"Normal" Is A Dryer Setting

Parenting A Child On The Autism Spectrum


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The Big Push

I’m kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air
So there
We’re on each other’s team
~ Lorde, Team

Screws in shoes

Screws in shoes

Spring is coming very slowly to Minnesota, in drips and drags, which means that soon I can begin running outdoors again. In anticipation of still snowy paths and icy patches, I modified an old pair of shoes to prevent me from slipping. To make your own, predrill holes in the soles and then insert small screws until they are about ¼” from being completely screwed into the shoe. I have found that this modification works better than boots or Yaktrax for gripping slippery places of the trail.

Last fall I promised my boyfriend that I would stop running half marathons. When I returned to his house in ice cube form after my late October one, he took me in with one glance and said, “You don’t look good.”  I told him, “I tore the bottoms of my feet on the big hill after Mile 11,” to which he grimaced and replied, “I don’t think you should run any more long races.” Upstairs in the shower, sitting with my head between my knees while the hot water warmed me up, I told myself that he was right. Why do I do things like this? Why race? Why compete? What am I trying to prove?

The point is not to compete or prove anything. I run because I love the combined mental and physical challenge. I knew the hill was coming after Mile 11, and, having run it in previous races, I knew what I was in for. The elevation increases by 100 feet within half a mile, and most of us choose to run it. I pushed myself because I knew after the hill I had less than two miles to the finish. At that point it was simply a matter of putting one foot in front of the other until the end. So close, and so tired, but nothing compares to crossing the finish line and knowing that I had accomplished my goal despite the voices in my head and the physical ache. Now spring is coming, fall is far behind me, and I am once again ready and eager to begin training.

“I’ve never had anyone do this that quickly.”

Our clinical study site.

Our clinical study site.

That statement was not made in response to my running. I’m a middle-of-the-pack kind of girl, each and every race. My son Tim recently participated in a clinical study on memory. This study is part of an ongoing research program by a psychologist at the University of Minnesota who studies the relationship between attention and autism. For an hour of Tim’s time once or twice a year, he earns $10 each session and enjoys being the center of attention. He does computer simulations, looks through diagrams, adds and subtracts, and recalls images and patterns. Everything is timed which helps provide statistical information. In his most recent clinical study, I overheard the doctor make the above comment when Tim was doing a number puzzle.

The clinical studies are usually done at our home or at the University. We tend to flip flop depending on our schedules. The first time our doctor came to our home for a study was approximately three years ago when Tim was in seventh grade. At the end of the study, she took a few minutes to talk to me with her recommendations. Her advice was that Tim should be taking college courses, not withering away in a middle school classroom. She stressed that intellectually he was ready for college and keeping him where he was would not be beneficial to him. I agreed but didn’t know how to start the conversation with the staff at the public school he attended.

This is an example of one of the patterns Tim had to copy using blocks.

An example of a pattern Tim copied during his clinical study using blocks. You can purchase this and other puzzles at Marbles located at the Mall of America.

Now Tim is in tenth grade and will begin taking college courses next fall in Animal Science as part of his regular school day. At our most recent IEP meeting, his teacher, staff, father, and I discussed him starting college early. We were all in agreement, and this would not be happening if we were not all on the same team. Tim’s teacher commented that she is reaching the point where she has nothing left to teach him, and it is time for him to begin transitioning to college. Tim will be taking one college course each semester, and by the time he graduates from high school he will already have four college courses in Animal Science on his transcript.

I wasn’t sure any of this would ever happen. When Tim started middle school three years ago, I participated in some workshops for parents of special needs children that his school generously set up. One moderator made this remark to our group that has since tumbled around in my head:

“Your child is not entitled to the best education possible. Rather, he or she is entitled to an education that is appropriate for his or her needs.”

As difficult as this is to hear, it is true. Reading it in writing makes me cringe. Not every person is meant to go to college, just as not every person is meant to get married, have children, travel the world, be an athlete, raise chickens, you get the point. I started to hold the thought in my heart that Tim may not go to college. Mentally I was Mile 7-8 of 13 miles, where you’ve come a long way, but you’re starting to feel tired, your feet are starting to ache, and you are well aware you still have a long way to go toward your goal.

Now we’re at Mile 11 with Tim regarding his childhood. The final part is one last push toward college, and then he enters the next phase of his life as an adult. The hill I had been fearing for years is no longer insurmountable. We just have to dig deep and run up it. Tim has come so far, and both his teacher and I have seen enormous mental and emotional maturity in him this past year. Even though Tim is nearly good to go, this is no time to rest. We have SATs and ACTs to prepare for, colleges to visit, applications to write, and choices to make. And what an exciting and delightful time it will be.

Here are some websites that may be helpful in researching colleges for students who fall on the autism spectrum:

  • AHEADD – Achieving In Higher Education (http://www.aheadd.org/): Provides coaching, mentoring, and self-advocacy for students with special needs.)
  • USCAP – US College Autism Project (http://www.usautism.org/uscap/): Provides support for students on the autism spectrum to help ensure they have both a successful college experience and a successful transition to the working world after graduation.
  • ISER – Internet Special Education Resources (www.iser.com): List of college programs to help students with the transition to college, independent living, college planning, and much more.
  • College Lists (http://collegelists.pbworks.com/): Nationwide list of colleges that have support programs for students with a former diagnosis of Asperger’s. Augsburg College (http://www.augsburg.edu/) is one of them if you live in the Twin Cities.


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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 Escape Artists

I packed my things and ran. ~ Mountain Sound, Of Monsters And Men

On the first day of our vacation in Mexico I inform Daniel that every time I travel to this part of the world there is a chance I will decide to stay put. A vacation to the Riviera Maya will come, in the far-off or maybe not-too-distant future, where I simply don’t come back.

Daniel: That’s odd that you say that. Another one of our friends just mentioned doing exactly the same thing.
Me: Really?
Daniel: He was serious about it. He told me you can rent an apartment in Mexico for $4000 a year.
Me: Oh my. I had no idea. You probably shouldn’t have told me that.
Daniel: We have enough money between the two of us now. If we didn’t have our boys I’d seriously consider not going back.
Me: But we have our boys…

Caribbean Sea on the Riviera Maya, Mexico

Caribbean Sea on the Riviera Maya, Mexico

The reality of the fantasy is that it becomes more of a realistic option as I age. In our youth-obsessed society, I feel that people tend to overlook the advantages of growing older, which include knowing what you want, when, why, and how you want it, and having the means necessary to achieve your goals. Tim will be an adult in three years, and Daniel will start thinking about retirement sooner than later. One day I just may make a run for the border and tell the people in my life they are either welcome to come with me or visit any time.

For now a permanent escape is not an option. Vacationing once or maybe even twice a year is sufficient, where we can leave our lives behind for a week and enjoy something completely different. There’s also nothing wrong with planning ahead, even if the end goal is decades away. Life is a marathon, not a sprint, and running a marathon takes a lot of preparation before the big day.

It was upon returning home that I received the note from my girlfriend about her niece. Reality came crashing into my mind like a bull in a china shop. Having to recall a lot of the struggles and experiences Tim and I faced when he was little is mentally painful for me. Those were difficult years, and I needed to find a balance between telling my friend the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about raising a child with special needs while emphasizing that it will be one of the most fulfilling experiences of her life.

One coping mechanism I have when I am feeling emotions such as grief, anger, stress, and frustration is to move my pain around. This is why I run, to transfer feelings of discomfort from my mind to my body. Running has a pain component which makes it both mentally and physically challenging. The pain is the good kind, however, the kind that reminds you that you are alive. For me it’s usually the bottoms of my feet that eventually start to hurt. When I am outdoors, on my trail, in the fresh air, all it takes is the first mile and every negative, toxic emotion clears out of my head. Then I run until my legs tell me it’s time to go home. Then I run a little more to push myself.

The afternoon before I called my girlfriend I knew I needed to run. There were too many black things swirling around in my head. When I returned home 75 minutes later I was mentally ready to have the conversation I needed to have with her. I showered up because Tim won’t let me near him when I’m stinky, made supper for both him and myself, and then picked up the phone to call Chicagoland.

Here’s the situation: My friend’s younger brother is married with two children. His oldest is four, and she has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Her sibling is 11 months old. The mother stays at home with the two children, and the father is on a tour of duty in Afghanistan. The mother, functioning as a single parent with an infant and a child with special needs, has suffered a mental breakdown and has been institutionalized. The grandparents are caring for the two children until more permanent custody arrangements can be made, and this is where my friend comes into the picture. Her brother had called her from overseas to ask her if she and her husband would care for his two children until he returns to the United States.

My first response was to say of course the mother had a mental breakdown. Wouldn’t you? In situations such as this one, sometimes the only escape is into your own mind. There is no vacation in Mexico. There is no long run through the sunny countryside. What you do have are small beings who need more of you than you are able to give, and sometimes it becomes too much. People break. Your brain is an organ like your heart, lungs, stomach, and skin. The danger is that injuries to the mind can be difficult to detect until they reach the level of trauma. When your brain has had enough and packs its bags, the hope is that intervention and healing are still possible.

This mother has lost custody of her children, and her marriage is also most likely over. The main concern of the family is to place both children into a stable, loving environment. I told my friend that her home is the perfect place for them. Her boys are nine and three. She and her husband are financially secure. She stays at home, and he has a good job that provides him with the flexibility to come home for lunch most days. They always have a pet or two running around and are active mentors to high school youth in the community. I can already see the benefits of this type of home environment. One of the challenges for children with Asperger’s Syndrome is socialization. You can’t get much more social than this.

I told my friend that my main problem with raising Tim has been the never-ending struggle with his schools. I understand that time, money, and resources are limited in the school system, but as a parent of a child with special needs I need to say that any form of improvement would be most welcome. I am not an angry, peevish person by nature, but some of the challenges I have faced throughout Tim’s school years have brought out a side of myself I never knew existed. I have learned to accept this as an opportunity for personal growth, and harnessing and developing this part of myself in a positive way has actually benefited other areas of my life.

My friend asked me what I think of homeschooling. I told her I think she has an excellent idea. She has never done it, but it’s an option. And options in situations such as the one she is in are good. Again, it’s like the marathon where you need to plan ahead. The end goal for her two new bonus children, in addition to the two she already has, is to raise them to be independent adults who are able to accomplish their own goals and pursue their own dreams. The independence, goals, and dreams of someone with special needs may be very different than someone else, but what we as parents want for the children in our lives, biological or bonus, is for them to believe that they are living their best lives. There is not a single, correct way to reach that. The twists and turns are what make the journey so incredibly exciting.

Ahhhhhhhhhh.

Ahhhhhhhhhh.

This past weekend was the first meeting between the two little ones and their new caregivers. I told my friend to let me know how it goes, to keep asking me questions. What I can give her in return are honest answers and perspective. I can tell her what I think I did right as a parent and what I did wrong, or should have done differently, as we say in politically correct Minnesota…after living here for 15 years I’m still learning the terminology. Hopefully an update will be in the works soon.

For now, one last picture of the Caribbean Sea.


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A + B = C (But Not Always)

If better were within, better would come out. ~ Simon Patrick

I hope you all have a glorious Thanksgiving that is time well spent with the ones you love.

Earlier this week one of my biologist friends sent me a note asking if I had seen any scientific research publications on how a gluten-free diet affects people with autism (it’s rumored to help). My response to her was, no, interestingly enough, I have not. What I have seen are plenty of websites, cooking courses, and media news articles promoting gluten-free diets for people, mainly children, with an autism diagnosis. One example of gluten-free eating is the Paleo Diet, and Tim and I actually took a class on that last summer. I don’t know whether the benefit of feeding your autistic offspring gluten-free foods is fact or fancy, but it certainly made me think.

One prime fact I learned while studying cancer biology in graduate school is the importance of diet. Diet is critical to living a long, healthy life, with the emphasis on healthy. Modern medicine has people living longer with each generation, but the quality of life will vary from person to person depending on how well one has taken care of him or herself. And yes, there are still people who live a perfectly healthy, well-balanced life who die from diseases such as cancer, my grandmother being one of them. Every rule has its exceptions.

In cancer research we learn by osmosis what to eat and what not to eat. No one teaches us this. I picked it up by talking to some of the public health and epidemiology students in the lab next to mine. Examples of foods to eat include

  • Raw vegetables and fruits. Go for the brightly colored ones and dark leafy greens.
  • Steamed vegetables and fruits are also great.
  • Fish such as salmon and mackerel that contain omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Baked poultry.
  • Spices, especially ginger, cinnamon, curry, garlic, and cayenne.
  • Nuts (in moderation).
  • Whole grains, such as quinoa.
  • One alcoholic drink a day is fine. Sometimes nothing helps the work to home transition like a 4 ounce glass of red wine.

Foods to avoid include

  • Grilled foods such as blackened chicken (contain carcinogens).
  • Red meat (carcinogens because a lot people eat this seared).
  • Anything fried (again, carcinogens).
  • Excessive amounts of sugar, fat or oil.
  • Anything that is high processed to the point where it is an unnatural color.
  • More than one alcoholic drink a day.

That’s it. Notice I don’t mention specialized diets. Just healthy, balanced ones. Please keep in mind that I am not a dietician or a medical doctor. I am someone who picked this up from observation and experimentation in my own kitchen. When I put these dietary rules into practice, I notice that I have more energy, more focus, and I am generally in a better mood all-around. My skin, hair, and teeth look better, and I build and maintain muscle more easily. Tim eats the same food I do, so I assume he reaps similar benefits, but since he is a picky eater sometimes he chooses not to eat.

Strawberries from our garden this past summer.

You may be asking what about organic versus non-organic foods. I don’t have an answer to that. Obviously the less chemicals one puts into his or her body the better. At home, we do grow a lot of what we eat in our vegetable garden during the summer. What we don’t grow in our garden I purchase at a farm down the road from my house. What we are unable to eat during the summer I make into preserves and pickles for the winter. When a coworker of mine offered me a bag of tomatoes from his garden, I made enough tomato sauce to last until the next growing season. I knew exactly what went into the sauce since I made it myself, and I can use it in all sorts of recipes.

We purchase what we don’t grow in our garden at a farm down the road from our home.

Minnesota in general is a very health-conscious place to live. It is consistently ranked as one of the healthiest states in the United States. Residents not only eat well, but we also get plenty of exercise and fresh air, even in January’s subarctic temperatures. We have spectacular farmers’ markets, co-ops, and stores like Whole Foods and Coastal Seafoods that focus on fresh, locally sourced ingredients. The health factor is not something I appreciated about Minnesota when I moved here 15 years ago, but again this is something I have learned by osmosis and now embrace.

Minnesota also has one of the highest rates of autism in the United States. It is just behind Oregon and ahead of Indiana. Minnesota has about twice the rate of autism diagnoses as the national average. In 2011, 11.374 children out of every 10,000 Minnesota residents had an autism diagnosis. The rate is also consistently increasing every year. Incidence of autism is 33% genetic and 66% environmental, leading one to believe that if you are born genetically predisposed to autism, where you live may actually increase your odds of a diagnosis.

Using logical reasoning where A + B = C all the time, does this mean that living and eating healthily increases your chances of you or your child being diagnosed with autism? No, of course not. In the biology world, as opposed to the chemistry world where I work, A + B can indirectly equal C but only sometimes under certain situations. While this drives my engineering and chemistry coworkers mad, what it implies is that the solution to the problem is more complicated than we realize and that further work is needed.

So what do I do with Tim’s diet? I know what constitutes a healthy lifestyle, including what to eat. Am I doing everything I can to help my child? I don’t know. There are a lot of I don’t knows in this entry. If I knew what foods would help Tim overcome his anxiety and improve his social skills, I would have be feeding it to him in bulk quantities.

If there is a link between autism and eating a specialized diet, I don’t know what it is. My guess is that if you choose to become more conscious of what you put into your body by following a specific dietary regimen, you most likely improve what you eat overall. People who keep food diaries tend to lose more weight because suddenly they need to keep a record of everything they put into their mouths. They become more aware. I am a believer in a healthy, balanced diet and lifestyle for my family and loved ones, and where I live allows me to easily follow that. What I am thankful for, during this month of thanks, is that we have physicians and scientists who devote their careers to studying disorders such as autism and want to help their patients any way they can. Hopefully diet will emerge as one of the environmental factors and we can learn what foods are beneficial and what are not.


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The First Year

Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened. ~ Dr. Seuss

This has been a horribly stressful workweek, complete with lab tours, presentations, three-hour-long practice runs for the presentations, last minute changes to the poster for the lab tour, and hunting down lab tour prototypes to show to our new upper manager. On top of that Tim is in a new classroom this week, decided to hide his homework from me in his closet, and missed the van this morning. He missed the van because they changed the pickup schedule without telling me, so I drove him halfway across town to school before going to work. Today at work I was on the phone and email, sometimes simultaneously, with the van transportation guy and Tim’s teacher, trying to figure out the pickup situation and whether Tim did indeed hide his homework. Some work fortunately did get done in the midst of everything.

But then, in the middle of all of this, there is a Groupon for a photo book from Shutterfly that expires next week. In my evenings this week, I have been putting together an album of baby pictures from Tim’s first year. I was unhappy, stressed, slightly angst-ridden, feeling sorry for myself, until I saw

this

Last ultrasound the day Tim was born.

and this

Ready to rock and roll.

and this

Smiling at four weeks!

and this one

Rolling over.

and oh my I do love this one

Learning to push up.

and how Tim would follow me around the house

Crawling.

until he discovered the fish

Multitasking. Sans pants.

and then he was pulling himself up on everything

Happy boy.

and so utterly ebullient when I would walk into the room

One of my absolute favorites. He would jump for joy when I walked in the room.

then he started to grow old enough to focus

We loved to read.

and Tim saw bubbles for the first time

One of Grandma’s favorites.

and spring came and we spent all our time outdoors

Slide!

and we started catching up on our sleep (and housework)

Helping mom fold the laundry.

and Tim turned one year old

One year old!

in what now seems like the blink of an eye.

And nothing else, apart from my child, really matters anymore. He is the best part of everything.


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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.