Rethinking Normal


In “Rethinking Autism: From Social Awkwardness to Social Creativity”, Scott Barry Kaufman challenges the idea that individuals with autism are “failed versions of “normal.””  The author continues, explaining that teaching this concept of “normal” and how to conform to it is the basis of our current modes of treatment and education.  Further, he discusses how new strategies are rejecting this idea, and that we shouldn’t try to change somebody to fit our expectations.  We are all our own version of normal.

Normal does not inspire ingenuity or innovation.  And rejecting somebody because they don’t meet our expectations of normal can create stagnation, and might result in some very important missed opportunities.

Below is a list of individuals who were penalized in one way or another because they chose to follow a path of non-conformity. These individuals are now considered icons, and masters of their fields:

1.      Oprah Winfrey was fired from her evening news reporter job because she was too emotional.

2.     Marilyn Monroe was not considered the modeling type, and modeling agencies recommended she try secretarial work.

3.     In the 1840s, Ignaz Semmelweis was mocked for his ideas regarding sanitation and hygene, and for requiring his doctors and midwives to wash their hands before childbirth.

4.     Stephen King’s first novel, “Carrie”, was rejected 30 times. 

5.     Monet was mocked by the artistic elite during his lifetime.

6.     The Kansas City Star fired Walt Disney because they felt he had “no good ideas.”

When we require people to fit our idea of normal, we limit their ability to innovate and be thought leaders.  But by throwing out the idea that normal is a standard that needs to be met, we inspire those around us to reach their potential, which benefits us all.

Welcome Stefanie Cristan


Stefanie Cristan has joined Mind Shift in Business Development in the Milwaukee office.  Stefanie is experienced as a sales person and account manager and has worked for technology and consulting companies for 38 years.  In addition, she also has experience working with and for non-profit organizations as a fundraiser.  Her enthusiasm for this job is founded in the ability to meld these two skills together to further the mission of Mind Shift.

Welcome Jean Roberts Guequierre!

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Jean Roberts Guequierre is Mind Shift’s Milwaukee Employment Services Manager. She is the founder of the transition planning firm Alpha Transitions LLC.  Her business paradigm is to create proactive and empowering future focused, strength based plans and referral services for families and their teens or young adults with hidden disabilities. Prior to coming to Mind Shift Jean worked as an Employment Developer for people on the autism spectrum and an intake counselor in higher education disability services. Jean’s ongoing mission is to connect people to opportunity, through planning and now through employment. She is excited to be a part of the Mind Shift vision of employment for people on the autism spectrum.

We All Exist on a Spectrum

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Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, by definition implies a range of behaviors and expectations, a spectrum. 

The subject can become quite confusing when trying to discuss what to expect or anticipate regarding behavior.

A common expression is, “if you’ve met one person on the spectrum, you’ve met one person on the spectrum,” reinforcing the fact that everybody is different, everybody’s life experience is different, and thus how we respond and react will be unique and special.  However, there are still behaviors that are common and consistent in people with autism. 

Here are a few examples of these common behaviors, as stated on the National Institute of Mental Health Website (

1.      A need for routine

2.     Making little or inconsistent eye contact

3.     Often talking at length about a favorite subject without noticing that others are not interested or without giving others a chance to respond

4.     Using body language that doesn’t match what is being said

5.     Having an unusual tone of voice that may sound sing-song or flat and robot-like

A few other examples, as stated on the same website, are:

1.     Having above-average intelligence – the CDC reports 46% of ASD children have above average intelligence

2.     Being able to learn things in detail and remember information for long periods of time

3.     Excelling in math, science, music, or art.

Our work at Mind Shift has shown other consistent behaviors, including an acute attention to detail, the ability to focus over long periods of time, a strong eye for process optimization, and the ability to work with complex systems and data sets.

There is enough consistency in behaviors to diagnose an individual as being on the spectrum.  At the same time, there can be no doubt that everybody is unique.  Everybody is quirky in our own way, and a product of not only how we’re wired, but also a product of our individual experiences.  This is true of everyone.  We all exist on a spectrum.

MinnKota Recycling and Beverage Wholesalers are Shifting Perspectives on Value

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MinnKota Recycling, Beverage Wholesalers and Mind Shift are excited to announce their partnership. A Mind Shift Specialist is working at MinnKota in the receiving department and at Beverage Wholesalers in the IT department.

Randy Christianson, owner of MinnKota Recycling and Beverage Wholesalers, first heard about the Mind Shift program during a business executives group this past January. He says, “It got my attention immediately; leveraging the strengths of those on the autism spectrum and their value to the labor market.  Strengths like – accuracy, focus, eye for deviation, process refinement, intellectual integrity.  I started to make a list of all the areas we wanted further process development or improved accuracy, particularly with repetitive, sometimes mundane, but complex tasks.  We identified the need and Mind Shift helped tailor our assessment, recruited talent, assisted us with training and are providing continuous support.”

“From the moment I first met Randy Christianson, the owner of MinnKota Recycling and Beverage Wholesalers, I knew that we’d found a business leader who saw the community value of Mind Shift, but also, immediately saw the practical applications of Mind Shift in his organization. His team was brainstorming detail-oriented tasks right away. What a fantastic group of people!” says Tony Thomann, Executive Director of Mind Shift.

Marijo Schwengler, a supervisor of the one of the specialists at MinnKota Recycling really sees the value of Mind Shift, “(Our Specialist) does great job of making sure all the details for work orders are accurate and complete. I am very impressed with her ability to learn how to enter some very complicated transactions.  And when things really do get too complicated, she’s not afraid to ask for help and is always willing to learn. She’s a great addition to the team.”

Mike Christianson, a supervisor at Beverage Wholesalers says, “(Our Specialist) has grasped the concepts we implement in our warehousing infrastructure very quickly. Once roles, expectations and goals were defined, he took ample time doing research, hands on work, and finding alternative options that may suit us better in achieving our goals. When asked to meet and give progress reports, his pre-meeting documentation clearly defines our options and his recommendations. In turn, that allows us to have more productive meetings by having time to lay out different scenarios to discuss as a group, more effectively using our resources.  He has been a great addition to the team, and with his help I have no doubt we can set many new SOP that will not only save us significant time, but also money in the long run.”

Mind Shift continues to value the investment from the local business community. If you’d like to find out more please email,

Mission: Milwaukee!

At Mind Shift, we have a vision for a world in which people on the autism spectrum are valued for the unique and substantial skill they add to the world of work. Mind Shift started out by employing that incredible talent at partnering businesses in the Fargo-Moorhead and Minneapolis-St.Paul areas, but our desire to see talent utilized doesn't end there.

So, because of incredible support from partners like Dan Tarrence, we would like to introduce you to our next phase - Mission: Milwaukee! 

We hope you enjoy the photos of us as we begin the process of setting up our new Milwaukee office! Believe it or not, we actually got some work done despite the lack of furniture and the tomfoolery of a few staff that shall remain nameless. (But, if you look closely at the photos, they are not exactly faceless!)

We are thrilled to be taking this next step and promise to keep you updated. Let's do this!


Introducing a Spectrum of Heroes

Mind Shift has promoted hiring people with autism because of the advantage they bring to the workplace.  We are quick to mention that our Specialists have greater focus and accuracy, lower turnover rates, greater attention to detail and deviation, a high work ethic and sense of integrity.  But if this is so, why do we not see greater employment opportunities for those with autism?

If this question was asked in our offices, you might hear that common misconceptions surrounding autism prevent employers from seeing the value of the individuals. 

This misunderstanding is disappointing at best, and damaging and debilitating at worst.  But there is hope.  It is becoming common knowledge that with autism come advantages that can benefit an organization.  And recently we have begun to see more and more heroes with autism in popular culture.  It’s about time.

Here are just a few examples of heroes who save the day while also living with the challenges that come with autism:

1.      Billy, the blue Power Ranger is on the autism spectrum.

2.     Symmetra, a popular playable character in the video game Overwatch, is on the autism spectrum.

3.     “The Good Doctor” is an ABC series that tells the story of surgeon with ASD.

4.     While not specifically diagnosed, Drax the Destroyer from “Guardians of the Galaxy” has become a favorite character in the autism community.

5.     Ben Affleck, in the “R” rated movie “The Accountant”, portrays an antihero with autism (this one isn’t for the kids).

And while we have fun exploring heroics in popular culture, we need to remember the real-life heroes with autism.  Those individuals who put themselves in harm’s way to assist others, those people who act with integrity, virtue, and bravery.

Heroes such as Micah David-Cole Fletcher, who was one of three individuals who stepped in to stop a white supremacist from harassing two girls on a Portland, Oregon train.  Two of those individuals died from injuries when the harasser attacked them for stepping in.  Micah was stabbed in the neck, but survived his injuries after a two-hour surgery.  Micah acted bravely and selflessly to help two people he didn’t know.  Micah is a real-life hero. 

While it is great to see heroes with autism becoming more common in our society, we should remember that greatness does not only appear in comic books, video games and movies.  There are real life heroes on the spectrum amongst us.

Raise Your Mug: Advancing Careers with Anthem

Joy Kieffer, Employment Services Manager, and Sam Packwood, Specialist

Sam Packwood is a superstar for Mind Shift!

Joy Kieffer, Employment Services Manager and Sam's supervisor, says,"Sam is extremely focused and motivated. His attention to detail has allowed him to create incredibly complex spreadsheets that are being modeled throughout the company."

Joy also shared this quote she received about his work, "I wanted to let you know how great I think Sam is!!  He is an extremely smart person and is doing an excellent job on the project.  He is a quick learner and is able to accomplish a lot of work in a short period of time.  In fact, our contact from the Information Technology department, who is training us how to build scorecards, said he hasn’t seen anyone catch on so quickly to this work and he has been working with this for over 6 months!"

We're so glad to have Sam help us "raise a mug" to Anthem for giving Mind Shift Specialists an opportunity to excel!


Forrest, Eide Bailly

Forrest, Eide Bailly

Last month, Prakash Mathew invited me to share Mind Shift's vision with his fellow members of the Thrivent Financial Northland Region Board of Directors. In addition to their generous financial support, they gave me the opportunity to meet Marci Narum. 

Marci approached me after the meeting and asked me more about both Mind Shift and my personal journey as the of mother of a child on the autism spectrum. She wanted to share our stories in Inspired Woman Magazine. Marci beautifully weaves together all of our experiences and encapsulates the struggles, hopes and triumphs of these beautiful minds!


Thank you to Marci, Jacy (our photographer) and magazine co-owner, Jody! ~Cortnee and the entire Mind Shift Team

Heather, Bell Bank

Heather, Bell Bank

Alex, Appareo Systems

Alex, Appareo Systems

Neurodiversity Leads to Innovation and Solutions

Ernst & Young's neurodiversity pilot program results in innovation and exceeded expectations! Opportunity lies with those who think differently. Thank you to our supporter, Randy, for sharing this article with Mind Shift friends and family.  Your support and good will is integral to our success.


The Importance of Neuro-diversity

A book by Veronica Roth

A book by Veronica Roth

Neuro-diversity- Wikipedia defines neuro-diversity as:  “…an idea which asserts that atypical (neuro-divergent) neurological development is a normal human difference that is to be recognized and respected as any other human variation.”   

A few years ago, the Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth burst onto the literary scene in both a series of books and as a series of movies. Set in the future, the story tells of a culture where young teens are tested and assigned their career path in life. The main character is “divergent”- and this multifaceted profile is despised by the culture. She hides her differences as long as she can. While the series goes to an extreme to make a point, the theme is that neurodiversity is good for a society. Our teams and communities function better, and life experience is richer, when we don’t all think and respond in the same way.

As the Mind Shift Employment Services Manager for the Twin Cities office, I have the pleasure of working with individuals who share their neuro-diversity with me and the businesses with whom they work. They sees things and experience life differently. That is the key. Specialists’ brains do work differently, and this is a strength in the world of work. This neuro-diversity manifests itself in many ways, and provides a richness within a team that doesn’t exist when everyone is thinking in exactly the same ways. Businesses stop living with problems, and new, innovative solutions are created. The creative synergy is electrifying.

As MInd Shift in the Twin Cities starts its second year of operation, Specialists who are working in various companies have proven over and over again that we when we embrace the neuro-diversity that they bring, there is no limit to what we can accomplish.

Autism and the Job Interview


It is a well-documented fact that the autistic population is largely unemployed or underemployed, even those with exceptional talent and intelligence. One of the reasons these individuals are more likely to be unemployed is because of particular challenges presented by the traditional interviewing process. 

Here is why you may not get an accurate view of the skills of someone with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and could miss out on game-changing talent:

1.     Although individuals with ASD may translate computer code like their native language, they might have trouble interpreting facial cues and body language.  This makes it difficult for them to react to these social ques.

2.     Autism often makes people focused employees, but it can also come with social anxiety, shyness, and “quirky” behavior.  The stress that comes with the interview process can exacerbate this, and then be misread by the interviewer.

3.     Because of the black and white thinking found in autistic individuals, they tend to be refreshingly honest, but they can find it challenging to elaborate on particularly open-ended or abstract questions.

4.     Cultural biases, such as a firm handshake and appropriate eye contact are often expected from a job candidate, but physical contact and direct eye contact can be uncomfortable for some people with ASD.

5.     And on occasion, because you can’t possibly know everything about every disability, employers may misunderstand and inadvertently discriminate against those with autism.

So, how can employers change their interviewing method to move past these limitations?  Here are a few ways:

1.     Allow the applicant extra time to answer questions, and don’t assume using the extra time reflects an intellectual disadvantage.

2.     Focus on the skills and traits that are required to do the job well.

3.     Avoid jargon and hypothetical questions that might cause a black and white thinker to misunderstand a question, or answer a question too literally.

4.     Interview in a space with minimal distraction and environmental stimulus.

5.     Come to the interview with an open mind and allow your assumptions to be challenged.

There are a number of advantages to including people on the autism spectrum into a business or organization.  Considering the challenges the traditional interviewing process creates can allow access to our neuro-diverse applicants.

An amazing team doing amazing work!

The Mind Shift professionals that strive each day to prove how valuable people on the autism spectrum are to the world of work are an incredible bunch. If you ever need insight on autism employment, any of them could provide it.

Their strengths are numerous, but here's a quick sentence on each.

Margie Gray - Unbelievable insight into the nuances of autism and employment from the individual's perspective. 

Cortnee Jensen - A master at building relationships and seeing the synergies between Mind Shift's mission and the people that make up a community.

Evan Ackerman - Remarkable capability in assessing and directing the strengths of people on the spectrum to daily business tasks.

Joy Kieffer - Showing a great talent in bringing together the day-to-day business needs of a business partner with the capacity of a Mind Shift specialist team.

James Whirlwind Soldier - Driven to help businesses see the wisdom and value to their culture and their bottom line in working with Mind Shift.

If any of those topics are interesting to you or someone you know, please reach out to us! You can also pass along this blog and the sign-up information below to your friends, co-workers, managers, supervisors, colleagues, etc, if you'd like to see more of Mind Shift in your community.

-Tony Thomann, Executive Director

The Cultural Value of Employment

In the article, “Increasing Autism Employment: An Anthropologist’s Perspective”, Michael Bernick talks about three shifts in workplace culture regarding neurodiversity employment:

1.      The fact that businesses are becoming more aware of neurodiversity in our society.

2.      The movement to recognize the economic value of neurodiversity employment.

3.      The movement to support neurodiversity employment for reasons other than the economic value it brings.

When the author discusses the third point, he brings up an idea that has been discussed in the Mind Shift offices, and especially relates to the topic of Anthropology.  It’s the point that so much of who we are, how we spend our time, and how we define ourselves is written into what we do for a living. 

How much time do we spend with people, and in activities, that are directly or indirectly related to employment?  How much do we think about work and talk about work?  For all of us, the answer is probably a lot.  Employment is a large part of life.  It’s who we are.  When we are asked “what do you do?”, it’s how we answer, even though we do a lot more than just what we get paid to do.

Every organization that employs neurodiverse individuals should remember that they are not only making great hiring decisions that will positively affect their organization’s profitability, but are also giving their neurodiverse employees an opportunity for a cultural experience that they may not have had access to previously. 

The link to Mr. Bernick’s article is posted below for those of you who would like to learn more about the Anthropology of Diversity Employment:

Mind Shift Mug Shots

Carl and Julie Peterson's support is making shift happen. A win for the first 12 businesses that have found great employees! A win for the 22 talented people who have found great employers!

Carl and Julie Peterson's support is making shift happen. A win for the first 12 businesses that have found great employees! A win for the 22 talented people who have found great employers!

Thanks to a generous donation of some truly awesome mugs, Mind Shift can tell the world when "Shift Happens" in workplaces in our communities. Be watching for these inspiring posts on our Facebook and Twitter feeds...

Competitive Advantage

Dan Tarrence, our Milwaukee-area founding board member, saw this article in the Harvard Business Review. It has both a good overview and an in-depth look at the impact of including people with neuro-diversity, like people on the autism spectrum, in the work force.

I highly recommend the end where it explores considering neuro-diversity inclusion as an innovation and helping your company adapt not to different types of workers, but instead adapt to innovation.

Take a read!


Milwaukee and Islands of Brilliance

As Mind Shift works to start operations in Milwaukee, I want to recommend our friends at Islands of Brilliance.

Run by Mark and Margaret Fairbanks, they are doing incredibly interesting work with young people on the autism spectrum. Check out their work here.

What has been so thrilling when talking to Mark and Margaret is their shared vision of changing how people on the spectrum are perceived. A vision we at Mind Shift share.

Their website has amazing stories and does a great job at describing their work. It's pretty amazing.

-Tony Thomann

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.