Tonight's the night to be "In Great Spirits!"


There are only hours left before our “In Great Spirits” wine, whiskey, and gin tasting event begins, and thus only hours before friends and supporters begin to fill the ballroom of downtown Fargo’s Stone Building (the old Avalon). 

The doors will open (if you have the password) at 6:00pm.

Happy Harry’s will be providing the spirits.  Rosey’s, Twist, Toasted Frog, Altony’s, Déjà Vu Catering, and Vexi’s Bakery will be keeping us happy with their fine food.

Dan Christianson will be filling the space with music, and Patrick Kasper will be teaching us a thing or two about cutting a rug. 

And we of course need to mention the Mob Families (sponsors) that made all of this happen, Office Sign Company, Midco, Bell Bank, New York Life, and Killbourne Group.

Thank you to all of those friends and well-wishers that donated their time, money, and talent to tonight’s event. 

To those who will be attending, we can’t wait to see you!  We’re ready to eat, drink, laugh, and dance the night away. 

And to those who are still thinking about attending, we really hope you do!  All proceeds go to our continued mission to find great careers for awesome people on the autism spectrum.  We promise to save you a dance.

You can buy tickets at the door, or by following this link:

See you tonight!

"In Great Spirits" is an Opportunity to Celebrate and Educate


Next Tuesday, October 10, Mind Shift is throwing its annual “In Great Spirits” gala.  This will be the third year that we have hosted this Speakeasy-style Wine, Whiskey, and Gin tasting event.  All proceeds will go to Mind Shift and our continuing mission to find meaningful careers for individuals on the autism spectrum. 

The event also allows Mind Shift to shine a light on an often invisible and misunderstood disability.  In fact, many people have little or no knowledge of autism, in spite of its prevalence in our society.  For example, did you know that 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with autism?  And that the number is 1 in 42 when it comes to boys? 

Here are a few facts about autism, one of the fastest growing developmental disorders in the united states:

1.     Autism will cost a family $60,000 per year on average.

2.     Over 3.5 million people in the U.S. have autism (70 million people worldwide).

3.     The average age of diagnosis of autism is 4 years old.

4.     Half of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder have average or above average intelligence.

5.     April 2 is Autism Awareness Day.

6.     1% of the world’s population has autism.

7.     85% of adults on the spectrum are unemployed or underemployed.

8.     Autism services cost U.S. citizens $236-263 billion annually.

9.     Dan Aykroyd, Susan Boyle, Daryl Hannah, Dan Harmon, and Courtney Love have been diagnosed with autism.

10.  From the Greek word “autos”, autism literally translates to “alone.”

Because of facts like these, Mind Shift is proud to be able to host “In Great Spirits.”  This opportunity to eat, drink and be merry not only supports our goal of finding careers for individuals on the spectrum, it also creates an opportunity to learn about autism and how it impacts those around us.

Please join us on October 10 at the Stone Building downtown.  The doors will be open from 6pm until 9pm, and tickets can be purchased on our website,

Bell Bank Continues to Make our Community a Better Place


We are so proud of our partnership with Bell Bank.  They are not only committed to improving the lives of individuals with autism through meaningful employment, they also are committed to their customers, their employees, and the communities they serve.

Here are but a few of the awards and accolades received by Bell Bank:

1.      Bell received the “Workplace Giving Award” from Minnesota Business Magazine’s Community Impact Awards in February of 2017.

2.     In 2016, Bell won Minnesota Business magazine’s 2016 “Community Impact Award” in the "Best in Class: Large Company" category.

3.     Bell Bank has been one of Star Tribune’s Top Workplaces for 2011, 2012,2013,2015,2016, and 2017.

4.     They have been named to American Banker Magazine’s list of the "Best Banks to Work For" five years in a row.

5.     In 2016, Bell Bank was named by The Fargo Forum as the Red River Valley’s Best Bank, Best Place to Work, AND Best Customer Service.

6.     Bell Bank has given more than $10 million through their Pay It Forward Program.

To learn more about the partnership between Bell Bank and Mind Shift, and how they are using the strengths of autism to create an effective, successful workforce, read the article published recently that highlights the work of Mind Shift Specialists Heather Eichhorn and Ryan Sanderson.  The link to the article is below.  We are so proud of Heather and Ryan, and we are grateful to Bell Bank for recognizing the qualifications, intelligence, and integrity that comes with people with autism.

Celebrate the 1920s with Mind Shift


On January 16, 1920, the era of Prohibition began in the United States.  This was the day that the 18th Amendment took effect, which made the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcohol illegal.  But did you know that the actual consumption of alcohol was not? 

When we think of this time, we think of gangsters, g-men, tommy guns, and flappers. But a lot more was happening to American culture during the prohibition era.  It was a time of great change and development in our country.  And we are still benefiting from many of those changes today.

The 19th Amendment was passed, finally giving women the right to vote.

Refrigerators, radios, washing machines, and vacuum cleaners were being found in more and more homes thanks to the availability of electricity.

Jazz was becoming a popular musical style.  In fact, the 1920s are often called the “Jazz Age”, despite the fact that many felt the music inspired decadence and immorality.

Color, sound effects, and “talking” were first used in film.  And Mickey Mouse made his debut.

And after being caught drinking alcohol during prohibition, college student Theodor Geisel was barred from participating in extra-curricular activities.  In an effort to continue to write for the college humor magazine, he worked under the pen name “Seuss”, which later became Dr. Seuss.

Celebrate this historic era with Mind Shift on October 10, when we will be throwing our speakeasy-style “In Great Spirits” gala.  The doors open at 6:00pm.  Happy Harry’s is supplying the whiskey, wine, and gin.  Rosey’s Bistro, Twist, The Toasted Frog, and IDK will be offering food pairings.  It will be a night of fun, come in costume, bring a friend, and feel good that the proceeds will help Mind Shift continue its mission to find great careers for people with autism. 

The Prohibition Era Comes to Fargo on October 10!


On Tuesday, October 10, step back with us in time to post war optimism, jazz, gin and family with a capital “F.” Who you know and who you are associated with is everything.  Mind Shift is throwing its third annual “In Great Spirits: A Whiskey, Gin, and Wine Experience.”

The evening is a high-end tasting event, set up to keep people moving, networking and interacting throughout the evening in the ballroom of the Stone Building, thanks to a generous partnership with the Kilbourne Group. There are four tasting stations set up in the venue, featuring gins, whiskeys, white wines and red wines. Each station has food specifically paired for the station.

We’ll have live jazz, flappers, gangsters, old cars, Charleston dance lessons, and a photo booth. Dress the part of a gangster or a flapper, or come as you are. Either way, plan for a fantastic evening of gourmet food, top shelf liquor and incredible music. And, we will be doing a blind bottle auction so that you can bring the party home with you! For event updates, follow us on Facebook.

Happy Harry’s will be donating the spirits. IDK, Rosey's, Twist, and Toasted Frog will be giving their time and expertise, along with the food.

Join us on October 10th from 6-9pm at the Stone Building Ballroom in downtown Fargo! Tickets are $55 each in advance and $65 at the door. All proceeds support the work of Mind Shift as we employ the unique and considerable talents of adults on the autism spectrum. 

Go to to get your tickets today.

We hope you get all “hotsy-totsy” and “ankle” it over to the Stone building on October 10th, this event is going to be the bee’s knees!

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