autism

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 2 of 3

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By Kate Bringe

 “Interestingly, people with autism have difficulty comprehending when others don't know something…” *

I am frequently baffled by how people can not know things. Don’t they want to know everything? How can they not hunger to learn? I want to know all the information, so I’m prepared. I do not want to wing it. I want to be able to make plans A through G for upcoming events. Not knowing all the available information for an event, like a holiday or trip, causes anxiety. I’m not trying to be nosy; I’m trying to compensate.

When I was around four years old, my great aunt and uncle gave me a teddy bear for Christmas. I already had a teddy bear though. His name was Teddy, and he wore blue overalls with red trim over his short, matted fur. I loved him very much. This new teddy bear was naked with long, silky fur. It was a nice bear, sure, but I already had Teddy. Why would they give me this bear when I had Teddy? I stood there, a four-year-old in her frilly Christmas dress, suddenly thrust into a conundrum for which I was unprepared.

In my mind, I’d just received this brand-new bear and maybe he was meant to replace my very best friend, Teddy. Fancy Bear’s fur was clean and fluffy; his eyes were large and shiny. Teddy, my beloved, had matted fur and smaller eyes. Would he feel dingy next to this glamourous new bear? Would he worry that I wouldn’t love him anymore? Would he be afraid of being shunted aside for this flashy upstart? What if he thought I thought he was trash now? Was my mom going to throw away my ratty, old bear? Teddy was my first and most cherished friend. This newcomer would never unseat him in my heart! My four-year-old mind couldn’t process all these feelings quickly enough. Given enough time, I may have figured out that these two bears could be friends, and everything would’ve been fine.

My gears were stuck, though. Thoughts and feelings were storming through me and everyone’s eyes were on me. I knew what response was expected of me but how could I accept this new bear when I didn’t know what was to become of Teddy? I couldn't lose my best friend. I had to protect him! I struggled for a few moments, trying to figure out what to do or say and finally looked up, right into my great aunt’s blue eyes, and blurted, “I already have a teddy!” I hurled the new bear back into the box for emphasis.

It goes without saying my mother was mortified. My great aunt was generous in heart, but she also had very rigid expectations of proper behavior and I’d totally blown it. In their minds, I was simply not being grateful for the lovely gift of a new teddy bear. My mother immediately apologized to everyone for my outburst and excused us from the room. She took me into the kitchen and spoke sternly to me about the importance of being grateful and how nice it was of Auntie B and Uncle E to buy me this lovely bear. She told me I should graciously accept the gift and thank them for it.

I was confused, heartbroken, and humiliated. Everyone knew I was being scolded. I hadn’t intended to offend anyone, but I couldn’t express what was going on inside me either. I didn’t have the vocabulary yet to convey my thoughts and feelings. Mom marched me back into the living room and everyone turned to look at me. I felt such a deep sense of shame, but I did what was required of me and thanked them for the bear. I was angry that no one understood how I felt. I was angry that I was unable to express myself. I was angry that they’d given me a bear when I already had one. I was afraid that I was going to lose Teddy. I was afraid to open any more gifts in case they were also things I already had. It was the first time in my life that I felt like I didn’t belong. It was the first time that I considered I might be different than everyone else. It was the first time in my life that I felt like I couldn’t trust my family. I had discovered that I was blindfolded and in the social equivalent of an undocumented minefield.

For the next 33 years, I would search the house for my gifts (or I’d open them with an Xacto knife once they were wrapped) so that I’d never be surprised again. I’d know what they were, and I’d have time to prepare myself to react in a socially appropriate manner. Even when the gifts were something I wasn’t thrilled about, I would be ready and able to graciously thank the giver and make a nice comment about the gift. If there were any last-minute gifts, I always smiled and kept my gaze on the packages as I opened them so that I wouldn’t inadvertently make any inappropriate faces. Again, I would say something nice about the gift and how thoughtful the giver was. My efforts paid off. I never received a gift-related reprimand again. Knowing what I was receiving alleviated the greatest amount of anxiety I felt each time Christmas, or my birthday, came around. There was always the social piece that I struggled with, but at least I never had to worry about what I might find inside one of those brightly wrapped boxes.

Time and experience have brought intellectual understanding. I understand that no one knew what I was thinking and feeling about Teddy and the new bear. Auntie B and Uncle E were not frequent visitors and probably thought a teddy bear would be a splendid surprise for a four-year-old. At the time, it never even occurred to me that they wouldn’t know I had a bear. The Teddy Bear Incident was never brought up again, so I kept all my confusion and anger inside. Years later, my mom and I talked about it and she was surprised that it had made such an impact on me. Apparently, no one else thought it that big of a deal since I was only four years old. She explained that Auntie B and Uncle E didn’t know I had Teddy and had picked out the bear on their own, which was a revelation to me. Even after all those years, it still hadn’t occurred to me that they hadn’t known about Teddy.

The feelings, though, have never gone away. That experience is seared into my emotional memory. It was the first of many scars and a defining moment in my life. What seemed like no big deal to the neurotypicals in my family was enormous to me.

Again, time and experience have brought me perspective and understanding. I’m autistic and the way I process events and emotions is different from the way my family processes them. I learned that as an adult. I sometimes wonder now how that Christmas would’ve been different if they’d known I had autism. Would they have been more patient with me, aware that I processed differently and needed more time to work out The Bear Situation? Would Auntie B and Uncle E consulted with my mom on a good gift idea? Would my family have helped me work through what was bothering me when I displayed distress? I’d like to think all of the above, because even though our family had a lot of rocky patches, I know they loved me, then and now.

Whatever became of the new bear? I don’t know. I have no memory of him beyond that night. Teddy, though, “greets” me every day from his place of honor on my bookshelves, still my first and oldest friend.

 

To be concluded in Part 3, 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.

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.

 

 

When I Grow Up, I Want to Be...

We all have dreams for our future and for the futures of our children. But, for the 80-85% of adults on the autism spectrum who are unemployed or underemployed, those dreams can seem unattainable.

YOU can make those dreams a reality by helping them apply their incredible intelligence and unique strengths. YOU can give them their When I Grow Up.

Join us THIS Thursday, February 9th at www.givingheartsday.org. Donations of $10 or more will be MATCHED up to $16,000 thanks to generous donors who, like you, believe that talented people like Ian can and should reach their full potential.

*A special thank you to our Giving Hearts Day Intern, Kyle Bartholomay, for producing this wonderful video! Also, thank you to these bold students for sharing with us your dreams for the future. May your dreams be attainable and your path be filled with the people you need to get you there!