Many people whose brains work in unusual ways are said to have “disabilities”. But what if we accepted variation as normal and then looked for unique abilities and hidden potential in every mind?
Have you ever wished that you could remember names and details flawlessly? What if you could speed-read and recall almost everything you saw? How about concentration: can you handle repetitive tasks with limitless precision and relentlessly follow a train of thought for hours without interruption?
These are common for people with autism and yet the world has barely awoken to the fact that in the right situations, those skills would seem like superpowers.
In fact, there is a growing movement afoot that taps into the employment potential there, and it’s a long time coming as the unemployment rate for people with autism is 84%. 1
Perhaps it’s time to consider the upside of the idiosyncrasies of an autistic mind and then start unlocking the potential of all kinds of thinkers.
Attention to Detail: The Autism Advantage
The thought leaders we’ll introduce you to today on Ever Widening Circles (EWC) don’t think like everyone else. It would be easy to focus on what they can’t do, but that would be a loss for us all. Their brains are wired very differently and after you see their work, you’ll understand why that should be just fine with the rest of us.
This is a novel journey we take you on today. We’re not going to point you to video after video of people with autism who are savants, teaching physics at the university level at age 13. No, that’s a very small part of the autism community. Instead, we are going to focus on valuable talents, underappreciated and yet discovered.
Let’s start with an amazing example of finding and brilliantly embracing human potential.
Have you heard of the carwash in Parkland Florida that has found that their many autistic employees give them a competitive advantage? It’s a remarkable confluence of good business and social mission. Hopefully, it’s what the future might look like! Take a look…
Extraordinarily inspiring, huh?
Did you catch that detail about the success of this business model?
When this family bought the business, it was washing 35,000 cars a year and that skyrocketed to 160,000 in just a few years! Now that’s building a brand around the upside of a disability and a largely untapped workforce!
Did you know that in the United States alone, around 50,000 autistic students graduate from high school or turn 21 every year 3? Not all adults with autism are employable but many could be joining the workforce with all this newly acknowledged potential. Many may have the ideal minds for jobs that demand repetition and exceptional attention to detail.
Let’s look a little closer at this fabulous business model, this time through the lens of Andrew’s parents.
Most of us would cherish finding a job where we could experience that kind of energy, joy, and pride in the workplace.
I guess I’d never considered the “falling off the cliff” that happens when autistic people turn 22.
I’ve often observed that parents can only be as happy as our unhappiest child, so I can’t help but imagine the peace of mind this kind of opportunity can give parents and family members. Having an adult child with autism find this kind of success would be a game changer. I’m sure the community at large has been uplifted in some ways too!
“We are sun and moon, dear friend; we are sea and land. It is not our purpose to become each other; it is to recognize each other, to learn to see the other and honor him for what he is: each the other’s opposite and complement.”
The Autism Advantage in Creativity
The opposite of a mind that thrives on repetition, detail, and process, is one that seems boundlessly wired for creativity. Here’s an amazing teen whose ability taps into a depth of artistic genius being recognized by experts and patrons alike.
So Niam’s silent world does not mean that communication is missing. It’s in everything he creates.
What if that’s true of many autistic people and we simply haven’t helped them find their medium for communication? Maybe the best story-telling can come in packages that the rest of us have not been taught to understand.
Our limited notions about what constitutes “intelligence” and “education” might be what keeps us from recognizing all the potential in brains that don’t work like ours.
“Thank goodness I was never sent to school; it would have rubbed off some of the originality.”
And what of the many eccentric people in our lives, young and old, who may react to social situations in a quirky way?
A study in the UK found that there may be as many as a quarter of a million autistic adults there who are undiagnosed. 6 Considering the fact that autism is a spectrum of behaviors, we could be pressuring subtly autistic people to fall in line, when that may be impossible and a tremendous waste of potential.
Take a look at the wonderful, off-beat minds in the following article. Can you recognize this potential in someone you know?
Living Out the Potential of Every Mind
We’d like to leave you with a wonderful recommendation if you’d like to curl up with a movie one night. We’ve written about the fantastic Temple Grandin’s work and featured her amazing TED Talk in the following article, so if you want to put a spring in your step, check it out after you wrap up here!
And of course, after you’ve seen Temple Grandin’s TED Talk in that article, the HBO movie will be irresistible. Here’s a brief window into the HBO movie, a story of yet another highly gifted autistic person whose potential was realized.
Why should we care?
This whole concept of looking for the potential in every mind might kick the door open on creative solutions to countless problems that plague our world, simply because of the sheer volume of possibilities.
Are you familiar with the cutting edge research into the vast potential of the human brain? Scientists estimate there are over 86 billion neurons in the human brain, each having 1,000 to 10,000 connections per neuron. That’s 125 trillion links to various possibilities and each at the speed of 270 mph (435 kph). 8
Check this article out to get a feel for the magnitude of what we are celebrating.
What are unimaginable ideas yet to be brought to light? As the old saying goes, “A mind IS a terrible thing to waste.”
We hope you’ve been expanded by all this potential as we were. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S. estimates that 1 in 68 children have autism. By gender, that’s 1 in 189 for girls and 1 in 42 for boys. That’s five boys for every one girl. 9
What if we simply embraced the unique alchemy in every child, so that they might rise through childhood to realize their highest level of happiness and potential?
“Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump; you may be freeing him from being a camel.”
Want to have a little fun understanding your own grey matter? Here is an EWC article with the amazing Bobby McFerrin, leading us into something a bit mind-bending!
What other business models are there where an autistic workforce would be a competitive advantage?
As it turns out, the tech industry shows great potential for this kind of mind. In fact, I first learned of this term “The Autism Advantage” from a wonderful article of the same name in the New York Times, written by Gareth Cook, from 2012. The piece includes a solid look at yet another family who has found a wonderful fit for their autistic son’s talents in the tech industry. Check that out if you are interested in how our digital world very often suits the autistic brain.
Opportunity is all around us folks. These are exciting times.
If you aren’t hearing enough about it, you’re getting your news from sources that may be stuck on ratcheting up fear and negativity. That’s where this website comes in. Our only mission is to change the negative dialogue about our world. Subscribe and you will get a fabulous article about insight and innovation delivered straight to your inbox every other day.
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Stay open, curious and hopeful!
~ Dr. Lynda
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- Carr, Sarah. “The Tricky Path to Employment Is Trickier When You’re Autistic.” Slate Magazine, Slate, 22 Sept. 2017, www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2017/09/how_autism_complicates_the_path_to_employment.html. Accessed 13 Sept. 2018. ↩
- “Hiring People with Autism: How One Car Wash Turned It into a Winning Formula.” YouTube, CBC News: The National, 18 Oct. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=QixutorIyb8. Accessed 13 Sept. 2018. ↩
- Bedesch, Scott. “Graduation… What Happens Next?” Autism Society, Autism Society, 8 June 2015, www.autism-society.org/news/graduation/. Accessed 13 Sept. 2018. ↩
- “Meet the Gutsy Dad That Started a Car Wash to Help His Son Find Purpose.” YouTube, NationSwell, 29 Jan. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=VULKzVZCso0. Accessed 13 Sept. 2018. ↩
- “Teen with Autism Becomes Art Sensation.” YouTube, CBC News: The National, 9 Sept. 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=75nPBgUINMA. Accessed 13 Sept. 2018. ↩
- “A Sustainable Living Community for Adults on the Autism Spectrum | Heidi Stieglitz Ham | TEDxPerth.” YouTube, TEDx Talks, 27 Jan. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pb8iHaXag8k. Accessed 13 Sept. 2018. ↩
- “HBO Films: Temple Grandin – A Behind The Scenes Featurette (HBO).” YouTube, HBO, 12 Feb. 2010, www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=306&v=OJt5pWeX6E4. Accessed 13 Sept. 2018. ↩
- Shulock, Michael. Pitt.edu, University of Pittsburgh, 1 Nov. 2016, www.pitt.edu/~mas698/WA3.pdf. Accessed 13 Sept. 2018. ↩
- Wright, Jessica. “The Real Reasons Autism Rates Are Up in the U.S.” Scientific American, Scientific American , 3 Mar. 2017, www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-real-reasons-autism-rates-are-up-in-the-u-s/. Accessed 13 Sept. 2018. ↩