Hire Autistics – Hire Aspies

| September 23, 2009

For many people on the ASD spectrum entering adulthood, finding appropriate gainful employment is a challenge.

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This is unfortunate because people with ASD have skills that can be profitable for an employer. Our experience in Autistry Studios has been that there is an astounding range in skills and interests in the people we work with so generalities always have exceptions but there are some common threads that we agree with:

Strengths:

  • good memory for details.
  • ability to focus on a particular task for extended periods of time.
  • comfort with structured tasks and situations.

Weaknesses:

  • poor communication skills.
  • poor social skills.
  • discomfort with rapidly changing dynamic situations.

Again, these are very broad generalizations. Your mileage may vary.

I’ve worked my whole professional career with folks like this except we called them “software engineers,” “digital artists,” or “QA testers.” If this is so, why such a gap between the people I work with and people with ASD having trouble getting work?

The problem is that people who have been assessed to be on the ASD spectrum got there because their particular mix of strengths and weaknesses is acute enough that they encounter failure to perform well in “normal” circumstances.

What it takes to hire austistics and aspies is some assistance in the job seeking process and appropriate job assignments and delegation.

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Appropriate jobs and their structure

I’m going to discuss the “appropriate job assignments and delegation” part first because there are some concrete examples handy.

This month’s Wired magazine has a short piece Thorkil Sonne: Recruit Autistics about Thorkil Sonne’s company Specialisterne, a QA testing company Thorkil started to take advantage of the strengths of ASD workers. Here’s another article about Thorkil’s company at the Harvard business Review.

Thorkil’s business (a for-profit company) has a structured training process and takes time making sure each employee is in the right role and that their points of contact within the business and with customers are well managed.

In my business, while we do not overtly seek to hire people with ASD, we know that many of our employees prefer what we call “individual contributor” roles, small teams, a quiet workplace, and well defined tasks. As a manager I know that I will get the best work (and therefore best profit) if I take care in how people are managed. Internal business communication is largely handled by people who have stronger communication skills. We call them “Tech Leads” if they are also programmers and we call them “Producers” or “Project managers” if they are less technical. The Producers handle the bulk of the actual interaction with customers and the programmers by far prefer it that way.

I think these are models that could work in other kinds of workplaces.

The job seeking process.

Find a job, interview for the job, get the job.

Easy, right?

Actually, practically everyone knows this is a hard process. For people with ASD there are particular difficulties.

To find a job you need to hear about a job or read a job listing, imagine whether you could do the job and imagine whether you’d like doing that job. This is precisely the kind of unstructured imaginative creativity people with ASD can find very difficult.

To interview for a job you need to successfully put on a social performance – for a stranger. This part in itself is very stressful and can be a challenge. In the course of the interview you need to hear the questions the interviewer asks and deliver answers that simultaneously are: a) what the interviewer wants to hear; b)  cast a favorable light on you the candidate; c) truthful. This difficult communication challenge is beyond most people who have an ASD diagnosis unless the employer is incredibly accommodating.

I think a solution to the job seeking difficulties is to do something similar to what seems to work in the workplace: matching technical people with “people-skill” people. We could call these people “Recruiters.” By this I mean that a recruiting company that specializes in placement of people with ASD might be a good model to address this problem.

One of the recruiting firms I work with today meets with every candidate and they often escort the candidates to our office on interview days. In the event of a hire they escort the new employee to their first day of work. What I am proposing for ASD folks is that the recruiters stay with the candidate deeper into the process.

This needs some cooperation from the hiring firm but as an employer, if a placement firm consistently brings me good candidates — and even in tough economic times like now good software engineer candidates are scarce — I’m willing to be a bit more flexible.

Practical Next Steps

One of our driving principals at Autistry Studios is that our students and their parents teach us what is needed. We have initially focused on getting our kids ready for life, college, and work. We are increasingly feeling the push to extend our work into helping our students get work and successfully stay at work.

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Autistry Studios Newsletter – September 21, 2009

| September 21, 2009

We had a very full and exciting weekend here. Everyone did such a great job at the Marin Autism Resource Fair.  The phone has been ringing with families wanting to know more about the Autistry programs. Huge thank yous to Kris, Sarah, Breton, Corey and Steven for staffing the table and being such awesome ambassadors.  We’ve had lots of feedback from folks saying they were very impressed with how our students articulated the goals of the program and people raved about the projects. If you guys would like to do this again:

GGRC Resource Fair: We will be having a table at the GGRC Resource Fair, Wednesday, October 28th, Hollis Hall, Marin Office of Education, 1111 Las Gallinas Ave, San Rafael. The fair goes from 3pm to 7pm.  Janet will be co-hosting a parent networking session with Stephanie Stein of Matrix.  There will also be a workshop on transition planning given by Support For Families of San Francisco. I have heard great things about this workshop so those of you in high school may want to attend.

Our new Filmmaking and Build Stuff Workshops got off to great starts – new faces and new projects.

Filmmaking with Nate: Two new students, Andrew and William, joined Steven and Devon for this new series of classes. Nate and Janet will be working hard to keep up with these very creative and ambitious film projects:

Steven – Bupim’s Quest continues with new adventures and some new characters. But the real question remains: will Bupim finally get a background…or will he be left forever in the land of gray.

Devon – is working on an original story. She has honed her skills at sketching and film editing and will now challenge herself to create her own narrative. She is also adding color to her pencil drawings.

William – will recreate the Battle of Okehazama in this first of several short films based on The Samurai Warrior video game. William is considering stop-motion and shadow play as ways to portray this epic battle which took place in Japan in 1560.

Andrew – is taking Autistry Studios in a new direction with his political satire. He is creating a hand puppet theater piece starring Rush Limbaugh! And there may be guest appearances by Bill O’Reilly.

Build Stuff with Dan: Two more new students joined us on Sunday, Joseph and Zach. Dan is busy ordering new tools to help with their great ideas.  But, as we all know, Dan is always on the look out for a reason to buy new tools!

Zach - will be building a Stirling Engine. In 1818, Robert Stirling came up with the idea of using alternating hot and cool air to create an external combustion engine.

Corey - is finishing up the Harvey Milk diorama and is already thinking about a new project. He is also helping the two younger students with their projects.

Joseph - What a great brother!  Joseph is making a tall, narrow chest to hold his sister’s Karate belts. This chest will stand almost 3 feet high and has 5 shelves.

Ian - Forever the Kung Fu fighter! Ian is making a diorama of the dojo from The Matrix. He has sized it to fit on the bookshelf (12″ x 10″).

The College Support Group is evolving as we learn what the students need and how best to help them. We are adding a section of project building to the workshop to give students a productive break time.

We have also created an Autistry Studios page on Facebook- check it out by clicking here!

All the best,  Janet, Dan, and Nate

PowerPoint deck from our Autism Resource Fair presentation

| September 12, 2009

I’m beat! The presentation and the Resource Fair went very well. I’ll post more about the fair and our presentation later but we had some requests for a copy of the slides we used.

Here it is in PDF (Acrobat Reader): Preparing our Teens to Work

Autism Resource Fair

Preparing our Teens to Work presentation this weekend, September 12

| September 11, 2009

Janet and I are presenting a mini workshop “Preparing our Teens to Work” this weekend at the CONNECTING PEOPLE TO RESOURCES resource fair tomorrow at Dominican University in San Rafael.

Besides the mini workshop we will be manning a table displaying some student projects and information about Autistry Studios. Several Autistry Studios parents and students have volunteered to man the table when Janet and I can’t be there.

Hope to see you there and we’ll take lots of pictures and post a report later this weekend.

My Life is Good

| September 9, 2009

(This is a quick update on me for the reading pleasure of Janet and some of the other Autistry Studios teachers. )

Hello Autistry Studios! I am now comfortably in my third week of high school. Really? Three weeks? oy…

Things are, as anticipated, different. But so far 90% of the changes are gladly welcomed. Mostly, I’m happy that people leave me to my own business instead of having someone screaming at me every time I turn the corner because they think it’s funny. Now that I’m at a new school, and not to mention older and wiser, I’ve been able to find a few “people”.

I’m still doing a bit of editing, but mostly I waste my free time on YouTube. Luckily for those who enjoy my work, I was inspired by a certain video that I just stumbled across. Now I’m determined to put my heart and soul into this next one I’m making. I showed my mom what I have so far, and her reaction was: “I hate the music, I’m sick of this ‘Fruits Basket’ crap, but your editing is phenomenal.”

I took it as a compliment.

As for my voice-acting, I continue to work myself into a nervous gelatinous wreck. Recently I received a call-back for a part I tried out for on YouTube during the summer. It’s an unofficial radio-play called “Project: Athena”. Of course, since I have little social engagements, I replied in a matter of hours after the call-backs were posted. I personally thought I nailed the emotion, but my pronunciation needs work and I am in desperate need of a new microphone.A friend of mine also made my day this week, saying she looked up to me and thought I was a good actress.

There isn’t much going on right now, but I’m really looking forward to the upcoming new Autistry Studios session. (There is one, right?)

Best wishes!

Preparing For Work Booklist

| September 9, 2009

I just found a great online booklist at this Canadian site:  Parentbooks

Of that list here are my favorites:

tn_5 is against the law

A ‘5’ Is Against the Law! Social Boundaries Straight Up: an Honest Guide for Teens and Young Adults. Kari Dunn Buron

“Building on her popular 5-Point Scale, Kari Dunn Buron takes a narrower look at challenging behavior with a particular focus on behaviors that can spell trouble for adolescents and young adults who have difficulty understanding and maintaining social boundaries. Using a direct and simple style with lots of examples and hands-on activities, A ‘5’ Is Against the Law speaks directly to adolescents and young adults.”

tn_preparing for life

Preparing for Life: The Complete Guide for Transitioning to Adulthood for those with Autism/Asperger’s Syndrome. Jed Baker

“The author of the best-selling Social Skills Picture Book now speaks to the growing challenge of social skills in young, and-not-so-young, adults with autism/Asperger’s Syndrome. This easy-to-follow resource provides a complete toolbox of skills that can open doors to opportunities. Includes sections on perspective taking, non-verbal communication, conversational skills, goal setting, and stress management.”

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Ready or Not, Here Life Comes. Mel Levine

“Dr. Mel Levine addresses the question of why some youngsters make a successful transition into adulthood while others do not. Instead of making a smooth transition into adulthood, many youngsters find themselves trapped in their teenage years, traveling down the wrong career road, unable to function in the world of work. These young people have failed, says Dr. Levine, to properly assess their strengths and weaknesses and have never learned the basics of choosing and advancing through the stages of a career. Ready or Not, Here Life Comes is a powerful commentary on our times and a book that can help adolescents and startup adults — with an assist from parents and educators — to spring from the starting gate of adulthood.”

asandadolescence

Asperger Syndrome and Adolescence: Helping Preteens and Teens Get Ready for the Real World. Teresa Bolick

With anecdotes from dozens of teens with AS and practical, easy-follow advice, this books helps teens and parents navigate the confusion of the teen years with grace and optimism.

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Developing Talents: Careers for Individuals with Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism, Revised Edition. Temple Grandin & Kate Duffy

This career planning guide is written specifically for high-functioning adolescents and young adults on the autism spectrum, their families, teachers, and counselors. The two authors weave together a unique blend of information and advice based on personal experiences. Temple Grandin draws from her own experience with autism spectrum disorders and her professional career, and Kate Duffy uses her expertise on employment issues and the mother of two teenagers with autistic-like behaviors. First-hand accounts of job experiences and advice from individuals representing a broad range of careers particularly suited for high-functioning individuals on the autism spectrum round off this exciting new resource.

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How to Find Work that Works for People with Asperger Syndrome. Gail Hawkins

A great guide for helping people with Asperger syndrome get into the workplace and keeping them there.

Autistry Studios Newsletter – September 2, 2009

| September 2, 2009

This summer just flew by and the new Fall Workshop season is almost here.  We had a good August break though we still worked on the programs!  We created an Autistry Studios Brochure.  Big thank you’s to Suzi Musgrove of SLM Creative for her wonderful design, to Kitty Edwinson for lending her copyediting expertise and to Bob Gerke for creating our tagline: create, connect, achieve. And, of course, a thank you to all our Autistry Studios participants for being so exquisitely photogenic!

We installed the new big screen monitor and computer in the living room and held our first Movie Night.  That was lots of fun and it’s time to start planning the next one. So send in your movie ideas and let’s get a discussion going on what to present.  This time we will choose the film in advance and send out a notice so you can decide if this is one you want to watch.

We started the College Support Group which meets on Friday afternoons to help students who are going to College of Marin.  In the process Dan and Janet are learning a lot about the criminal justice system, early civilizations, and the latest theories on human sexuality.  We are also becoming more familiar with the COM online systems and getting to know some of the faculty.

We would like to do another Costuming Workshop in October leading into Halloween.  Jen and Janet are working on the schedule for that now so please contact us if you’re interested.

New Group Project Idea: We would like to create an Autistry Studios 2010 Calendar.  We are thinking that each of us could design the illustration for one month.  It could be an original drawing or a photo of a project.  If we have more than 12 submissions we can do split screens!  Send us your thoughts on this.  Do you think we should have a drawing to see who gets which month?

REMINDER: Autistry Studios will have a table at the Marin Autism Resource Fair on Saturday, Sept. 12th at Dominican University.   The Fair is from 8:30am – 1:30pm.  Several of you have offered to join us at the table to answer questions about the program. Please let us know what times work best for you.  Dan and Janet will be doing a presentation from 11:15 – 12:45 on Preparing Teens for Work.  That presentation will be in the Meadowlands Assembly Hall – directions to the Hall will be at our table.

2nd REMINDER: It is time to confirm your place in the Fall workshops.  Just email us a note and we can discuss the best placement.  Below are the dates for the Filmmaking Workshop and the Build Stuff Workshop:

NATE’S FILMMAKING WORKSHOP

SATURDAYS:  September 19TH – December 12TH 10am – 2pm

September 19, 26, October 3, 10  (4 classes)
No Class October 17
October 24,  31, November 7, 14, 21 (5 classes)
No Class November 28
December 5, 12 (2 classes)

DAN’S BUILD STUFF WORKSHOP

SUNDAYS:  September 20th – December 13th 12 – 4pm

September 20, 27, October 4, 11  (4 classes)
No Class October 18
October 25, November 1, 8, 15, 22 (5 classes)
No Class November 29
December 6, 13 (2 classes)

We look forward to seeing you all soon!

Best,  Janet, Dan, Nate and Jen