  This creates an expectation on the employee to “fix” themselves so they more closely align with expectations.  By focusing on strengths, and areas where the employees excel, we can feel confident that the individual is in the right seat.  Instead of covering a weakness they are embracing a strength.

We can move beyond our notion  that individuals on the spectrum face work challenges that are unique only to them.  When we do, these simple changes can lead to opportunities for all of us to be more productive (and happier) members of our organizations.

 

 

Giving Invincibility?

It is difficult to describe the incredible feeling that you get when someone believes in you, comes alongside you and when someone invests in you. It is a powerful feeling. For me, it is the closest thing to invincibility I have ever experienced. The feeling that, with people beside me, I can do ANYTHING. Thank you for coming alongside the talented people with autism that we train, showing them that they are worth investing in, and for believing in their incredible talent and value.

135 people, 11 businesses, a Kiwanis club and a church all came together and we raised $42,426 in just ONE day!  We came together from 40 cities in 10 states and 2 countries. We came together because we believe in investing in the incredible talent and value of people on the autism spectrum.

A special thank you to the four families, that have asked to remain anonymous, that provided $16,000 in matching money to help spur us on to greater generosity.

And finally, stay tuned, because we are not yet done. The Dakota Medical Foundation and the Impact Foundation (the brains, brawn and heart behind Giving Hearts Day) provide extra grants as incentives to non-profit organizations to engage more people and do better work. And this year, thanks to all of you, we are in the running for potential additional funds! We find out in April and I promise to keep you updated!

In Gratitude,

Cortnee (for the entire Mind Shift team)

And, in case you missed it, here is the video that our Giving Hearts Day Intern, Kyle, made to help tell our story...

Adding value...

As we put the finishing touches on Business Profiles and resumes for our most recent training cohort, I reflect on the team and what they and I learned in the course of their training. I learned a lot about the common and unique gifts, talents and skills that they each bring to the workplace.

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When asked to talk about himself, one trainee struggled to put two words together but could give an insightful, informative and thorough explanation when asked a question on a technical subject. Another struggles to define what would be “desirable” work for him but consistently chooses the option that challenges notions about those with autism so as to learn, grow and be a better version of himself. The impulse to finish others’ sentences can be difficult to control when your mind is moving at the speed of light. But it seems insignificant when that same compulsive nature is expressed in the desire to be early, loyal, dedicated and do the best work humanly possible.

While the team presented the results of their group project, I celebrated the value they discovered in themselves and eagerly anticipated sharing that discovery with business partners as we give each specialist the opportunity to add value in the workplace.

Speaking of adding value, many thanks to Midco for the value that they added to our training through their donation that purchased training materials.

- Margie Gray

A Blog Post from a Mom helping Mind Shift Change the World!

....As a mom, I will continue to focus on the “here and now”, but I’m more optimistic about his future and the prospects for employment.  If you were to ask my son about what he wants to do in the future, his latest response has typically been something like “I’d like to be famous for something someday and have a museum about my life.”  I can’t wait to find out what that is.