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.    



Exciting Times!

When we bring a specialist on board with a business partner, it is rewarding and gratifying to see the reaction to their new work, co-workers and workplace. So many of our folks have little to no professional work experience and have had few opportunities to contribute to the workforce in a meaningful way.

Right now, we are abuzz with activity as we expand placements with a couple of business partners and begin new relationships with a few more. We could conceivably double the number of individuals placed at partner organizations over the next couple of months. Talk about exciting. Double the positions being filled with extremely capable workers. Double the number of co-workers who feel pride in being part of organizations doing good work. Double the number of individuals experiencing the sense of being valued. Double the families knowing that independence is possible. Double my gratitude for the opportunity to do the work we do.

With more Specialists working, there is a domino effect created. We need more individuals in our assessment and training process, who will be placed, as well. We are busy on-boarding, assessing, recruiting and preparing for our next training cohort.

As our specialists take the next step in their work lives, we wish them the best. It is exciting to have a sense of being a contribution to the organizations where they work and even more exciting to know that they are improving their quality of life.

- Margie Gray, Employment Services Director

4 Ways to Increase Clarity, Transparency and Innovation in your Workplace

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is just that, a spectrum.  And as such, it is not accurate to assume there are behaviors that apply to all diagnosed with it.  But if we look at characteristics common among those diagnosed with ASD, we are able to gain an understanding of it, and can work to make an environment where everyone can thrive.  

Here are 4 simple ways to make your office ASD-friendly that will benefit your entire organization:

  1. Clearly define expectations:  Often individuals with ASD are “black-and-white” thinkers.  They can’t always interpret more nuanced, passive communication.  Because of this, clearly defining what is expected and what success looks like, can benefit their effectiveness.  And by alleviating the ambiguity of expectations for all employees, businesses will find opportunities for greater accountability and positive outcomes.
  2. Create a less distracting work environment:  Individuals with ASD can be acutely affected by the work environment.  This means that florescent light, or subtly buzzing machinery, or an odd smell emanating from the break room can become a distraction.  A person on the spectrum will quickly and honestly communicate any of these distractions, while a neuro-typical worker will suffer from them in silence or in ignorance until their effects on productivity or mood becomes apparent.
  3. Create an opportunity for safe, clear, communication: ASD is often referred to as a social disability, and with it come challenges to navigating the social environment most take for granted.  By creating a workplace where everyone can feel safe communicating, all employees will feel more inclined to speak up, and know their communication will be received and appreciated. This will result in a transparent culture, a trusting workforce, and an increase in company loyalty. This can also result in more frequent procedural innovation.
  4. Focus on strengths:  Too often, we assess performance to improve upon weaknesses instead of working to reinforce strengths.  This creates an expectation on the employee to “fix” themselves so they more closely align with expectations.  By focusing on strengths, and areas where the employees excel, we can feel confident that the individual is in the right seat.  Instead of covering a weakness they are embracing a strength.

We can move beyond our notion  that individuals on the spectrum face work challenges that are unique only to them.  When we do, these simple changes can lead to opportunities for all of us to be more productive (and happier) members of our organizations.



Transformational Discoveries

For someone looking at our business, our focus may seem different depending on where they are standing. For our business partners it is obvious that we are committed to providing talented individuals to add value to their operations. But from where our specialists stand, the focus is quite different.

While working with a specialist recently to sort through an opportunity for employment, I was reminded that we are a different kind of employer. In going through the list of requirements of a particular job, he identified a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. To me, it seemed so insignificant. It had to do with dress code.

We dug into the issue in conversation. I wanted to understand the source of the obstacle. After we finished our conversation, we decided that we would keep looking for a better fit for him, but I had a much better understanding than when we started. The reason for the obstacle was not what I had initially guessed.

He told me that we are the first employer that has taken the time or had the experience to really dig into the obstacles that he has in the workplace. He continued to explain that we have shown that we actually care about getting the "real" answer rather than accepting an excuse or superficial reason. Getting to the “real” reason is important to me, because then I have a better chance of finding a good fit for him in the workplace.

However, there is another, more important outcome for the specialist. In his words, the conversation meant “…having the opportunity to dive into my own spaghetti code (his term for the tangled web in his brain) and engage in some self-discovery to really understand what’s getting in my way and figure out what I’m truly capable of.” Ultimately, that means he gets to understand the value he brings to the workplace. One of our core needs as humans is to feel valuable and that IS life changing.

~ Margie Gray, Employment Services Director

75 Million!

Did you know that the workforce has around 75 million Baby Boomers who will be 70 years old in the next 15 years? 75 million!

If you have 100 people in your businesses, let's say 25 are Boomers, and you are hoping to double in size over the next 10 years, you won't just be hiring 100 new people, you'll be hiring 125. And that's with no attrition with anyone else. And you lose the Boomers experience and institutional knowledge.

Replacing that many workers is not going to happen with the current supply in the workforce. Taking time to think through succession planning, flexible positions and (this is where Mind Shift comes in) the possibilities in a larger labor pool is time well spent. 

Most of us access the labor pool through the act of "posting" a position, reviewing resumes or applications, conducting interviews, and then hiring and training a new candidate. And in the times of abundant supply (like when the Baby Boomers were all actively engaged in the labor market) it was enough. It's becoming less effective now, and it doesn't extend into the pool far enough to find the variety of workers needed to run a business.

Mind Shift believes that people on the autism spectrum can contribute meaningful work and offer employers a different entrance into the larger labor pool. Even by considering a Specialist, a business is building what will become more and more necessary as the boomers leave the workforce.

So consider that today, in your own place of work, which of your employees/co-workers is part of the 75 million. (Maybe, you are a part of the 75 million.) Are you ready for the day that that person is no longer there? Have you considered how the variety of tasks they do will be done? Could a Mind Shift specialist do work that would allow you to begin better succession planning?

Boomers leaving the workforce is an absolute. Know what it will do to the operations of your workplace, because a change from those 75 million is going to be dramatic.

Giving Invincibility?

It is difficult to describe the incredible feeling that you get when someone believes in you, comes alongside you and when someone invests in you. It is a powerful feeling. For me, it is the closest thing to invincibility I have ever experienced. The feeling that, with people beside me, I can do ANYTHING. Thank you for coming alongside the talented people with autism that we train, showing them that they are worth investing in, and for believing in their incredible talent and value.

135 people, 11 businesses, a Kiwanis club and a church all came together and we raised $42,426 in just ONE day!  We came together from 40 cities in 10 states and 2 countries. We came together because we believe in investing in the incredible talent and value of people on the autism spectrum.

A special thank you to the four families, that have asked to remain anonymous, that provided $16,000 in matching money to help spur us on to greater generosity.

And finally, stay tuned, because we are not yet done. The Dakota Medical Foundation and the Impact Foundation (the brains, brawn and heart behind Giving Hearts Day) provide extra grants as incentives to non-profit organizations to engage more people and do better work. And this year, thanks to all of you, we are in the running for potential additional funds! We find out in April and I promise to keep you updated!

In Gratitude,

Cortnee (for the entire Mind Shift team)

And, in case you missed it, here is the video that our Giving Hearts Day Intern, Kyle, made to help tell our story...

James Whirlwind Soldier Joins the Mind Shift Team

James Whirlwind Soldier joined the Mind Shift team in February of 2017 as the Business Development Director.  He brought with him 17 years of managerial and organizational development experience, but he says his real passion is developing people.

“It excites me to see individuals growing and developing professionally.  Though not everybody is given an equal opportunity.  This is what is so exciting about Mind Shift!  We work every day to change the world of work so that everybody has an opportunity to develop.”

James credits much of this passion with his degrees in Anthropology and Sociology.  “Each one of us wears a different set of goggles, which color our world in different, but no less valid ways.  It’s seeing what is possible that allows us to grow beyond our little corners of the world.”

It was while working as Director of Operations at dogIDs that James was introduced to Mind Shift, and experienced the value offered by the specialists.  “The team at Mind Shift facilitated the training and on-boarding of a Specialist at the end of 2015.  It was a wonderful experience, and I would not hesitate to recommend Mind Shift to any organization that is looking for talent and skill that isn’t always visible through typical hiring methods.”

In his spare time, James enjoys spending time with his family and friends.  He’s currently teaching himself guitar and trying to get back in the habit of writing daily.  He also has an unhealthy addiction to vinyl records.

When I Grow Up, I Want to Be...

We all have dreams for our future and for the futures of our children. But, for the 80-85% of adults on the autism spectrum who are unemployed or underemployed, those dreams can seem unattainable.

YOU can make those dreams a reality by helping them apply their incredible intelligence and unique strengths. YOU can give them their When I Grow Up.

Join us THIS Thursday, February 9th at Donations of $10 or more will be MATCHED up to $16,000 thanks to generous donors who, like you, believe that talented people like Ian can and should reach their full potential.

*A special thank you to our Giving Hearts Day Intern, Kyle Bartholomay, for producing this wonderful video! Also, thank you to these bold students for sharing with us your dreams for the future. May your dreams be attainable and your path be filled with the people you need to get you there!

Adding value...

As we put the finishing touches on Business Profiles and resumes for our most recent training cohort, I reflect on the team and what they and I learned in the course of their training. I learned a lot about the common and unique gifts, talents and skills that they each bring to the workplace.


When asked to talk about himself, one trainee struggled to put two words together but could give an insightful, informative and thorough explanation when asked a question on a technical subject. Another struggles to define what would be “desirable” work for him but consistently chooses the option that challenges notions about those with autism so as to learn, grow and be a better version of himself. The impulse to finish others’ sentences can be difficult to control when your mind is moving at the speed of light. But it seems insignificant when that same compulsive nature is expressed in the desire to be early, loyal, dedicated and do the best work humanly possible.

While the team presented the results of their group project, I celebrated the value they discovered in themselves and eagerly anticipated sharing that discovery with business partners as we give each specialist the opportunity to add value in the workplace.

Speaking of adding value, many thanks to Midco for the value that they added to our training through their donation that purchased training materials.

- Margie Gray

A Blog Post from a Mom helping Mind Shift Change the World!

....As a mom, I will continue to focus on the “here and now”, but I’m more optimistic about his future and the prospects for employment.  If you were to ask my son about what he wants to do in the future, his latest response has typically been something like “I’d like to be famous for something someday and have a museum about my life.”  I can’t wait to find out what that is. 

Three Years

The end of 2016 marks 3 years of operations for Mind Shift. In those three years we have gone from an idea supported by a few to a business that is demonstrating each day that people on the autism spectrum are viable and valuable workers.

Ideas become reality through advocacy and dedication and Mind Shift's ideas would not be a reality without the efforts of Margie Gray, Evan Ackerman, Cortnee Jensen and Joy Kieffer. Their daily work to forward our goals and mission have truly changed the reality for our Specialists, for our business partners and for our community.

Our board of directors has been the guiding force for our work. Thanks to all of the current board members, including Tim Hanson, Steve Kowalke, Todd Lindberg, Mikki Bedard, Eric Monson, Tim Eissinger, Josh Teigen and Jackie Punch. And thanks to those who have served as board members, including Marcia Gums and Arnaud Melin. 

Our organization is also helped by committees. Committee members who have been an enormous part of our progress are Mireille Genadry, Peggy Roos, Michael Jablon, Julie Peterson, Jane Schuh, Kari Peterson, Sue Estenson and Linette Dahl.

The most important work toward creating a world of work where all differences are valued is done by our Specialists. Each day they show their unbelievable capacity in the workforce continues the change that Mind Shift was created to make.

We are thrilled to see what the next 3 years holds!

A Story of a Changed Life from Forrest, A Mind Shift Specialist... his own words.

“From my earliest days, I have been told that I’m a bright individual. That brightness, however, has not been enough to earn me any success in the business sector. I am on the autism spectrum; a neurological condition that causes me to feel comfortable in my intellectual pursuits, but at a loss when interacting with other people; like there’s a big social rulebook that I never received.

My social interactions were turbulent from the start; in school I made nearly no friends, and despite my natural drive to socialize with others, there was a seemingly insurmountable disconnect between me and other students and teachers. When I was ten-years-old, I was diagnosed with autism. With a new understanding, my next teacher took me from a D student to an A student, but that did not alleviate my feelings of isolation and anxiety with people.

Interacting with employers was another nerve-wracking, and utterly confounding task. I kept my first job for only two weeks, and my second one for less than a month.

 After graduation, I moved to Washington to live with my aunt, but failed to find gainful employment. Frustrated and desperate, I applied to join the Navy, but was rejected due to my psychological profile. I was accepted into the Job Corps, an organization that can handle young adults with far more difficulties than I had dealt with, but that handling was rigid, and without an advocate on my side, I spent my time on the Job Corps campus depressed and developing more symptoms of extreme stress.

  Despite my struggles, I graduated from Job Corps with a technology certification that helped me secure my first real job. I was making money, but I still felt alone at work and at odds with everyone around me. My struggles to balance my work and personal demands eventually left me homeless and living in my car. Sleeping in parking lots took its toll. I was fired soon after. With nothing left to keep me where I was, I stashed everything I cared about into my car and drove home to Fargo.

Turning a new page...

“In Fargo, I saw an ad for Mind Shift in the newspaper and contacted them. The advocacy I received when in communication with potential employers gave me both insurance against catastrophic miscommunications, and the peace of mind that comes with knowing that I’m not alone in my struggle. Now, interacting with my supervisor and department peers comes more naturally to me than ever. Any time I feel anxious with the nuances of workplace politics or socialization, I know I can contact a liaison at Mind Shift who will step in as necessary and “grease the wheels” for me to continue untroubled. With the support I receive at Mind Shift, I don’t fear becoming unemployed, and I feel like a valued member of my workplace.

Today, I am stable. I live alone, with no financial support, and I have never been happier. My neurotic inclinations are at an all-time low, and being alive just doesn’t seem so difficult anymore. Having ease at work, I have energy to spare on improving and maintaining my personal life.”

At Mind Shift, we are honored to be a part of Forrest’s journey. We celebrate his new career and financial independence, his newfound energy, and his happiness.

With a diagnosis rate of 1 in 68 children on the autism spectrum, Forrest’s story of struggle is too common. In fact, there are an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 people with autism entering the world of work this year alone in the US. Despite having qualities that employers want—detail-orientation, focus and loyalty—they are excluded due to misperceptions of their capabilities.  Brilliant minds are relegated to unemployment, or underemployment in jobs that don’t utilize their skills, or a life of poverty on social benefits.

Forrest's story of triumph can be repeated. With your help, Mind Shift can give other vitally talented and valuable people like Forrest the opportunity to gain independence, acceptance and a meaningful life.

 You can partner with us by giving online at

A Mind Perfectly Suited

A unique gift among specialists who work for us is the ability to meticulously follow processes and rules and to identify when they are not followed. Any deviation in established criteria sets off alarms for these individuals. Processing and distributing requests based on established criteria fits that process-driven orientation. The bonus is that many times, process improvement is a natural byproduct of their work because inefficiencies are so obvious to many of those on the autism spectrum.

Likewise, quality analysis of formatted documents and proofreading are tasks that are ideal for some individuals on the spectrum. Identifying anomalies in paperwork plays to the strengths of individuals whose mental processing is focused on details.

Tasks that require a high level of focus, intellectual integrity and mental stamina are a perfect fit for many folks on the autism spectrum.  They bring a mind perfectly suited for the task.