- Elizabeth Cuff
Elizabeth Cuff, 21, is a computer whiz who enjoys cooking, gaming, art, and creating fantasy fiction. But she has struggled to get and keep a job, despite her successful participation in Project SEARCH, a school-to-work program for youth with disabilities.
Ms.Cuff didn’t tell her boss that she has autism spectrum disorder because she was afraid of being treated differently. “Had I told [my boss] I had a disability, he would have kept me on longer but then I’m also worried that he wouldn’t have hired me in the first place, and his excuse would have been he found someone else for the position,” said Ms. Cuff.
She took another job, this one in a kitchen, where she hoped to cook. Her supervisor only wanted her to clean, and he didn’t want her working on the same side of the room as he did. She got the message: he didn’t really want to work with her, and she left.
She said people seem to notice that she walks on her toes, stutters when she’s nervous sometimes, and acts a little differently. “There are those people who treat a person as a person no matter what, and then there are those who immediately know something’s different about you. They don’t want anything to do with you. They put you in a corner, and it’s like you’re not worth anything,” she said.
She has a message for employers: “Give us a chance. It may take us longer to learn something, but you won’t find a more dedicated person as long as we’re put in the right position and made to feel wanted and needed.”
- Gillian Graham-Bevan
For some people, autism can have a positive effect on careers – or can lead one down a new job path.
Clinical psychologist Gillian Graham-Bevan had just started her first job evaluating children with suspected autism and other developmental concerns at a children’s treatment center, when her son was diagnosed with ASD. Her husband, Robert, was working evenings and weekends in a group home for adults with developmental disabilities. After the diagnosis, he looked for a job with daytime hours, and became a teacher’s aide in a class of children with autism and other disabilities.
What happens when a professional interest in autism becomes personal? “It gave me a completely new layer of compassion and understanding, not just for the children but for the parents of the children I was supporting,” Mr Bevan said. His wife assessed and treated children with ASD – with an insider’s view. “In many ways, having a son with autism makes it easier to relate to and help clients with autism and their families” Dr. Graham-Bevan said. “I’m very aware of the system. I know what it’s like to live with a child with a developmental disability.”
The Bevans know first-hand the challenges families face in obtaining autism services. Despite their experience and knowledge of the system, they (like many others) spent thousands of dollars on private autism therapy for their son, now 11, due to long waiting lists for public treatment in Ontario, Canada, where they live.
- The experience of being a father to an autistic boy Aditya (Adi) – who was born in India and now settled in USA.
Based on the experiences of last 7 years, the learning on how to observe and deal with autism is mostly experiential for me.
There is always some influence of our social and cultural backgrounds that goes into what we do to take care and deal with children – including autistic children. And there are many good traits that are a part of Indian social ethos that are of enormous help to us dads and moms as we grapple with this enormous challenge. Not to sound regional here – but based on my numerous interactions with other dads and moms from my country who are bringing up autistic kids – I am convinced that there is a large part of our “Indian” nature, social patterns and attitude that shapes our responses on dealing with autistic children.
Not all traits are praiseworthy – Over prevalence of sympathy, negotiation within oneself and long periods of soul searching on “why this happened”, issues in communicating to relatives and often a lack of understanding on their part.
When Aditya was first diagnosed with autism 7 years back, his neuro dev. paediatrician had told me and Sanjukta, my wife – you will both have to change as well – adjust to deal with him while in HIS world. Day after day, I realize the weight of his words. In 7 years, Adi has been able to step into my world and now understands most of what is being said to him. But how much of his world, his feelings, his thoughts, his aspirations, his fears, his laugher – do I understand?
I am trying. And I know this – as I try to step into his portal, I find myself becoming more tolerant, more open minded, more respectful of diversity and more aware that my view of life may be the common one but NOT the only one. He makes me a better person every day. And I want to share that – how my son influences me positively !
Aditya is now 9. He is tall and well-built for his age. I remember while growing up as a teenager, I was a little conscious of my thin arms and rib cage outline showing whenever I took over my shirt. No such issues here. He is well within the autism spectrum and lives with his parents and sister Trisha in US. Mostly nonverbal, he is still amazingly perceptive of emotions and what is being communicated. A quick learner, an avid swimmer and full of life. My brave boy.
Want to read more?
- Autism Spectrum Disorders in the Media – Non Fiction
- Learning and behavioral characteristics of children with Asperger syndrome
- Let’s Be Friends!