I am working with a client, I’ll call David, who has been diagnosed with autism. As a trainer, I was very concerned that he was beyond learning. As an employer, I was concerned that he would not fit in or be able to work with the different personalities in our office. I am happy to report that David is working out well.
When a typical person thinks of autism, including me, they might think about the movie, Rain Man, starring Dustin Hoffman. His character, Raymond, was autistic. He had quirky behavior, did not communicate, but had a great memory for numbers. So much so that he was able to help his “normal” brother, Charlie, win the bets at Las Vegas. It was my one and only exposure to autism and resulted in my preconceived ideas about autism. Those preconceived ideas were that autistic individuals cannot communicate, are untrainable and therefore, would be difficult to place in jobs.
David’s mother, Jane, brought David to our office, hoping we can help find him a job. My preconceived ideas kicked in. How was I going to help him find a job if he cannot work? Fortunately, the creative juices kicked in. I had to learn more about David, and how to work around his disability. In the few weeks I have worked with him, I realized that David is a pretty typical young man, but with quirks.
Initially, his behavior validated my biases. But over time, David began to communicate. He greeted us in the morning, and said goodbye in the evening. Then he started participating in our conversations, including participating in philosophical discussions. And on occasion, has initiated the conversation.
He does have his “autistic behavior,” which I now call quirks. His quirks include pacing back and forth when stressed (which is actually very good for relieving anyone’s stress), he occasionally speaks to himself or suddenly laughs out loud (sounds like my husband) and sometimes his voice gets loud (who does not know anyone who does not speak too loudly sometimes).
But he also completes tasks given him. He is very good with repetitive work and does them neatly. He does not complain about work given him. Occasionally, he thinks that the work given him is useless work, but he does them anyway because we told him. Unfortunately, he never learned to read yet, with some assistance on spelling, he was able to type his resume. He knows his way around a computer. He takes mass transit to go home and he calls them when the bus fails to pick him up. He is taking a class to learn a trade.
We have another client, who also has autism, who functions at a much higher level. And yet, I find this person a more difficult case because of his attitude.
I have learned that autism is expressed differently based on the person’s personality and upbringing. David has taught me many things. One of the most important lessons I learned working with David is not to judge a person based on preconceived biases regarding disabilities. Equal Employment Opportunity rules as it applies to disabilities is valid – base employment decisions on abilities and knowledge, not on the individual’s disability. I was wrong about David. David can work. Someone just needs to give him the opportunity.
If you are interested in working with David, please call our office at 637-6906.
Grace Donaldson is the general manager of Pacific Human Resources Services, Inc. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 637-6906