Jupiter, Fla. (May 3, 2017) – Over 175 professionals, self-advocates and community leaders gathered for a two-day meeting that featured presentations from leaders in autism science, practice and public policy from around the globe. The 2017 Autism Innovations and Global Impact State of the Science Conference, hosted by the Els for Autism Foundation, more than delivered on its promise to inspire and motivate attendees.
“World-class science was the star of the show throughout the event—from new advances in studying neural connectivity via neuroimaging, to innovations in public health to enhance early detection and intervention, to longitudinal studies of developmental trajectories and factors affecting long term outcomes,” said Dr. Michael Alessandri, Executive Director, Center for Autism and Related Disabilities, University of Miami, and Conference Chair.
Among the highlights:
- Deeply personal journeys of Alex Plank, an autistic adult and founder of wrongplanet.net, the Honorable Mike Lake, father of a son on the autism spectrum and Member of Parliament in Canada and Dr. Roy Richard Grinker, father of an adult daughter with autism, noted anthropologist and author of Unstrange Minds.
- Talks by other notable leaders including Andy Shih (Autism Speaks), Adriana di Martino (New York University), Petrus de Vries (University of Cape Town), Catherine Lord (New York Presbyterian Hospital & Weill Cornell Medical Center) Ami Klin (Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Georgia Research Alliance) and Roberto Tuchman (Nicklaus Children’s Hospital & Miami Children’s Health System).
- Presentations on how to positively change outcomes for those in low resource areas around the globe through innovative strategic partnerships and treatment adaptations that would make intervention more accessible to those most in need.
“The importance of parental involvement, including specialized training on engaging their child, as well as the value of employment for people with autism, were other key takeaways,” noted Dr. Marlene Sotelo, Director of Programs and Operations at the Els For Autism Foundation. “There is also a greater need for cultural sensitivity in understanding autism from a diagnostic and intervention perspective.”
“Eight years ago when the Center was founded with Ernie and his wife Liezl, we could have never imagined the progress we would make in the field, from a school for 128 autistic boys and girls that will double enrollment this fall, to this inaugural conference that brought together a renowned group of educators,” said Marvin R. Shanken, Chairman of the Board, Els for Autism Foundation and head of M. Shanken Communications. “We have so much more to accomplish with this talented group of leaders.”
The Els for Autism Foundation
The Els for Autism Foundation was established in 2009 by PGA TOUR golfer Ernie Els and his wife Liezl (residents of Jupiter, FL) shortly after their son Ben was diagnosed with autism. The Foundation’s overarching mission is to help people on the autism spectrum fulfill their potential to lead positive, productive and rewarding lives. The Els for Autism Foundation has offices in the U.S., Canada, South Africa, and the UK. To help fulfill its mission, Els for Autism has built a state-of-the-art Center of Excellence in Jupiter, FL, with a local, national and global reach.
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For questions, call Lori Rosen at 212.255.89010You Don’t Need to Open Your Wallet to Give
Christmas and Hanukkah are around the corner. Two major religious holidays that celebrate miracles and the ideas of gift-giving and charity, besides having a religious identity. As an organization devoted to charity, we at the Els Foundation stress exactly the importance of material giving but, even more than a simple cash donation, improving the lives of those with autism, holding up pillars in our community, and listening to those with the condition are also very important to us.
The donations that we receive also allow the Foundation to employ someone like me, an actual ASD personality, to write these blog posts, edit various important company manuals, and to serve as a role model to the community-at-large. It’s not just advocating from abroad, but advocating from home. Plus, the donations go to a state-of-the-art professional school, the Center of Excellence, whose purpose is to give autistic kids a sensory-friendly environment in which to improve on their skills and to get an education.
As many readers would know, autism was officially diagnosed by the U.S. Government in 1990, and Asperger’s, my condition, in 1994. Thus, because of the relatively recent nature of the condition, our mission is more experimental and cutting-edge than many organizations devoted to pursuing answers to different disabilities. It is up to potential donors to go to the oasis brands in the desert, especially in a county as large as Palm Beach, and to make history!
But, beyond autism, part of our mission is to create a more inclusive environment through the game of golf with #GameON Autism™ Golf. Golf is a huge industry, with lucrative careers and a thriving culture on the greens. Beyond that, the Els’ mission is to also pinpoint the strengths of golf as a source to challenge, and improve on disability. You don’t need to be an atlas to succeed in golf, which requires patience, practice, determination, perseverance and a connection to the soul of the sport. It could introduce an autistic individual to a new favorite sport, and, perhaps, could also give that same person a great and highly fulfilling livelihood.
Nonetheless, cash donations are not the only way to celebrate the spirit of this Foundation.
There have been many stories this past year that illustrate my point.- A football player sitting with an autistic kid at lunch and a cheerleader asking an autistic kid to prom are two that come to mind.- These are individuals that use their prominence and positions within the greater community to help out those who may feel lonely or set apart from their peers. In the spirit of the holiday, perhaps consider helping someone who may be quieter or feel isolation and reach out to them. Who is outside of your typical friendship unit? Do you know someone who needs help? Just because someone doesn’t say a word, doesn’t mean that they are always comfortable or satisfied with the way everything is around them. Everyone appreciates a little kindness so pass it on!
If you have a friend with autism, take them out to enjoy and share an experience with them. Or, if you know someone who has a crush, offer to take them both out to the movies or a holiday parade, or perhaps take them to a dance, if the crush is with you. Tell the person on the spectrum how much you appreciate them, and for those of us with autism, I recommend trying something new.
Do something new. Be something new. Whether on the spectrum or not, we all can benefit from extra compassion and opening our hearts to others who need it most. Happy holidays to all. Thank you for joining me on the journey through this blog. — Merrick Egber#GivingTuesday
Last year, more than 45,000 organizations in 71 countries came together to celebrate #GivingTuesday. Since its founding in 2012, #GivingTuesday has inspired giving around the world, resulting in greater donations, volunteer hours, and activities that bring about real change in communities. Today, we invite you to join the movement!
1. Make a Donation
2. Shop AmazonSmile
3. Gift a Customized Brick
There’s another FUN way to get involved this #GivingTuesday. Follow instructions, below, and print off your sign here: http://bit.ly/UNSELFIESteps.
Here are some examples from the Els for Autism Foundation staff!
“I give to Els for Autism so we can continue building on this beautiful campus!” -Nicole Poundstone, Els for Autism Events Manager
“I’m supporting Els for Autism because the foundation helps families locally and worldwide!” – Jackie Gilliland, Els for Autism Marketing Associate
Tag us in you posts and use the hashtags, below!
Facebook & Twitter Handle: @elsforautism
Hashtags: #GivingTuesday, #UNSELFIE, #ElsforAutismCinematic Autism
Movies are an essential part of my life as a human being today. Almost everyone, of any age, has an interest in a certain era or certain genre, and film has been long established as an art form that any type of person, from the hipster to the layman, can appreciate. Movies create larger-than-life personalities, introduce people to stories beyond their own, and can create stars through soundtracks and merchandise, too.
Because of its cultural appeal, I am not distant from a love of cinema, but what is even more interesting is that a current film riding high on the box office, The Accountant, deals with an autistic main character and a possible Oscar entry for best documentary. “Life Animated”, is about a boy who finds his and his family’s life changed when he gets regressive autism, which is when a neurotypical kid exhibits autistic symptoms all of a sudden. What better time, than now, to talk about the moving pictures?
My childhood, like many others, was influenced by the Disney movies I saw. Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast… those were the movies I got into and one of my favorites was The Lion King. I also absolutely loved Jim Carrey – Ace Ventura: Pet Detective– was my first live-action film, and Carrey was my favorite actor in the 90s. Graduating to more mature films was also quite easy, and eventually I got an appreciation of the film medium as much as any other, the artistry, and the unique genius in the world. Because I’ve always been interested in people, it is a way to understand people’s lives without becoming a voyeur, especially including documentaries.
Through seeing, probably, hundreds and hundreds of films of all kinds, I have movies I would call my favorites. My favorite genre of film has usually been the comedy, with the western almost being tied. In comedies, just being able to laugh in such a stressful situation during life is of high importance. The idea of recreating the freedom, liberation and beauty of a western landscape filled with little communities, and a timeless tale of good vs. evil is what I like about westerns. My favorite film, though, belongs to neither genre, and that is Psycho. Typically, a good horror movie isn’t always about scares, but about creating great characters through the twisting of humanity’s psychosis like Norman Bates or Freddy Krueger, in a way it may be the genre where the villain could matter more than the hero/heroine, almost creating an underdog mythos through a character with very few redeemable qualities. Psycho does all of that, especially with Anthony Perkins giving one of the best performances that I’ve seen in a film through the character of Norman Bates. Plus, Alfred Hitchcock is one of my favorite directors.
So what does this have to do with autism? Autistic individuals are generally into repetition which many films provide in a sometimes clichéd manner. This form of repetition makes it easier for us to understand. If the films aren’t completely adaptable to understanding every social situation, it doesn’t matter due to the visual importance of cinema, but they may still be able to learn important social skills, good and bad unwritten rules and proper behavior due to seeing good and bad examples onscreen. It also doesn’t require a lot of work to utilize, therein poor motor control has nothing to do with being able to enjoy a film.
But what may be the most important thing when it comes to autism and film is that it can allow neurotypicals the ability to understand autism in a way that they couldn’t otherwise, and for those with autism to look at role models, to even see their condition brought to a place from which very few social pillars can reach. Besides the confirmations that Daryl Hannah (Bladerunner) and Dan Aykroyd (The Blues Brothers) are both autistic, there are many, many movies, of many different stripes, that all try to tell their version of the autistic story. Besides Rain Man (which is, probably, where many people first heard about autism), there is a Temple Grandin movie, The Story of Luke. Additional movies include Adam, The Big Short, The Imitation Game, The Social Network, A Beautiful Mind, and the list goes on and on. Particularly notable is the film “Change of Habit”, which was one of the earliest film treatments on the condition, and which stars Elvis Presley in a rare dramatic, and final, role. Due to the era in which it was issued, its mentality on autism can be seen as very insensitive in light of more contemporary practices and views.
For years, I’ve loved cinema, and it is one of the best ways to bond with other people. You go to a theater, get some popcorn, sit in a nearby seat, watch a movie and you don’t have to worry about any social or communication faux pas as you, and another person, suck in the quality of whatever it is that you watch. Because these films move beyond whatever limitations you think you have, you can then socialize about something related to the subject, almost like you can love the film as if you weren’t autistic at all.
As an organization centered in the U.S., we are taking our time to celebrate one of the most important holidays that our fellow countrymen cherish, Thanksgiving. While being uncommonly filmed, those celebrating the holiday can still watch “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”, an excellent Thanksgiving-based comedy that is one of the few films that I’ve watched more than once. Have any other movies you’d recommend? Share them in the comments below and follow us to stay in conversation. Have a happy Thanksgiving! — Merrick EgberAutistic Athleticism
Usually, theatergoers are attracted to those movies: films portraying underdogs competing in a professional sport, wherein the thrill of the sporting event has added dramatic elements that engage, and inspire, the audience watching the movie. There are movies about African-American athletes competing in the Jim Crow-era South, about mentally challenged athletes rising to their best through the sport, and there are even a few movies about autistic individuals, “A Mile in His Shoes” being one of them. But movies are all about the past, they are all about telling a story, fiction or non-fiction, about an individual who transpires to become the focal point of whatever movie they’re in due to their inspirational tendencies, usually filtered through a Hollywood filter, where everything becomes needlessly glamorized. Why not shine a light on the athletes, specifically athletes with autism, who are competing in the present?
My history in the realm of sports is very brief. I’ve always been a very slow runner with very low stamina, enough to where walking a mile would take an hour for me to complete, and I only got involved with the practice of sporting due to the requirements to do so until the end of the ninth grade. I did amass a short list of accomplishments throughout my trials in the world of sports, from becoming the “MVP” of a soccer league to taking out the champion wrestler at my High School, and I found some pride in succeeding in highly kinetic sports like Soccer and Hockey, but it never was a field that I was going to enter in. I do admire, though, those who make a field like that as their career, becoming more than just athletes, but historical icons.
And, yes, being a successful autistic athlete may be a little bit of a gift. While the diagnosis focuses, distinctly, on communication skills, delayed gross motor skills are also considered a common symptom of having ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). What are gross motor skills? According to the Encyclopedia of Children’s Health “Gross motor skills are the abilities required in order to control the large muscles of the body for walking, running, sitting, crawling, and other activities.” If you have Asperger’s Syndrome, for example, then the neurologists will say that one of the symptoms is in being clumsy, it is also thought of that early diagnoses of those with autism will find kids that cannot walk in a straight line towards the tester during some diagnosis tests. Thus, it is a lot harder to imagine anyone athletically active, and successful, who happens to also be autistic.
Well, while doing my research I actually did come across one such gentleman. The man’s name is John “Doomsday” Howard and he is a professional MMA fighter, specializing in kickboxing, who got the clinical diagnosis of autism. There are other MMA fighters with autism, like Serena “The Southpaw Outlaw” DeJesus and Connor “Captain Redbeard” Gross, but Mr. Howard actually has a record of participating in a few of the major league events held by the UFC organization.
In an interview conducted with him in July, John Howard admits that he was very interested in learning about his diagnosis, even if in his case it is “mild and low”, due to the “many variants” of the disorder, and that it cleared up any mysteries about his life, stating that it was “good to know”. To him, autism isn’t really a setback as much as it is a fact of life. He responds to a question I ask him referring to an article from 2013 written by Coach Doug DuPont who analyzes MMA as a good field for those who are autistic, and whether or not there is any truth to it of which he confirms for me that he is very good at repetition, not uncommon for those on the spectrum and that repetition is very important to the sport of MMA. He ended our conversation by noting his social media presence on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, just type in John “Doomsday” Howard on any of these platforms to find him.
In conclusion, you can be a successful athlete and still have autism. There is even a runner by the name of Michael “Mikey” Brannigan who has competed in the Paralympics and is so fast that he sees himself as competing in the actual Olympics in the future, and he is autistic. Just like any inspirational sports movie, it is not about genetic determinism or fate as much as the will of the player in competition or outside to change the course of history, and to declare victory in the arena of the sport. — Merrick EgberFor The Love of Autism: A Realistic Story on “Love”
Generally, in the past, the common elements of inspiration from parent to child have been the eventual life of a home, a job, and a spouse. Now, as I mentioned in my first post, just telling someone on the spectrum to “get a job” isn’t as easy as it seems. A home could be possible with two incomes, , but having two incomes would require both participants to have jobs first. A later blog post may also offer other potential challenges about the “home” situation, like a transitional period where you may have to have roommates. And that brings us to the wife situation.
I remember reading somewhere that 10% of all autistic adults are married, which shocked me, somewhat. First reading about the employment statistics, and now this!? Hell, if you were an autistic adult, having a full-time job, which is a lot less common than those employed with autism who work part-time, and being a husband, or wife, would already make you sort of an outlier according to all of these statistics. Even the Natural Variation – Autism Blog, which champions neurodiversity, has put out statistics that show that 33% of autistic individuals, in general, are married, while 7% are divorced/separated/widowed, which means that 40% of all autistic adults have been married in their lives. While, according to the comparable statistics, the divorce rate is higher for neurotypicals,, it still counts that 76% of neurotypicals HAVE been married at some point in their lives, so what gives?
But you didn’t come here just to get statistics, graphs and models on the subject of autistic marriage, right? You came here to see if your new friend could give some “insights” on the subject.
I’ve lived on this Earth for over 30 years. And through those 30 years, I’ve never been married, in fact I’ve never been in a relationship before. And it is not that I don’t want one, I am dying for the kind of relationship that I would like. A beautiful woman, who would make me feel young, who doesn’t have the same eccentricities that I have, except for one or two, and who can tolerate my mind. I may not feel depressed again as long as she is with me. Wouldn’t it be so easy to find one?
Well, one of my educated guesses on why the statistic is the way it is may not be completely about incompatible social communication, but it is about one word: shyness.
It has usually been that I am not completely in love to talk to people who I don’t know, sometimes, though I do have a strong desire to open up to people, perhaps stronger than many neurotypicals do. It has also not been in my favor, that the girls, and women, that I’ve wanted over the years were completely unattainable to me, since I am overweight and don’t feel attractive. It has been so difficult walking the world alone, thinking that a miracle could happen, I guess now I know how a monk feels.
For example, for my Middle School’s farewell dance, there was a girl there who I really wanted to go out with, and I had this temptation to dance with her. Unfortunately I couldn’t even ask her myself, so I sent my best friend at the time as sort of a messenger to relay our messages back to each other. Eventually after a disembodied conversation, that same girl told me that she wasn’t “ready yet”.
But, to me, the opposite gender, especially the neurotypical types, are still not completely blameless in this field. I don’t know who came up with the rules of romantic engagement and initiation, it seems like an instinctual rule that has been passed down since the beginning of time, but this one rule makes my shyness even worse. What rule am I talking about? That the man has to initiate a conversation. Many autistic individuals who have desires for romantic relationships may be very shy. They may feel a sense of nervousness and anxiety, due to any feeling of undesired social awkwardness on their parts. What that rule does is it privileges the playboy over the geek, the madman over the quiet genius, and it really should end. Now, not all women are like this, nor are all assertive guys like it either, but we live in the 21st century and all old unwritten rules should be updated for these contemporary times.
In conclusion: You can’t go wrong dating someone with autism, even if you feel worlds apart. Love isn’t based on material things, it isn’t based on job security, what it is based on, is love. — Merrick EgberMusic in Motion
So, if you’ve read my previous blog post, you’ll know that I am eternally indebted to The Beatles, beyond any measure of feigned sincerity. They gave me a figurative roof over my head and room and board, beyond any artist, entertainer, or con-man out there. It was primarily The Beatles that led me to what I could do with my time, besides my original goal, designing video games
What The Beatles did for me was to imagine (no pun intended) what it would be like if I tried to form a band addressing the same principles that The Beatles had, or at least tried to uphold. It was then, in the 10th grade, when I started pursuing the idea of writing song lyrics for my presumed future band. It was a way out for me, a way to express my thoughts and feelings, when I would feel uncomfortable, or awkward, doing it any other way.
During that year, I had highly depressive behavior because of all kinds of circumstances, and I felt like everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, was betraying me bit by bit until I could find no sanctuary to hide from my loneliness and anger. Through music and my lyrical muse, I spent a good amount of time working on trying to pre-suppose a new identity for myself that would try to live through the pain.
This band, BTW, would never happen. I eventually learned that I had a very limited voice, even though it is low baritone, and I wasn’t able to retain any instrumentation lessons, nor could I be able to even play a guitar, but I still kept on writing throughout. I would write about loneliness, about conflicts in my life, sometimes politics, commercial relationship kind of numbers, holiday-based ones too. While I really felt like I was going nowhere, what I was writing made me think that I could be going somewhere.
But I never wrote about my impressions of having Asperger’s.
In 2007, my father started singing with a cover band, and by the turn of the decade, they actually had a regular gig. When the owner of an Italian restaurant invited the band to play at a benefit for Autism Speaks. The hostess of the event, a news reporter, learned that I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and I was invited to write and possibly recite a poem about my impressions of Asperger’s at the event. So, I wrote what would become “Misunderstood”. Unfortunately, I didn’t recite it at the event, but it became the first poem on the website of Tony Attwood, a famous Asperger’s expert, which I will always treasure. I’ve gotten a good amount of positive feedback on that poem. It is always good to have a well-liked debut, especially since I’ve written much more about my mental quirks, and more Asperger’s impressions, lately, which really do help as a way to convey what one really feels.
But I’m not the only one. Gary Numan of “Cars” fame, and Craig Nicholls of Australian Rock band “The Vines” have all been quoted as having Asperger’s Syndrome.
Will I ever join them? Who knows? — Merrick EgberDon’t Drop That Phone: Why autism and video games click
(Phone reference is to mobile phone/iOS games such as Cookie Clicker)
It’s that time of year again.
The biggest video game convention in the world! E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo, #E32016), has been running throughout the second week of June in Los Angeles, California. Ever since 1996, it has been “the place” to watch trailers for new, upcoming games, witness the big shots of the industry present these games and the visions of each of their respective companies, along with the big bad tech by console (or game machine) developers themselves.
If you are a gaming enthusiast, E3 is like going to the Detroit Auto Show for motor enthusiasts in North America.
For the past five or so years, I’ve never missed an E3 conference. I’ve always wanted to know what Nintendo, Sony, or Microsoft can cook up to impress me, along with other development companies. I regularly go to websites like Siliconera.com and Destructoid.com to read up on the latest gaming news, and I have a long, long web history that deals with the gaming community, along with lasting friendships based on the medium. Gaming has been my first love ever since I was 5, when my father bought me a NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) from Sears with the two-in-one pack of “Super Mario Brothers/Duck Hunt”, and I have great memories just sitting in front of a TV, controller in hand, ready to go through whatever epic chronicle was ahead. To me, any of the programmers who worked on these games would be automatic heroes, people to admire and cherish.
So you may be wondering what any of this has to do with autism. After all, video games, like movies, books, and sports, rely on systems that can be universally applied but which can also either nurture or turn off a person’s perception of their abilities or disabilities. Not everyone with autism likes video games in the same way that another person with autism does, either. But if you think that there may be a connection, well I’m here to affirm and explain it to you.
First, individuals on the spectrum can value routine and repetition, and what can be more routine and repetitious than video games? For example, the original NES “Dragon Warrior” game asked the player to engage in random encounters, or command-based fights, multiple times in order to progress through the game, typically utilizing the same commands each time.
Second, it feeds into the analytical reasoning of many on the spectrum. Certain genres, like “Puzzle”, “Adventure”, or “RPG”, use routines but analytical skills are required in order to add depth to the game’s mechanics. In “The Adventures of Lolo”, a puzzle game for the NES, you are tasked to move Lolo to the back of a room in order get through a labyrinth in order to save your love, Lala. To do that, you must assess each room to understand how to get Lolo to the doors, safely, without getting hurt.
Third, even with the multiplayer revolution, most games can be simply enjoyed alone, with the abilities to configure everything for an incredibly relaxing, and non-stimulating, experience. So I’ve discussed about analytical reasoning, and routine, but beyond that, most games can be greatly personal, while being greatly impersonal, experiences. It’s a way for individuals with autism to feel a strong sense of self-worth, to actually become a hero, in a world where they may have to deal with unforgiving parents, or pitiless bullies, and they don’t have to be forced into awkward social situations while doing so. Plus, because video games are all about gameplay, you can turn all of the sound effects and music completely off while still fully enjoying the experience.
And the icing on the cake is what is called the special interest component. Many games give lots and lots of reasons to become fully engaged, from Easter eggs (hidden developer messages in video games), to replay value, to having complex, but simple, systems that encourage analysis, experimentation, and discovery, like Pokémon. It is easier for an autistic individual to get completely sucked into a game world, than in any other form of media.
Hopefully, this will explain why so many people with autism really like video games a lot. As for me, I’m into them because I love them, simple as that.
Note from Els:
We invite all gamers to join us playing “Trivia for Good”, a new game that incorporates video clues. The fastest and most accurate player wins 80% of the $100,000 prize while 20% goes to charity, and we’re thrilled to be one of the beneficiary organizations.
What is your favorite video game? Are you on the autism spectrum as well? We like to hear your comments.The Puzzled Jungle: One Hunter’s Journey to Employment
For me, starting off in the workforce wasn’t as timely, or as easy as it would be for someone who doesn’t have my hang-ups. The first real job I had was at the age of 20, delayed by being in an Independent Living Program for two years, and it was as a bagger at a local grocery store chain. While many people would find a job like that easy, and possibly refreshing, I found it to be nothing more than very stressful. The anxieties of dealing with customers, and cart management, were intensified through my outlook, but also it was the endless futility of such a simple process as mopping the store floors. For some reason, perhaps motor skills-related, mopping was so difficult for me that I would mop the floors over and over again, with very little luck. Because of the stress, I went through burn-out, dusted myself off and tried to move on.
Unfortunately, getting a replacement job was a very difficult prospect. I couldn’t, and still cannot, drive myself so I was limited in my options. I had a few placements, but they didn’t last very long and weren’t hospitable enough for my livelihood. Most importantly, more than being unable to drive and just plain bad luck, I had to deal with two major obstacles while trying to procure a subsequent job: psychological assessment tests and my own shyness.
Through years of interviews, applications, and the like, I’ve also learned that many employers are uninterested in following anything up unless you are communicable enough to put their feet to the fire. I got to have an interview with an electronic retail store, of which I was told that if I did “very good”, than there would be room to grant me two more interviews. I remember being told those exact words, but it took 6 months to grant me a second interview, due to a disinterest in communication with me, unless I put their feet to the fire.
The six and a half years I spent at the retail store were to become a time of relief, but also a time of irritation and constant bitterness. One of the worst parts of working there was being required to work on the day of Black Friday. While I hated it for other reasons than just for autistic-exclusive ones, anyone on the spectrum could relate to the stress and anxiety of having to work around all of those customers on such a frenzied day of the year.
In my anger over Black Friday and a feeling of exhaustion working in the retail industry, I started applying for jobs as fast as I could trying to get out of the “retail trap”. Once you work retail, it is difficult to get interested employers besides sales companies, or more retailers. One bit of rhetoric that I started using in interviews was how accomplished I was as an autistic individual in having gainful employment when so many of my peers were unemployed.
UN statistics cite the percentage as 80%.
Part of the problem is that many companies get very reluctant in hiring people with mental disabilities due to accommodation costs imposed from ADA regulations and the increased likelihood of layoffs.
Eventually, through continuous effort to find more satisfying employment, I found the Els for Autism Foundation. They gave me a job more suited to me as an individual, a way out from the mindlessness of constant customer service and the ability to help others affected by autism.
Do you have any stories of employment challenges of your own and how you overcame them? We’d like to hear in comments, below.