I am a mother of an 11 year old son on the Autism spectrum and up until last year, I honestly hadn’t thought much about his long-term future as it relates to college, and certainly not employment. As I imagine most parents of those on the spectrum do, I spend much of my focus on the here on now. How’s he doing in school? Does his IEP support him in his progress? What kind of therapies or other treatments would help him in certain areas? Are we providing enough opportunities for him to practice his social skills? How do we help lessen his anxiety? And on and on.
This changed for me a bit when my manager asked each of us on his team to do a “TED Talk” type of exercise, encouraging us to think outside the box a bit. The assignment was focused on presenting an idea, either personal or professional, and the only limitation was it could be no longer than 18 minutes. I really wanted to do something both personal and professional - my son and his diagnosis naturally came to mind, but how would that relate to business?? After researching the employment statistics, I found the #'s to be staggering - nearly 90% of young adults with ASD are either unemployed or underemployed. I attended an Autism in Business symposium through the Autism Society of MN and it all made sense to me – there were other people, companies, and organizations, such as Mind Shift, who thought the same thing; rather than trying to change the way someone was wired to think, why not use their skills in roles that play to their strengths? As such, my “TED Talk” ended up being about how companies can successfully leverage the skills of those on the Autism spectrum.
After presenting the idea, I decided to more seriously ask the question internally – are there roles that we could benefit from this untapped talent pool? Our Minneapolis Disability Employee Resource Group (ERG) has been focused on this effort and as such, two Mind Shift specialists have been placed so far – one in a Payroll position and the other in Employee Records. Both positions require detail orientation and incredible focus, which has proven to be a great fit. Our ERG is continuing to look for other prospects we may have for additional specialists.
My son loves to find movie mistakes – I’m sure you probably never noticed that the brick color of a horse inexplicably changed between scenes in the LegoMovie, but he did! It’s hard to say what type of career he’d like to pursue someday, but with companies like Mind Shift, it has helped me to rethink about that “obsession” as a skill that could be leveraged in roles, such as a software tester, that would benefit from his detail orientation and ability to find imperfections. As you can probably imagine, not only do I have a personal interest in making the future a bit brighter for my son, but I truly believe hiring and supporting persons with disabilities, including those with Autism, can be hugely beneficial to businesses. 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.
Business Advisory Manager, Accenture