Job Accommodation

At one of the previous agencies I worked at, we had quite a bit of space in the very beginning as far as our office went. I remember us having several conversations amongst ourselves about creating a sort of “quiet room” for employees to relax in. We also discussed such a room for or clients, who were autistic. We even thought up designs for the space; pillows, dim lighting (no florescent lights), a small relaxation fountain, etc. Needless to say, that lovely vision never saw the light of day.

Employers are required by laws (to a…reasonable extent, I’ll say) to accommodate for people with disabilities and special needs. They are encouraged in the United States to hire such individuals so as to appear inclusive. Ideally, this would happen regularly. As someone who has worked in HR, though, I can tell you that I have often witnessed quite the opposite.

That brings me to the article below. The consulting form EY talks with The Atlantic about hiring and accommodating autistic employees. To do this, every aspect of hiring and retaining had to be re-examined, from interviews, to interviews, to company culture. EY took this into consideration on all levels, and as a result has a more talented and complex employee demographic.

A lot of the tech companies are starting to actively adjust themselves in order to tap into a population who can make great employees if they are given the opportunity. Right now, EY is placing these employees in areas such as cybersecurity. My hope is that other industries will start to create similar programs to recruit and retain autistic individuals.

EY Describes it Program for Autistic Employees

Purpose

I started an 8 week training on DIR/Floortime yesterday. I am very familiar with the approach, but I still wanted to have more formal training on it and the techniques. The trainer was well-versed in both DIR and ABA, and she strongly preferred DIR (which makes sense if she’s training in it).

After the first training, we spoke casually for a few minutes. She had mentioned her middle son, who is autistic and is now a young adult, during the training a bit. Now, though, as we spoke about my thesis, she revealed something very personal.

She said that while her son is productive (has a job, a girlfriend, lives on his own), he is frustrated that he hasn’t found meaning in his life yet. He doesn’t know his purpose, and this bothers him enough that he mentions it to her. She doesn’t know how to address it with him.

While this is not an uncommon issue with those in their early 20’s (or older, to be honest), it seems especially hard for those who are just trying to navigate a system and society not set up for them. It is hard to focus on purpose when you are literally in survival mode all of the time.

I hope that at some point during the training, I can talk to her further about her son. The fact that she told me this, that our conversation went there, is no accident. This is, in fact, part of my own purpose…to help others figure out theirs.

 

Off-topic: I started a part-time job for income while I start setting up the next evolution of SPARC here in LA. Yes, SPARC is going to evolve a bit. The part time job is exposing me to the agencies and practices that are typical in southern California (which will be very helpful later on). Having seen how agencies work here, I am adjusting to both fit in and stand out. That, of course, will take some time. I am super excited about the prospects, though!

A Letter To Disney

Over the last few months, I have been both amazed and greatly encouraged by the amount of autism awareness that is starting to be raised in the private sector. While other parts of the world have certainly been ahead of us Americans in that sense, we are starting to realize the potential of a workforce that companies have not given much of a chance in the past.

Disney has been a regular source of enjoyment and bridge-building for many of my clients, regardless of their demographics. Being a Disney kid/adult myself, I personally know what impact it has. I remember the joy (again, as an adult) at seeing an African-American Disney princess emerge on the scene with The Princess and the Frog. The Disney brand has significant clout in the world, and that includes the autism world within it. For many of the families I’ve worked with, being familiar with Disney gave a clinician a much greater chance at earning the trust of our clients.

The article below is from an autistic adult who now speaks with corporations and organizations to make the case for hiring his demographic. He also does an aspect of what I like to do, which is train the current workforce on working with autistic employees and coworkers.

A Letter To Disney

LA Versus Bay: Autism

I am FINALLY in LA and settling in while scoping out the apartment scene. I have also been taking the time to look at the various agencies that focus on or at least include autism therapies in their offerings. I have already seen some interesting differences between agencies in LA county, and agencies in the Bay Area, and I’m sure more will pop up (which I will definitely write about). I will stress that this is just based on personal research I’ve been doing on agencies in LA (both before and after moving) and the Bay Area (which I have worked in and for); this is by no means comprehensive or an absolute of the offerings of these two areas. It is literally a “first impressions” kind of deal.

  1. Wraparound services and the concept of such seem to extend beyond the agencies themselves in LA. They tend to partner up with other agencies a lot more, mostly because the agencies down here appear more specialized in their missions. I’ve noticed that in the Bay, many agencies (at least the bigger ones) tend to be one-stop shops in a sense; for example, they will offer intervention or behavioral services, speech therapy, and occupational therapy in one organization.
  2. Because LA county is so freaking huge (and a pain to drive in), the agencies are much more narrow in their geographical scope here. They often have to limit themselves to certain communities, and even demographics within those communities. In the Bay Area, agencies tend to have more geographical reach and usually overlap in coverage areas. At my last job in the Bay, I had clients from Mountain View, to south San Jose, through Milpitas (google a map of the area, and you’ll see what I mean).
  3. The diversity of the type of agencies, at least for now, appears more vast in LA. Up north, there were no known agencies that utilized the Floortime/DIR method, and this was one of the reasons why I felt so left out of the autism circle there. ABA exclusively rules the land. While it also corners the market in LA county, I have found two agencies who use the Floortime method (basically unheard of in the Bay Area), and both have been in operation for well over a decade.
  4. Community outreach and connection is on a higher priority in LA. I’m not saying that it doesn’t exist in the Bay Area, because it does. I am saying, though, that it is more obvious in the agencies I’ve researched in the LA area. The agencies down here overall (and not just special needs ones) tend to create and hold their own conferences, go into lower socioeconomic areas/neighborhoods, and communicate more readily with those neighborhoods. Why? Because individuals in those neighborhoods rose up and decided to carve such agencies into creation themselves.

Overall, the LA area appears to operate a bit differently than the Bay Area, which means I will have to learn the lay of the land first before really striking out to plant my business here. So far, though, I am excited with what I see.

Autism @ Work Reception: Thoughts

This past Wednesday, I was able to attend the evening reception for SAP’s Autism at Work conference. It featured a Q&A panel with three known authors in the autism world: Steve Silberman, John Elder Robison, and Dr. Stephen Shore. Robison and Shore are both autistic.

I quickly became aware that this reception (and indeed the conference itself) was attended by both neurotypical and neurodiverse individuals. It was my first time attending such an event, which was a bit bittersweet; this should be the norm for such conferences. There were even color codes on the name tags, letting everyone know each person’s level of comfort with being approached. Silberman later explained that while this was common for the autism conferences/talks he attended overseas, it was the first time he had seen the practice here in the United States. This further let me know how far behind my country is with regards to autism awareness and acceptance.

It again became clear when I asked the panel about their experiences with regards to how black and brown communities approach autism. Silberman woefully admitted that he wished he could have included more people of color in his book NeuroTribes, and Robison stated that the racial divide in autism is yet another symptom of the racial divide in medicine and education overall. Silberman shared a quick story of how he spoke with a black man who, when Silberman mentioned that he wrote a book about autism, basically replied, “Oh, that’s the white people disorder.” To say that the story saddened me is an understatement, but I am glad that I mustered the courage to ask about the topic. It led to several great conversations with other attendees afterwards.

This is one of the aspects of autism acceptance that hasn’t been achieved yet. There is a general awareness of it for the most part in minority communities, but it is still not understood enough in those communities to warrant full awareness. I know people who still put autism in the same category as MR, or like the man in the example, do not think it affects their community at all. A Mexican mother whose autistic son is a client of mine is very nervous about having him attend regular classes once he starts school. She would rather have him in special education classes than to face the bullying that she feels he would suffer through in mainstream classes. It broke my heart to hear that, especially since I feel her son has the potential to be able to thrive in regular classes of interest.

I want to end on a positive note, though, so here it is: The entire two day conference is a strong indicator of a shift in the business world. Companies are starting to realize the potential autistic employees have and how having neurodiverse people on their teams will help their companies grow and thrive. They recognize that hiring practices and procedures need to change and adjust; do talented individuals really need to go through a face-to-face interview? Do HR departments know how to bring in more neurodiverse applicants (right now, the answer appears to be “no”)? The questions and situations are starting to be explored and asked, which is a great step forward. Institutions are starting the slow process of change.

Here are a couple of pictures from the reception, including the books I got signed:

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Ideas Everywhere!

I am going to detour from autism for just a post, because this directly relates to the programs I’m forming.

The concept of idea overload is a pretty common situation with writers. I have certainly had it in the past. You think up a story idea, you start on it, and then another story idea shoots off from that one, so you start tinkering with that new idea…and nothing ever gets finished. I seriously never thought I would have too many possible paths with regards to a business, but here I am.

There are, right now, about four possible paths I can take with SPARC. Only two of them are on this site right now. All still center around autism, but vary in approach. They each involve a different type of business plan, a slightly different network of people, slightly different goals (though the main theme is still autism acceptance), and involve different strengths of mine. I’ve been quietly testing each of them on a micro level, and all look equally promising. All of them also have interested/intrigued parties and potential partners.

This is the point where most people freeze.

A lot of us, when faced with several options, have a really hard time making a choice. This goes double if the wrong choice could (potentially) lead to a waste of resources. Even after doing market research and scouting for similar programs, it can still be difficult. I love all the programs equally, but tackling all of them at once is simply not possible this early in the game. One has to be put ahead of the others.

This is the main reason why I’ve been a bit quiet on the business side lately. I am building my network, but I am also monitoring the probability of success for each program. I have a few more emails and contacts to make, but I’m pretty sure that I will have a clear choice before the end of the April.

Ah, the joys of entrepreneurship!

Have any of you ever had a similar situation (too many potentially good ideas, not enough resources yet to execute them all)? How did you make your choices?

 

Autism Empathy Kit

First, a lovely Happy New Year to all of you! I hope you had as much fun saying goodbye to 2016 as I did!

Being that my business is all about expanding autism awareness and acceptance, I was intrigued by this article about an empathy kit. It was created by a design student who has an autistic sibling. It addresses quite a few of the sensory challenges of autism, including taste, hearing, and vision. Combining something like this with my presentations could make for an even more engaging experience for those who take the trainings.

Check out the article and let me know what you think. Is this a good start on such a concept? What would you add or adjust with the kit?

Autism Empathy Kit

Also, if you know any groups or organizations who would love an interactive and informative introduction to understanding autism, send them to my classes page or drop me an email!