Monday, April 22, 2013

Autism Awareness #11 - Musings from the Autism Society of Wisconsin Annual Conference

I attended the Autism Society of Wisconsin's Annual conference on Friday and Saturday like I've done for the previous 5 years.  I love going.  I'm becoming a veteran of this community based on the fact that much of the content in presentations were reminders of things to think about.  There were, however, some very interesting presentations and trends. I'll highlight two here.

There is a strong growing emphasis in the autism community on transitioning to adulthood and employment.  I'm thrilled to see that because even though my son is only 10, it takes us a long time to effect change even in our own situation.  The more planning and awareness we have, the more effective we can be at planting seeds along the way and developing skills that will help him.  Just several years back there was precious little on how your son/daughter could transition out of high school and into the workforce/community.  One presentation quoted research that only 15% of adults with autism are employed.  That is the lowest figure of all disabled groups.  That needs to change.

I attended Judy Endow's presentation related to the "hidden curriculum" and the work place. As always, it was very pragmatic and spot on.  One of her vignettes was about a man with Aspergers and how his rigid thinking got him into trouble.  This man had a rule to always say hi to 2 collegaues in the morning to show that he was a connected and engaged.  He happened to make many of these comments to an attractive woman in the office.  He'd say appropriate things like "you look nice today" but then also push far beyond the acceptable with comments like "that tight blouse really makes you look hot".  Even that comment seemed onocuous to him.  He didn't understand the hidden curriculum.  The fellow worker finally complained and he was brought into the bosses office and told to stop those comments.  He did so only to move on to worse comments that got him fired.

A second presentation highlighted a family's journey with their son as he transitioned out of high school (at age 21) into the work force at a plumbing distributor.  They talked about the openness and willingness of the employer to welcome him and work within his abilities but also the fact that he does a needed job (data entry on packing slips, paper shredding, etc.).  He only works 2 hours/day and has a job coach with him all the time to help keep him on task occasionally.  The presentation showcased how it took the school district, engaged parents and an open minded employer working together to figure out what would work for all parties.  It's a great success story.

These presentations reminded me of things to be cognizant of but it also reiterated in my mind what I want for my own son.  I want him to dream big - sorting mail or janitorial work is perfectly acceptable work - but I don't want that to be where the bar is for him.  I want him to be the CEO some day of his own company if he so chooses.  I envision building a company where the business model is structured around his abilities.  Where the hours reinforce how he works (if he wants to be programming at 2 in the morning, so be it).  I don't have a crystal clear vision of the future but this conference and these presentations helped reinforce my desire to think bigger and to consider critical issues now, well before my son steps out of high school.

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