"Normal" Is A Dryer Setting

Parenting A Child On The Autism Spectrum


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The Explorers

A ship in port is safe, but that is not what ships are for. Sail out to sea and do new things. ~ Rear Admiral Grace Hopper

Lake Superior, Minnesota side

Lake Superior, Grand Marais, Minnesota

Last week I spent my lunch hour and beyond discussing my career path with the sweetest fourteen-year-old I have ever met. She will be starting high school this fall and is interested in a career in biomedical engineering. One of my coworkers had her tour our company for a day, meeting with people from different functions, to help her see what The Real World is like and hopefully glean some advice and guidance.

One question curious minds frequently ask me is how I got to where I am today in my career. The general assumption always seems to be that I made some kind of conscious effort or decision to move in a certain direction. I have moved, but not in a deliberate, well-planned-out-kind-of-way. Rather, during my time working in industry, I have gravitated toward where I am most comfortable. Here is a biology analogy to help explain:

No energy expenditure for me so far.

The sciencey explanation of my career path.

The cells of your body have different transport mechanisms to move molecules in and out. Active transport requires energy, which is ATP (thus the lightening bolt). Passive transport does not require energy, and molecules tend to move from higher to lower areas of concentration. If you think of a crowded party, active transport could be the host or hostess packing everyone into one corner like sardines. The diffusion form of passive transport is where people disperse themselves more evenly depending on where the food or music is. Facilitated diffusion would be where the host takes one or two people and moves them to another part of the room.

Diffusion allows molecules to go where they are most comfortable, where they would naturally be found in an environment. They stop moving when they reach an equilibrium, which is a state of balance. While all forms of transport in and out of a cell require movement, some expend more energy than others. There is also only so much energy to go around.

My energy for the past almost sixteen years has been used up exclusively in raising my son. While I enjoy my job and do my best every day, I have not performed extraordinary feats of energy expenditure to move up in the company. If I did, I would be exhausted, burned out, and not a good parent or role model. I do not tell people this, especially fourteen-year-old children who are just starting their careers, when I first meet them and they ask about my career path. I actually don’t mention this to my best friends. The only way people notice is by paying close attention to where my own attentions lie.

So if I don’t tell people that actively pushing myself forward in my career would have resulted in my becoming a perpetual Medusa day in and day out, what do I tell them?

Here it is.

I went to graduate school for cancer biology. When I had permission from my thesis committee to begin writing my thesis and look for jobs, here were my options:

1) Stay in academia. No way Jose. At the time, the NIH funding rate for grants was at a low of approximately 10%. That means that for every 1000 grants submitted, only 10 were being funded. As a single parent, there was no way I was going to take a chance on an academic career. Tenure at an academic institution is based largely on how many grants you have funded and how many publications you have in scientific journals, and the first five years can be rough. I knew if I went into academia I would have no time left over for my home life.

2) Teach at a liberal arts institution. This was a definite possibility, except that jobs are highly competitive and few and hard to find due to the fact that they are really good jobs. A liberal arts college or university usually has smaller class sizes, and as an instructor you have the opportunity to become closely involved with your students and in campus life. My last year of graduate school I taught Advanced Microbiology at Augsburg College in Minneapolis and loved it. Several years later, I am still in touch with several of the students who were in my class. Since we were close in age when I taught them, they are now my friends.

3) Do a post-doctoral fellowship for the government. I interviewed for several NIH positions in several parts of the United States. If you want a post-doctoral fellowship that offers you a lot of career options upon finishing, I would highly recommend looking at the NIH. The military also has post-doctoral fellowships, and one of the perks about working on a base is that, as an employee, you may enjoy the same benefits the soldiers do. I almost went to work for the NIH, but then this happened….

4) Go into industry, which is what I did. My graduate school advisor told me repeatedly that this was a definite yes based on my personality and the way I worked in lab, but being who I am I didn’t listen to him. The way I got my industry position is also kind of a fluke, which has started to make me feel a bit guilty when trying to give other scientists advice on how to get into industry. One afternoon while filling out NIH applications, an email popped up in my inbox from my advisor. He had forwarded me a note from the chair of the department with a job opening in a local industrial corporation. On a whim I submitted my resume, and thank goodness the hiring manager couldn’t open it the first time because when I showed it to my advisor he freaked out and made me revise and resend it. When the hiring manager opened it the second time, he called me the next day to come interview for the position. I was one of four applicants, and I ended up being the person who got the job.

I didn’t get my industry job based on my scientific skill set. I was offered the job for two reasons:

  • First, I interviewed very well. Social skills, as I told my fourteen-year-old lunch companion, are critical to having a successful scientific career. You can be the most brilliant scientific mind in your field, but if you are unable to communicate both verbally and through writing and / or get along with your coworkers and / or represent your company in a professional manner and /or resolve conflict when it arises, and I promise you it will, forget the job offer.
  • Second, I was my advisor’s first graduate student. As the first graduate student, I had my choice of projects, which was wonderful. I also spent an inordinate amount of time helping get the lab set up and running. I trained most of the undergraduates, ran our facilities and ordered supplies when we were between technicians, and actually had a large say in the research direction the lab took based on how my thesis project shook out.

Now we are at the point where I am a cancer biologist working at an adhesives company. I have been at this company for almost a decade, and I have never once been in danger of losing my job, or if I have, no one told me about it. I always have more than enough projects to work on, and three of those have turned into actual products that our company sells. If I do happen to have a few slow weeks, the curious cat part of me starts noodling around with my coworkers to come up with new ideas. Sometimes I have a specific project to work on, but usually it’s more of a concept, a vision that someone has in his or her head. My job is to make it happen and dictate size, shape, color, smell, and so on. The best part of my job is that I learn something new every day.

I spent the first four years of my industrial career in lab, all the time, every day. I love working in lab. Cell culture is meditative to me, with all of the repetition and routine. Trying new procedures and tweaking old ones, such as ELISAs, are always fun. If you need things to work the first time, every time, lab may not be the right place for you to be. For me, however, a failed experiment meant one option crossed off the list and new avenues to explore. The best part is when you get a result and think to yourself, “Hmmm…this is…interesting.” And then the next experiment blossoms up in your mind.

The way I left lab was very circuitous and not something I planned. It was passive, not active. I was assigned as the technical lead on a major program for our group, and in addition to the lab work, I started organizing our weekly meetings. I also became the person who wrote the technical updates, made update slides in Powerpoint when our manager needed them, and putting together our project reviews. I made sure the team stayed on task, kept to our timeline, and maintained good communication with the product development part of our company. If this is sounding less and less like a techie position and more like Project Management, you are spot on. The best part was that I was unwittingly evolving into a Project Manager. A part of myself that I never knew existed had emerged.

After our team finished that project, I started looking around for something new to do and went back into lab. That lasted all of three months until my technical manager asked me to initiate a new platform. A platform consists of several inter-related products, so by saying yes to the request, I knew that I would be unofficially stepping out of my technical role and into a full time Project Management position. The caveat, however, is that the part of the company I was in rated the employees on technical accomplishments. There was no Project Management career path, only technical or supervisory. I believe in bringing my genuine, true, and honest self to every situation, however, so I began managing our platform. The best part was helping advance the careers of the scientists on my team and watching the project progress.

It all paid off because I was offered the job I have now for two reasons:

  • First, I have an excellent track record as a Project Manager, previously unrecognized as it may have been. My teams function well together. We communicate at all levels, from our summer interns up to our most important stakeholders. I figure out what my assigned scientists excel at and help them succeed in their own careers. The projects I manage stay organized, on schedule, and we deliver sound technologies that are able to be commercialized. I also do not fear conflict and try to use it to strengthen our team instead of letting it tear us apart.
  • Second, I am a risk taker. I do not always do what everyone else does, and often I go on my own way, about my own business, and keep time to my own music. This is not hostile, rebellious, or disrespectful on my part. It is simply part of who I am. I started performing a Project Management function because that is where I was able to offer the most support to my team. I have gone against the grain like this multiple times in my career, often in small ways. Sometimes it is noticed, and sometimes it is not. Sometimes it pays off, and sometimes it does not. When taking a risk works in your favor, however, the results can be significantly life changing.

Now after over half a decade of Project Management under my belt, I am considering yet another transition into Technical Management. After being at my company for only two years, my supervisor at the time strongly encouraging me to go into Technical Management. I did not actively pursue that career path at the time because it felt like a forced fit. I wanted more time to be in the laboratory running experiments and figuring out where I fit in and what I wanted to do with my career. Now, years later, the opportunity for Technical Management has been offered to me again, and this time I am strongly considering taking it. The position is not something I sought out. It came to me because I have a strong network of coworkers throughout the company. Networking is a critical component of career success in any organization, and it isn’t always the quantity of people you know. Sometimes a few excellent connections is all it takes.

My fourteen-year-old left with a big smile on her face and shining eyes after we walked up from my building’s cafeteria through some of the labs on my floor. She saw her future unfolding before her, knowing that she had a lot of work and dedication to do to reach her goals. This is where all of the best parts of all of the bits and pieces of my career add up to one Big Beautiful Best Of Everything – watching a fledgling scientist dip her toes in the water and wonder what lies on the other side of the shore.

 

 

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Upward Trajectories

If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, you don’t ask what seat. You just get on. ~ Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google

My friends and I call this the "Yoga Wall". It's balancey.

My girlfriends and I call this the “Yoga Wall”. It’s balancey.

There is a meeting on my work calendar every Friday over lunch. The descriptor is “Upward Trajectories”, and it’s not so much a meeting as a code name. Once a week, when two of my girlfriends and I are able, we slip out for this hour to climb at Vertical Endeavors. The gym is usually almost empty, and we climb fast and hard since we have a limited amount of time.

The aspect I enjoy most about climbing is that the goal is to solve the problem in front of you: how do you get to the top of the route? Brute strength is rarely the answer. Usually the way up involves a combination of body positioning, balancing, and instinct. When I started climbing, one of my friends told me that it is simply a different way of walking. Instead of walking forward, however, you walk upward. If your foot is moving to a particular place, put it there because your subconscious mind is far ahead of the rest of your brain. After your feet go where they want to go, there should automatically be places for your hands. Sometimes the handholds are reaches or even small dynos for me since I am vertically challenged to begin with, but the route is clear.

With most routes, there is also more than one way to get to the top. Boundaries exist, such as specific holds, parts of the wall you can or cannot use, but everyone climbs the same route differently. Once I become used to a route, I will try to climb it differently each time to test the limits of my body and discover what works and what doesn’t. Trust me that a lot of the moves I try don’t work, but when they do, it’s wonderful.

Careers have more than one way to the top as well, the top being whatever you define it to be. For me, the top has always been Not Losing My Job. More specifically, not having the company I’ve been working at for the past several years decide they don’t need me anymore. My job has never been in jeopardy, not even during the recession of 2008, but business models change and companies evolve. The problem I have to solve for myself is: Am I able to evolve as well…and what is the best way to the top?

Last October I transitioned to a new position in my company. After several years in the R&D sector, I moved into product development. It’s exciting and a little bit frightening at the same time. The exciting part is I was invited by the hiring manager to apply for the position. The frightening part is that I had none of the technical experience that was in the job description. Since October, I have been learning all entirely new things, including fields of science, marketing, regulatory, and in general How Consumers Think, and I was expected to master them all very quickly.

This is comfortable for me, however. I see the opportunity rather than the risk. Here’s why. When I started working at my company, fresh out of graduate school, here is the lab I was given.

Lab

Lab

You may be thinking to yourself “Oh my, that looks like an empty room.” It was. The organic chemist who hired me had no idea how to set up a biochemistry lab, and neither did I since I am a systems biologist. At any rate I walked into an empty room my first day on the job and figured out what I would need to purchase.

It gets better. Here was my work assignment.

Work Assignment

Work Assignment

This may look like a blank piece of paper to you. It was. My organic chemist supervisor told me that he had no idea what I was supposed to do. He suggested that I take the first month of my newly minted industry career to explore the company, talk to the other scientists, and figure out what I was going to work on.

That is precisely what I did for the first part of my career. I started out as a technical employee in our R&D sector, which means I spent most of my time in lab running experiments. After being at my company for a few years, however, I was placed as technical lead on a project with a very specific end goal. When that project was successful, my manager put in charge of second project, except this time there was an extremely ambiguous end goal and an even more ambiguous measure of the path needed to constitute when the goal was achieved. At this point, I unintentionally evolved. This is important because, in order to survive a career in Big Business, flexibility is key.

What did I evolve into? Why, a Project Manager of course. This happened over a number of years, and it was in response to where I felt most comfortable on my team, and where my team felt most comfortable with me. I was no longer a technical person, but rather a planner, organizer, and communicator of information who had a technical background. The most rewarding part of this process was to develop parts of my personality and skill set that would have otherwise lain dormant if I had stayed exclusively in lab.

The tangibly rewarding part of going into Project Management was the array of opportunities that opened up for me at my company once I started looking. When I submitted my resumé for the job I have now, I spent days on it because I thought I had nothing. Remember the empty box and the blank sheet of paper? It takes a long time and great effort to fill those up, especially if you are working alongside people who were given labs filled with equipment and sure-fire projects the first day they started.

I knew I was wrong about myself after my job interview last fall. I submitted my resume to the hiring manager when I couldn’t look at it anymore. I didn’t know what else to put on it, so with a *sigh* I entered it into our internal job application system. Thirty minutes later I had an interview set up at 8am sharp the next morning with the department’s technical director. When I walked into her office, ready to convince her she should hire me, the first words out of her mouth after “Good morning” and “It’s Friday…you look very professional but didn’t have to dress up for me,” were “Your resumé is phenomenal.”

I think I managed to squeak out “Thank you” without making it sound like a question. Then my future technical director said, “Before I offer you the position, I want to let you know what you’re walking into.” The rest of my interview focused on learning about some of the interpersonal dynamics of the department and reassuring my interviewer that, yes, I have led teams through difficult situations before and, no, I have no reservations about walking into the middle of projects that may need some cleaning up.

Upon starting my new job last October, the Way Things Worked in my new department went like this: 1) Marketers run all the projects. 2) Even though marketers run all the projects, they usually have no technical background. 3) Even though marketers usually have no technical background, they have the final say on what the lab is or is not capable of developing. 4) Our marketers believe the lab is capable of developing anything and everything.

While I appreciated the vote of confidence from our in-charge marketers, there were definitely some miscommunications and overpromises that had been made on all sorts of projects. For the first six weeks, I worked alongside one of our marketers on one of two new product platforms. Unfortunately, this product platform had been neglected for several months due to lack of resources and was in sad shape. I identified technologies that would work as product solutions, and we started assembling a technical team. Then in November, six weeks into my new job, the floor fell out from under my feet when my marketer gave two weeks notice because her husband had accepted a job offer on the East Coast. That left me navigating a major project by myself in a department where I was new, inexperienced, and still learning.

So what’s a Project Manager to do? If you are a resourceful one, you start by working with what you have. My team, all new to this project, consisted of

  • Team Member #1: Me, new to the department and all that comes with it, including how to actually commercialize a product
  • Team Member #2: New employee to the company, fresh out of graduate school without any idea of how industry works
  • Team Member #3: New-ish employee from the R&D sector, knows nothing about commercialization
  • Team Member #4: Doesn’t even know if he’s on the team, has one foot in and one foot out of the game

For the next two months, I watched our group of four pull together AS A TEAM. We dug through previous presentations, marketing data, voice of consumer, and anything else we could get our hands on. The milestone we had to hit was a project review in January, where the decision from our operating committee would be either nay or yay, go / no go on the program. While our marketers usually put together and present the project reviews, we had no marketer which meant that I put our presentation together. I knew our team was ready when one of them looked around the table at one of our weekly meetings and said, “I think we have enough.” And we did. We had four product concepts to present, and we had prototypes of each concept to demonstrate technical feasibility. The morning of our review I stood in front of twenty stakeholders in a room with a closed door, and when I was told to begin I looked to my left and saw my team sitting up front, at attention, ready to jump in when needed.

Our project passed to the next phase without question. When I asked our stakeholders for advice at the end of our review, one of them started pumping his fist in the air and said “GO! GO! GO!” The unanimous consent was to just do it.

This new product platform project is one of three that I work on. As for the other two, I am Project Manager on one (Project X, where we have an amazing marketer) and an extra pair of hands in lab for the other (Project Y). I am also responsible for generating new projects every two to three years, which means keeping my ear low to the ground with regard to internal technologies and external competitors. This is a full plate for me, but we are a small department, and most of us perform more than one function in a given day. Fortunately, we filled our empty marketer position as quickly as possible, and within a few weeks I will have a fifth person, one with solid marketing experience, on my team for our new product platform.

In a one-on-one meeting with my manager last week, we were having a frank discussion on several topics, and at one point I asked him point blank, “Who is in charge of Project X? Is it me or the marketer?” He answered, “It’s you.” I said, “Oh. OK. When our new marketer starts for my main project and Project Y, who is in charge? The marketer or the Project Manager?” He answered, “The Project Manager. You will be in charge. Project Managers run all the programs now.” This resulted in me jumping up and down in my chair and saying, “We’ve caused a paradigm shift!” He didn’t hide his smile quickly enough and replied, “Programs and projects will be run by the person who is the most qualified.”

My friend's 12 year old is preparing to jump from one turtle dyno to the other. He is about the same height I am, which means this is a big jump.

My friend’s 12 year old is preparing to jump from one turtle dyno to the other. He is about the same height I am, which means this is a big jump.

When we finished talking I promptly hopped three doors down to Project Y’s Project Manager, stuck my head in her office, and said, “We caused a paradigm shift.” When I explained why she smiled, laughed, and gave me a hug.

The important part to remember in any big jump is that you don’t do it alone. You also don’t do it until you are ready. Some people take longer than others to prepare for it, and each person jumps in his or her own way. Some people also never make the jump at all. The rules are similar to climbing, where you don’t climb alone. You have a partner who belays you. This person lets you take a rest if you get tired, provides useful advice if you get stuck, and catches you if you fall. If you climb as part of a team, like I do, over time you discover your unique team dynamics. People climb better on some routes than others. One of our team members would rather spend the majority of his time in the bouldering cave than on the top ropes, and another team member wants more experience in lead climbing. My goal is to solve the problem in front of me, which is reaching the top of the wall, with the occasional big jump included.


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First Flight

Run my dear
From anything
That may not strengthen
Your precious budding wings.
~ Hafiz

Last week Tim had an early morning doctor’s appointment, after which he had his blood drawn. Everything was first thing that day because Tim had been fasting since the night before. Once a year we do a fasting check on his blood to make sure his levels of All Important Proteins, Chemicals, Molecules, And Anything Else is normal, and Tim dreads the overnight fasting more than the actual pinprick the next morning.

After taking Tim out to breakfast, as I drove him to school, my mind automatically checked for butterflies in my stomach. To my surprise, there was nothing but calm. Usually dropping Tim off at school makes me nervous because I am letting go of him. I am putting him in an environment where he does not thrive well, where he is targeted by his classmates, where his teachers lose patience with him, and where I have seen doors of opportunity close one by one over the years.

Not this time, however. Tim has been having an amazingly wonderful year at school this year. This part of life finally feels on track, and much to my delight my child’s needs do not consume my every waking thought. My little one is starting to leave my nest, and I am his most enthusiastic supporter.

I realized that the tide of my son’s challenges in life has permanently changed when he announced to me that he needed to bring a copy of his social security card to school. When I asked him why, Tim told me that he needs it so the school can pay him for working in the school store. Tim started working in the school store last September, and after a two month trial period, his supervisor has decided to hire him as a paid employee. I started jumping up and down and told Tim that he should be proud, very proud indeed, of his job. Tim replied that it’s just at the school, and it’s just for an hour each week.

My son missed the point, didn’t he?

I explained to Tim that not many 15 year olds have a paid job. It doesn’t matter where it is, what you’re doing, or how many hours you work. It’s still a paid job. The kicker is that Tim beat me to it age-wise. I started working my first paid job when I was 15 years, 4 months old. Tim started his when he was 15 years, 3 months old. He beat me by one month. When I put it that way, he puffed up with pride and informed me that he is now bringing money home earlier than I was. I said yes, my dear, now you understand why I am so proud of you.

After working his first paid day at the school store, Tim came home and informed me that he made $6.50. All for restocking shelves. He couldn’t believe it. I asked him if earning his own money makes him feel good, and he replied yes, it does. Then he told me how he is bargaining with his supervisor to pick up an extra shift. Tim is quickly making the connection between earning money and independence. It’s one thing to watch your parents or spouse go to work each day. It’s quite another to do it yourself.

The idea that my child, whom I have ferociously protected and defended for over 15 years, is going to have a successful, fulfilling, independent life as an adult is solidifying in my mind. I don’t need to be ferocious anymore, which isn’t part of my nature anyway and exhausted me. I can relax and think about other parts of life, such as where Tim and I should go for supper to celebrate his new job.

Sushi at Asia Bistro

Sushi at Asia Bistro

Tim chose Asia Bistro in Woodbury. Asia Bistro has a fantastic happy hour menu, parking is usually available directly in front of the entrance, and the ambiance is lovely with low lighting and benches containing silk pillows to lean against. Tim ordered sesame chicken and a Coke, I ordered sushi and a glass of red wine, and we had a wonderful celebratory supper.

I, the eternal optimist, cannot think anything other than that life will continue to become better. To think any other way is destructive not only to myself but to all others who cross my path. Tim’s job is the start of great things for him. This tells me that the adults in his life away from me trust him, enjoy his company, and believe that he is a responsible person. I could not agree more because as his mother I see these parts of him every day. The time has come for him to spread his wings and show himself to the rest of the world.

Do you enjoy sushi as much as I do? While I’m not sure that’s possible, here are some sushi suggestions around the Twin Cities:

  • East Suburbs: Asia Bistro (http://www.asiabistrowoodbury.com/) – Excellent daily happy hour specials, including $3 sakes and glasses of wine.
  • Warehouse District and Uptown Minneapolis: Origami (http://www.origamirestaurant.com/sushi/) – Great martinis too…the Chocolate one is my favorite.
  • Grand Avenue, St. Paul: Saji-Ya (http://www.sajiya.com/) – Also has Teppanyaki (reservations required). Saji-Ya is where I take my boyfriend for his birthday, and we always have a nice time.
  • South Minneapolis: United Noodles & Deli (https://www.unitednoodles.com/store/) – Largest Asian grocery store in the Twin Cities and worth a trip Just To Gaze because it’s so big.
  • Mall of America and Uptown Minneapolis: Tiger Sushi (http://www.tigersushiusa.com/) – The MOA location is a quick, convenient break during a shopping extravaganza.

Cooking schools around the Twin Cities also offer classes on how to make sushi. After taking a few classes, with delicious results, I decided that sushi is worth the investment of going to a restaurant as opposed to making it at home. However, some of my friends and I get together a couple of times a year for a sushi making party, where we all help with the prep work and then devour our masterpieces.

I keep asking Tim to report on adventures at his job so far, and other than one day where someone tried to grab a bunch of candy and run, there is nothing too exciting. I’m sure he will soon have more stories to tell as he gains work experience.


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The Competent Souls

I’m so used to being scolded and herded and managed and handled that I’m no longer sure how to react when someone treats me like a real person. ~ Water For Elephants, Sara Gruen

Check out 3M’s newly landscaped plaza, complete with picnic tables for eating lunch outdoors! This used to be a parking lot.

Last week I attended the AuSM’s Autism and Employment Forum, which was hosted by 3M at their world headquarters in Maplewood, Minnesota. AuSM, which is an abbreviation for the Autism Society of Minnesota, holds year-round forums, workshops, camps, and classes for people with autism, autism spectrum disorders, and their loved ones such as parents and caregivers. You can click here to find a brief summary of the Autism and Employment Forum on AuSM’s website. You can also continue reading and hear the low-down from me firsthand.

The first of two keynote speakers was Dr. Stephen Shore, who is an Assistant Professor at Adelphi University and also an adult with an autism diagnosis. Dr. Shore’s website is www.AutismAsperger.net, which provides information on autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. The courses Dr. Shore teaches at Adelphi University include an Introduction to Special Education and an Introduction to Autism Spectrum Disorders. His academic interests include the diagnosis and treatment of autism and different treatment approaches of children with autism.

Dr. Shore started his seminar by saying there are two models we need to move away from when viewing how people with autism fit into the world. Model #1 is a Deficit Model which is seen in the public school system. Instead of focusing on what the child is ABLE to do, educators focus on what the child is UNABLE to do. Model #2 is the a Charity Model which is seen in employers, where individuals with special needs are employed but not accommodated.

Dr. Shore proposed that employers need to move toward a Characteristic Model, where the employer takes the interests of the employee into consideration. In this model, the employee will be given tasks based on his or her ability to communicate, socialize, and the pattern of restricted interests common to autistic individuals. You can train your autistic child, or any child for that matter, for future employment at an early age by giving him or her chores to complete around the house. Examples include feeding the cat, making his or her bed, and walking the dog. The child needs to do the chores whether he or she wants to or not, and there is the element of customer service (was the chore done to Mum or Dad’s satisfaction?).

Dr. Shore has posted several videos on YouTube, ranging from public presentations about autism to interviews and short informational clips. Here are some examples:

The second keynote speaker was Randy Lewis, who is the Senior Vice President for Supply Chain and Logistics at Walgreens. Mr. Lewis started off with the quote “Nil Magnum Nisi Bonum”, which is from Yann Martel’s breathtaking novel with a twist at the end the Life of Pi. The quote translates to “No greatness without goodness”, and this set the tone for the rest of his presentation. As an aside, I vehemently prefer the Life of Pi with animals as opposed to without, and will probably drag Daniel along to Ang Lee’s movie version when it premieres in November.

Mr. Lewis has a personal investment in people with disabilities. He and his wife are the proud parents of three children, one of whom is 24 years old and has autism. He proceeded to state two very true facts: True Fact #1: Disabilities play no favorites. True Fact #2: Each parent hopes to live one day longer than their child because we know what is waiting for them once we are gone. These are true facts to me because each one of them is first on my mind when I wake up in the morning and last when I fall asleep at night. They are with me, as a parent of a child with special needs, every second of every day, and I expect they will be with me for the rest of my life.

Approximately ten years ago Mr. Lewis started to think about a new generation of Distribution Centers for Walgreens. He wanted to build a sustainable model. He did not want to carve out new jobs because when economic times turn rough those new jobs are the first ones to go. In 2007, Walgreens opened its 14th distribution center in Anderson, South Carolina to support the company’s expansion throughout the Southeast. This center  was the first facility of its kind to employ a significant number of people with disabilities, with more than 40% of its employees having a special needs diagnosis. In 2009, a second Distribution Center opened in Windsor, Connecticut, with the same vision in mind. In both Distribution Centers, ALL employees are held to the same standard and paid the same salaries.

To see Walgreens’ Distribution Center success stories for yourself, here are some links:

YouTube videos featuring the Walgreens Distribution Centers:

Currently, 1 in 88 children in the United States today has a diagnosis of Autism or an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The rate creeps higher every year, and the average age is currently 8 years old. Within the next ten years, these individuals will become adults and start entering the workforce. The question is: Will we be ready for them? Many of them are more competent than they are given credit for, and people will only perform up the level of what is expected of them. Preparing the way now is sure to pay off in the path ahead of us.


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Autism and Employment Forum – October 9

For me, nothing has ever taken precedence over being a mother and having a family and a home. ~ Jessica Lange (Minnesota native)

3M Corporate Headquarters, Maplewood, MN. I snapped this photo over lunch on a lovely fall day.

Make sure to mark your calendars for the Autism Society of Minnesota’s (AuSM’s) “Autism and Employment Forum”, which will be held at 3M Center on October 9, 2012. The focus of the forum is on hiring and retaining individuals with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), such as my son Tim. Representative companies include Walgreens, Cargill, Best Buy, Target, Wells Fargo, Medtronic, and, of course, 3M. In addition to giving advice on how companies such as these are able to accommodate employees with an ASD, the speakers will also share personal experiences and how employees such as these benefit their businesses.

The forum has two identical sessions, Session I which runs from 1:30-3:30pm and Session II which runs from 7-9pm, both on October 9. The registration fee is $30 if you are a member of AuSM and $50 for non-members. Keynote speakers include Randy Lewis, Senior Vice President for Supply Chain and Logistics, Walgreens and  Dr. Stephen Shore, author of “Living with ASD”.

Additional events you can register for include:

  • Leadership Summit Luncheon (12-1pm). Minnesota governor Mark Dayton will be making a special appearance. Seating is limited to 100 people and costs $40.
  • Lunch with Autism Experts (Also 12-1pm). This lunch is for individuals living with ASD, and there will be professionals and psychologists available to answer questions. Seating is limited to 100 people and costs $25.
  • Book signing with Dr. Stephen Shore (4-5pm)

Here are some links for more information:

You may be wondering how 3M became roped into hosting such a large event. I usually attend each year, since I work two buildings over, and believe me it is mayhem with several hundred visitors trying to find their way around the campus to the Universe Room. Once we are all settled in, though, the forum is awesome, which is also how you pronounce the Autism Society’s acronym “AuSM”, and the amount of positive energy and hope that floats around in the room is overwhelming. The main reason why we host is that one of my coworkers and dear friends has a daughter who is Peanut’s age and autistic, and I have watched this parent advocate for this little girl for most of her young life. This employee is also the one responsible for bringing Temple Grandin in to speak every couple of years, which is also another sold-out and jam-packed event with an autism focus.

There are many perks to working at my company, but I consider the best one to be events such as this, which is more relevant to my family life than my work one. When I interviewed for my job eight years ago, I walked away with the impressions that 1) I got the job and 2) this is an organization that encourages its employees to put family first. After I started, family first is what I was told again, and again, and again. And that is how it continues to be, for which I will be forever thankful.