The Autistic Journalist

Using words to explain the mind

Posts Tagged ‘Star Tribune

Temple Grandin preaches autistic skills at Minnesota

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Continuing to catch up on my articles, a friend of mine linked a Star Tribune story in late February highlighting a Minnesota visit from Temple Grandin, who spoke at the inaugural Autism and Employment Forum at 3M’s headquarters. 

3M, Cargill, Best Buy and the Autism Society of Minnesota sponsored the event, designed to raise awareness and boost hiring levels of autistic people, where the employment rate is a measly three percent (lower than the winning percentage of the Minnesota Timberwolves). While the general lack of social skills can present obstacles in finding a full-time job, employees of the event sponsors believe autistics are the largest untapped pool of talent. Grandin suggested Silicon Valley, Hollywood, corporate labs and IT departments are loaded with “well-paid” individuals who would fall on the spectrum (autism’s diagnosis rate is difficult to track with people who may be autistic but not carry an official diagnosis).

Grandin’s biggest suggestion for employers was to be specific because most autistic people may misinterpret what is being said. She listed an example of taking a 30-minute lunch break within a two-hour time block instead of saying the lunchroom is available from the opening to closing time.

I can relate to the difficulties of finding employment, especially with my chosen field and media market size (the Twin Cities is the 15th largest market and larger organizations skew towards veterans of the journalism trade). Unless you plan to relocate to a smaller market (and most of my peers who decided to stick with journalism have), freelancing and networking are two ways to offset the lack of regular work that has come my way. Social skills are a must with my profession, as I frequently have to make eye contact with my colleagues and subjects. Fortunately, implementing those facets aren’t difficult as I enter my third season covering the Minnesota Lynx and wrapped up my fifth season covering high school basketball.

Dee DePass’ story is no surprise for two reasons: the keynote speaker is the most highly-regarded individual on the autism spectrum, and Grandin’s keynote highlighted an issue that will face virtually all autistic people as the population sees an increase of aging spectrum inhabitants. However, the forum tackled just one facet of the challenge with autism and employment from the employer’s perspective. In terms of job hunting, little is known about how that will be addressed. Will it require autistic people to apply and perform job interviews? Will there be a job fair designed for people on the spectrum to meet with prospective employers? Those are future questions for further exploration in this division of autism news coverage. DePass’ story is effective with showing how adding autistic people can enrich the workroom for the same factor that leads to the hiring of others: the skill sets may be similar, but with every person comes an opportunity to improve and grow. Cargill expressed their gratitude with Grandin at the forum, who pioneered equipment designed to better handle animals.

If nothing else, readers may hopefully grasp the notion that employers are taking notice and adapting to the needs of a new breed of workers, which may calm even my concerns as I continue my quest of networking and job-searching. DePass’ story doesn’t account for the job market itself, but employment opportunities as a whole can be discussed elsewhere.

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Yep, autistics can be Eagle Scouts too

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A freelance article published in the Star Tribune highlights an autistic man honored after earning the rank of Eagle Scout, the highest honor possible in the Boy Scouts of America. His case would fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum; Keely reads at a third-grade level, his motor skills aren’t up to speed with his peers, and he definitely loathes physical contact.

The Boy Scouts have revised their requirements over the years to accommodate Scouts with disabilities, and the writer spends some time highlighting their inclusion of people with disabilities, offering a brief respite from criticism over not allowing gays to serve as troop leaders. The adjustments allow parents to “mainstream” kids in Cub Scout packs before switching to special-needs troops or deciding to stay with regular troops when they move to Boy Scout packs.

Regarding the autism side, the writer’s explanation of the disability and Keely’s challenges parallels stories I encountered five years ago about autism. Using contrast to tell the story, she explains all the typical elements included in Keely’s Court of Honor ceremony, then throws the bombshell that he’s autistic. Unfortunately, autism is clearly explained in the article’s headline, which spoils the surprise included in the story. I wonder how many times we’ll read or hear all the drawbacks that autistic people deal with in the social environment before the writers and/or audience realizes that many cases parallel each other, even if the severity doesn’t.

Using Keely’s story to transition into the Boy Scouts’ response to special-needs kids was effective, but it may have also buried the story underneath. Assuming that Boy Scouts allows young males with any disability to participate, there’s a worthwhile story that members would be thrilled to share, especially with a massive celebration coming next month to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America. Stories of concerns have surfaced about how to handle all these autistic people…she found an answer and didn’t aggressively make that point.

Evaluating the knowledge the writer has on the subject is virtually impossible with only one article as evidence, but my analysis suggests the writer may not know much about autism and structured her article for others in her position, although that group is slowly shrinking. Comeback stories are good for morale, but they get repetitive for me as I’ve critiqued a few dozen articles since this site was launched. Reporters assigned to autism stories may want to take note that the “pedestal” angle works for a while, but runs the risk of annoying the attentive portion of the audience who want to know what will happen beyond. In this case, how Keely’s Eagle Scout rank could help him adapt to life when he leaves his troop or how the Boy Scouts may evolve as an option for autistic boys looking to enjoy themselves.