Saturday, February 22, 2014

Skills, Skills and More Skills

An interesting event happened the other day for MrGS. He met with the professor in charge of an "internship" program at his college. What happens there is that work assignments are given to groups of students and they have to collaborate on getting the projects done. It sounds perfect for him. He gets to use what he is learning in school in a practical way, and also learns how to function in a group setting, which has some very real world applications. We sent in his resume and are waiting to hear back. Hopefully everything will start this coming week.

One of the fundamental issues we are beginning to face, and its a real world issue and not one simply for those on the autism spectrum, is that employers want to see how well a person would function in an office, before they actually get to the office. Grades say one thing, but showing that you are capable in a work environment is an entirely different animal. Problem is that if you don't have the chance to show how you would function by actual employment, you have to think of ways to show how you would function in an office. Of course, Mr.GS does have some office experience, but its the usual entry level basic job. It doesn't show that he is any different than anyone else his age. Luckily those jobs have been computer-related, just not computer-sciencey. I say it shows he is able to have a job, hold a job and do it well.  But it's a rather interesting catch-22 and one all our 20-somethings are facing daily (not just aspergeans).

In fact, last semester when Mr.Gs went to a job/internship fair, the first thing one of the presenters wanted to see was his "portfolio," or a list of jobs he has done or projects he has worked on. Honestly since he just started in computer science there is nothing that he has done outside of taking some courses. Everything he has on his resume is related to history. Not that that is bad. In fact his thesis is a huge accomplishment and shows an ability of stick-to-it-tiveness and also that he is also a hard worker. Something, I am certain employers would respect.

In fact, the interviewing professor said that he could tell that MrGS is a very hard worker and very responsible too. Which, quite frankly, is the truth. He is quite driven, as several of his computer science profs have already commented. In fact they said they have not seen someone so young so driven before. In truth, Mr GS has always been driven. It has been his saving grace. He set his mind to functioning in the neurotypical world and he has been working on it since he was a little boy. He doesn't give up. It's an old story but one I like to tell. When he was in second grade, his teacher mentioned to me that I should let doctors study MrGS to see what the "spark" was that makes him function in the real world. You need to understand that MrGS' PDD was very debilitating up to this point. He had gone from an interactive child to a withdrawn boy with many severe-autistic-like characteristics. She felt that understanding what happened and how MrGS became so integrated into the world would help so many others. I responded, its him, simply him. He set his mind to being able to function in the world and that was what he was gong to do. So yes he has always been driven. Honestly, I think he has always been lucky as well. Therapies, educational supports and medication really have worked to help him.

Meanwhile, back to the issue at hand, as with everything else in this world, even computer science internships are very very competitive. So I am hoping that this ups the ante for him in a good and positive way. He would also see how everything he is learning can be applied and then the biggie of course is the collaboration. The hubby looked up information about careers in the video gaming industry (because that's what the boys want to do, along with getting them interested in cyber security, because that's where the jobs really are right now) and every book or article emphasized that its a very interactive field. Collaboration is the mainstay. Well that shocked us for certain. And I think that would shock most people.

Our perspective on computer nerdlings is that that they are all anti-social introverts working away for hours at a terminal without a care about other people. Funny that, it's just the opposite. Collaboration and social discourse is a huge part of the process. Being able to bounce ideas off of other people, seeing how others react to your work and whether an idea is viable is a very interactive process. No one can function alone in this society and even computer geeks know that. In fact, if you think about it, it makes sense. No great science has ever happened in a vacuum. Every major development along the way had hundreds of hands and thousands of human-hours inputted. No one idea is truly the work of one lone person. No, even genius doesn't work alone, ever.

So the next time someone tells you that your aspie would do well in a computer related field because there is minimal social interaction tell them they have no idea what they are talking about. Everything they do is related to how they function with others. In fact, its more of a job requirement than being able to write code and redesign a website.

It's interesting really, how as the society becomes more and more dependent upon technology and technology makes our lives so much better, we are not really the social misfits that many in the psychology and sociology fields would have us believe. In reality, the use of technology makes us more interdependent than ever. As our world becomes "flat" and we accept the fact that we need each other on a global scale, we are required to learn to work together in more and interesting ways. In truth, what technology has done is actually taken us out of our selves and turned us outward toward the wider world. It's an interesting time. We, as parents, just need to make sure, that for those who have trouble with social interact, like our aspergeans, that they learn the necessary social skills so as not to be left behind.

And yes, the para will be going with MrGS, so as to facilitate any social issues that may arise. That is also part of job coaching. It's a needed avenue that has to be explored. In fact during an autism conference last year for the Jewish Federations, the Autism Science Foundation did a presentation talking about how adults on the spectrum needed more job coaching and supportive environments in the world place. That the one thing that tripped up those autistics who lost jobs, was the social aspect of their office. The work they could do, but its the human nuances that they simply didn't get. Anyone with experience in the autism world knows that supports and teaching doesn't end when the aspergean stops using that yellow school bus. Each new experience has its own issues of social development and that our children will always need that little extra support to help them understand the world around them. Yes, one day they may be able to work it through themselves, but that is an individual advancement, much like autism itself. Autism is not the same for everyone, and their employment/social development won't be the same as for another aspie either. So remember, as I always tell parents,  do what is best for YOUR child, or YOURSELF, and don't worry about what someone else (especially if that someone has no idea about autism and is just a pendajo), thinks, ever. Yeah, I know, advocacy never ever stops. It's simply the nature of the beast.

By the way, the professor in charge of the program didn't even blink an eye when the para showed up with MrGS. He just took it as a given. And the prof, in good form, talked to Mr GS the entire time. The para was superfluous during the conversation, as in reality he should be. But that means you also have to have an understanding boss, accepting compatriots and a workable environment for an aspie to be successful. Happily, the one thing the para told me is how inclusive and understanding the professors and other students are at this school. It's what you hope for when you talk about inclusion and understanding for those with autism. I don't know if it's because everyone is a little different when it comes to the STEM world or if they simply don't care about someone's issue. They simply care about a persons' smarts. It's not a beauty contest but a brain contest. So when MrGS has an anxiety attack or gets overwrought because he doesn't understand something at the speed at which he thinks it should be understood, they don't care that the para is there is help him reason it through (again part of life and job coaching). They accept him for who he is and for what he can accomplish.

So we shall see what happens next week. Since MrGs didn't hear from the professor about his resume, he needs to send a follow-up email about next week and when to show up and where. This too is a skill that needs to be taught, and not just taught to aspies. Job search etiquette is something everyone needs to learn. It's why there is job training for everyone through all career centers on every college and university campus today and why "job counselor" is a growing field.

For a better understanding how the boys' minds and personalities work, and why there is the need for the para right now, read Id, Ego and a Sense of Self. 


Employment: What is too much support and what is not enough 
Job Interview Skills, and an Unexpected Epiphany