Updated: Jun 19, 2019
The rules say professional platforms should not be used for personal dialogue. I might be a bit of rule breaker. More importantly, the story I am about to share has relevance to the future of all professions. And, in every industry, these rules need to change.
Through cleverly posted memes and social media capitalization on random days of the year, you probably knew about National Pi Day or National Book Day. Yesterday was World Wish Day and my wish is that you’ll read on to understand why many of these events just don’t matter.
Today is the closing of Autism Awareness month which began with April 2, World Autism Awareness Day. On this day national monuments and buildings across the globe are flooded with blue lights to raise awareness for autism.
I only know of these events because of my own daughter’s autism diagnosis. She was 5 at the time…she will be 15 in just one month.
She will start driving. She will be preparing for a college education. She will begin looking for a job. She will be the next generation of our society. A society that will be saturated with pervasive developmental disorders. A society that is largely ill-equipped to handle challenges that accompany people on the spectrum.
For those of you who are unaware, Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication. Roughly 1 in 45 children over the age of 3 are diagnosed with autism.
1 in 45. Let that sink in for a second.
Children with autism become teens with autism who become adults with autism. And, they are entering our college campuses, our social circles, and our workforce daily. Employers and people, in general, are not properly educated to effectively interact with peers on the spectrum, or how to modify their workplace to accommodate adults with special needs.
And, why would they? No one is telling them. Few people are talking about it. Because if everyone knew that 1 in 45 of our future generations had autism, you’d be outraged! There is no cute hashtag for autism. But rest assured it’s trending.
High functioning autistic people often have very analytical minds that have an incredible ability to see even the smallest of details. They are astutely observant and see the world in black and white – there is no grey area. Thriving on routines, autistic individuals are methodical and regimented. They are pointed in their speech, and they are loyal and honest.
These attributes, however, are balanced with traits that make them less desirable to the conventional employer. People on the spectrum often have limited interpersonal skills, have awkward communication styles, are challenged with collaboration, and struggle with accepting feedback.
Instead of being tapped for their incredible ability, however, adults on the spectrum become targets for workplace and campus bullying, prey for sexual predators on social media as teens, and excluded because they are different as children.
It’s time to change that. They deserve inclusion at every level and a chance at a future. My daughter deserves a future. She is different, not less.
When my daughter was officially diagnosed, my world stopped. Time seemed to stand still. A muffled voice from her neurologist rattled on about next steps. Through a steady stream of tears as I watched my baby girl silently rock in a corner. I will not soon forget how hollow I felt on November 14, 2009.
I made a vow at that moment, however, she would not be a statistic; I would NEVER give up on helping her reach her full potential. Not on my watch. Not ever.
After 15 years of intense and unrelenting research, therapy, and treatment, my daughter’s story is now one of great achievement and defying the odds. She went from barely speaking to consistently making A/B Honor Roll in an accelerated learning program designed to educate neurotypical freshmen. By most standards, this is nothing short of miraculous. She is a fighter. She is my hero.
When she was 6 years old, I put her on a surfboard. [Current is a kind of a family vibe]. The ocean and surfing became the go-to therapy that unlocked my daughter’s mind. When she was overwhelmed, we put her in the surf. She went from stimming to stoked. It was her way to manage….well, herself.
Organizations like Surfers for Autism have built communities centered around tolerance, acceptance, and patience. These places have made modifications to work with children on the spectrum to maximize their potential.
How will she, and the hundreds of thousands of others like her, find college campuses or workplaces that offer that same kind of commitment?
Not all children on the spectrum have such favorable outcomes like my daughter. Some of these incredible souls will forever be locked inside their minds. Many will learn to blend. And, hopefully, with the help of our society, many will live to their potential and experience happy, independent and fulfilling lives with satisfying careers and enriching relationships.
I don’t share this personal story with you for sympathy, I tell you for attention. The kind that requires a sense of urgency and a call to action. The kind that needs to be trending and hash-tagged. Autism action needs to be viral.
1 in 50 children are diagnosed with autism.
Approximately 1% of the world population has autism. That’s 76 million people.
Unemployment with people who have autism is approximately 90%.
35% of young adults (2014) ages 19-23 have not held a job or received post-graduate education.
At least 500,000 individuals with autism will enter the workforce in the next 5 years.
Now is the time to talk. Now is the time to "do". Now is the time to change your rules.