I know at some point I will have to write about this. At some point I will dedicate a whole blog entirely to my Industry Research Project (IRP). At some point was suppose to be in January 2015. However, writing about this makes me realised that I need to make this happen a lot sooner than I anticipated.
I need to pour out my thoughts into structured sentences for things to make sense because being analysis paralysis about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is drowning me.
While it’s not exactly a surprise, it still create that “Seriously?” look on people’s face when I told them that my IRP is based on How to Harness Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Individuals’ Special Abilities in Today’s World.
A subject I’m too familiar with.
Why do I think this is an important problem to solved? (At this point, it sounds like I’m trying to save the world..and in a bonkers kinda way, secretly..that’s what I want to do or attempt to at least)
Apart from a personal interest, I have been observing the pool of talents available out there from people on the autism spectrum and a majority of the talents are wasted because most people don’t have enough understanding about autism or don’t know how to communicate with them. It appears that as of 2009, only 15% of adults with autism in the UK are employed full-time. Whether it’s the right profession is another question altogether.
How is this even relevant to the real world, you ask?
Autism Spectrum Disorder individuals have unique ways of processing information compared to the rest of the people in this world. They just function differently from other people but it doesn’t mean that they are incapable of understanding what goes around the world. One of the most amazing people on this earth who happens to have autism, Temple Grandin (a professor, innovator, author, PETA and autism activists) explained it best in Jill Mullin’s remarkable book Drawing Autism that changed my life:
” Many individuals on the autism spectrum often excel at one thing, while struggling with something else. There are three types of specialised autistic mind – visual thinker, pattern thinker and word specialist.”
Because their minds are so defined, they are capable of interpreting facts and complex data in ways that normal people can’t. I find the idea of collaborating with their minds exciting because if there’s anyone who is able to be innovative in a world filled with noise, it’s them.
Yet, we are not. Why is that so? Are they so alien to us that we exist in different reality?
Naturally, as a self-professed grave digger (a term I call myself ever since I got into Hyper Island), I dig deeper into why is autism a mystery in the 21st century. It didn’t occur to me at first but I found out that for the last few decades, many assumed autism can be cured but recently, researchers have slowly moved their mindset from being a disease to a way of life.
If more people adopt the concept of autism being all about functioning and thinking differently, perhaps we’re able to break the stigma around autism spectrum.
But for this to happen, we have to first have a universal understanding or definition as to what autism spectrum is truly about because every other year or so, the definition, characteristics or symptoms keep on changing. That itself creates a big confusion for the public to take in.
This is the current definition of Autism Spectrum Disorder by NHS:
ASD is a condition that affects social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour. It includes Asperger syndrome and childhood autism.
In essence, it doesn’t say much but in reality, the spectrum for autism is so wide! It ranges from very mild to classic autism where ASD individuals might not even know they have it unless they get diagnosed because they found ways to cope (this indirectly make people think autism can be “cured”).
Credit to Cornwall Council
It’s apparent that autism spectrum needs an overhaul. A rebranding from being a disability to a capability.
How is it that, it’s normal for people to say “I’m feeling depressed” in a conversation and not take it too seriously but at the same can’t be applied when someone say “I’m feeling autistic”?
This thought only popped up in my mind when I was trying to talk to people on the autism spectrum. I was so afraid of offending them with my words that I was mentally “paralysed”.
It’s this stigma that’s hindering us from making that connection with autism spectrum individuals and utilise their analytical/technical thinking.
Just imagine what industries like engineering, creative, R&D or business could benefit from their gifts? The moment any one of these industry is able to tap into their skills, they are able to push the envelope to innovate something new and force everyone else to be on their level, or at the very least enable the rest to apply critical thinking in a different way.
Hey, Tim Burton is believed to be in the spectrum (so was Einstein, Newton, Mozart and Warhol). Look what they achieved with their special abilities?
This correlates to what Google has been doing since late October 2012 when they started Autism Daily Newscast. Their objective is to be the Reuters in ASD and it’s interesting to think why Google is dedicating a whole division for ASD if it’s not to help them identify the talents they can acquire for the company, simultaneously transforming Google to the next level.
The same can be said about Sesame Street’s See Amazing in All Children Autism Initiative campaign that’s happening in United States. In one glance, you can see who their partners are and it’s no surprise that they come from various background. It’s also interesting to note that BAE Systems (a British multinational defence, security and aerospace company) is one of the funders and imagine what they can do with the data regarding children in the autism spectrum in the future.
Fact that Groupon has joined the bandwagon with Sesame Street to support the initiative through a sweepstakes three days ago made me think about what companies are currently getting by supporting such programs. Altruistically of course it’s a good thing but there’s a bigger goal here that we’re not seeing, at least not with naked eyes. Strategically, having Sesame Street marching in the forefront is the most brilliant move not only because they have a diverse audience, they have a strong voice in this world to command any kind of movement in any community. People will listen.
So, looking back, the tech industry is definitely looking into the future of ASD skills, to prepare companies for future jobs to fill in. Right now though, the focus and message are mainly for families, caretakers, friends of ASD individuals on how to manage their behaviours.
I definitely think autism spectrum in general is the next big thing to disrupt all large industries. Soon, there will be a need for a job agency dedicating to ASD individuals (thanks to Mary, our industry leader for Business Transformation module in Hyper Island, plucking this out among the many information I was hoarding).
A job agency for people in the spectrum is unheard of at the moment and will become my main goal in the Industry Research Project. A purpose I can see that will benefit everyone from the bottom of the chain right up to investors. It will also affect the education sector because this will force the system to re-evaluate and reassess school programs. Indirectly, this will also affect the depression rate among people in the spectrum by identifying and focusing on their strengths. If more people can apply this behaviour strategies, will we be able to create more safe haven places in this world for them? Come to think of it, would the behaviour strategies work on people in general? How will this affect the way we work in the office?
Yes, that grave I speak of is deeper than I can ever imagine but one I’m fired up to do. In the end, if we have to do something that’s going to take a big chunk of our time and energy, it should be towards something we’re passionate about.
But first, a rebranding is needed!
Perhaps the question here is about the way people communicate with individuals on the spectrum.
“Parents, teachers, doctors and everybody who works with individuals on the spectrum need to help these individuals develop their abilities.” – Temple Grandin, Drawing Autism