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Roger N. Meyer "...of a different mind "
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Roger N. Meyer - Asperger Syndrome Employment Workbook

Questions and Answers

 Reviewer and Media Background

Copyright © 2004, 2005 Roger N. Meyer®

All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

Tell me a little about yourself.

 

     I'm a college graduate (University of Minnesota BA Summa cum Laude, 1964).  Over the years have taken graduate course work in law, political science, labor history and labor law, and social work.  Despite my seventeen years plus of formal education, I was always under-employed.  I'm a former union cabinetmaker.  During that career I became a rank and file activist, apprentice teacher, and minor elected officer in my local union.  In 1968, I began my counseling training as a youth and young adult volunteer counselor at a drop-in center in the Haight-Ashbury where I was a part of a young adult person-centered counseling team.  During my early days as an apprentice and journeyman, I ran my own small cabinet shop as a side business, became active at a neighborhood community center food cooperative and served on the community center's board of directors.  In 1978 I began a long association with Community Boards of San Francisco, a community mediation program, and still hold a "ticket" as a mediator and facilitator as a member of the Oregon Mediation Association.

 

     When I changed careers following my Asperger Syndrome (AS) diagnosis in 1997, I became a full time author, in-service presenter on AS, and a student/parent special education advocate.  I represent AS clients as their advocate and cognitive interpreter in post-conviction community-release programs in the community justice system.  I have developed consulting relationships with vocational rehabilitation, social security the Oregon Department of Employment, disabled students offices in community colleges and four year colleges and universities, and with employers and employer groups.  I've  appeared as an expert witness in administrative hearings and in appearances before the courts on behalf of adult clients.  In 1998 I founded and still moderate a support group of AS adults, and with a mother of two special needs children co-founded a state-wide parent education and advocacy group in Oregon called Oregon Parents United (OPU).  Since July 2000, I have co-facilitated the first AS partners group with a licensed clinical social worker, Lisa Lieberman, who has an AS son and a husband with MS.  In a very real sense, as facilitators we are both intimately familiar with the effect of disability in the family and the way in which it impedes effective communication.  The same summer we started the AS partners group, my colleague and I began the only multidisciplinary Asperger Syndrome study group of counseling and clinical professionals that we know of anywhere.  The group meets monthly for two hours.  We believe we are the cutting edge of developing best as well as promising practices in counseling AS adults.  In 2001, I became a co-administrator with my OPU "partner in crime" Linda Newland, of the ASPIRES listserv.  This is a listserv dedicated to support of individuals in AS relationships.  ASPIRES has one of the most comprehensive and up-to-date adult-issues web sites on the Internet.

 

     Two and a half years ago I became active in non-disability related community politics.  I was elected president of my homeowners' association, and appointed as a county commissioner by the City of Gresham City Council to the Multnomah County Community Development and Housing Commission (CHDC).  Gresham is Oregon's fourth largest city, with a population approaching 100,000.  I am an active member of the CHDC special needs housing committee and its family housing task force and work group.  In October, 2003, I was elected President of the Rockwood Neighborhood Association, the most populous and diverse of all of my city's neighborhoods.  Since May of 2003, as a member of a political action committee, I served with community activists assure the passage of the first urban renewal initiative in Gresham's history.  With the passage of that initiative, I've played an active role in spurring redevelopment and community improvement in my neighborhood, which is the prime beneficiary of urban renewal financial, residential and economic development projects.

 

How did you get interested in employment issues for adults with Asperger Syndrome?

 

     In all my previous paid work, I've always been considered overqualified yet my social gaffes and eccentric mannerisms led to serious breaks in employment and a history of job-hopping.  Socially, I had little in common with my workmates.  My discomfort with so many things in my career as a cabinetmaker had set me on a parallel course of doing voluntary human services work with people, and several times during that volunteer career I attempted to break out of cabinetmaking.  I was unsuccessful in doing this as long as I remained undiagnosed.

 

     From my middle class upbringing, I loved the arts, drama, music, and literature.  I saw other failed workers who turned to drugs or alcohol or who were mentally unstable.  That wasn't my "problem."  I wasn't as much mentally unstable as I was cognitively confused.  Prior to my AS diagnosis, I thought I was the only person with this challenge.  Once diagnosed, I discovered that there was no information touching on real life adult issues for higher functioning autistic persons.  There was nothing dealing with meaningful employment, yet that had been a lifelong challenge for me.  Once I received my diagnosis, I set about to change that situation.  I started a research project dealing with employment in Portland, but for a variety of reasons, I couldn't wait for the academic wheels to turn and eventually fund meaningful research with adults.  I concluded that the need wasn't research.  It was hard-boiled information that would lead to a change in outcomes, and as adults, we have that information.

 

     Other adults who find themselves edged out and discounted, disbelieved, disrespected, and misunderstood by the traditional experts echo my impatience with the academy's disinterest in adults except as objects of study.  We are the experts in what it means to be an adult with AS and how it affects our lives.  I wrote my book in an effort to provide guidance to adults, who, like me, have experienced a lifetime of difficulties with gaining a living and finding meaningful paid work.

 

Your book seems to raise more questions about work than it answers.  Why is that?

 

     So little is known about the successful working lives of persons with AS that I determined to help people with AS come up with their own answers.  From my work as the founder and facilitator of an AS support group and as co-facilitator of a partners group where one or both members of the couple are on the autistic spectrum, I've come to realize that there is no on-size-fits-all approach towards finding answers.  In my work as a consultant and case manager, I use a learning model rather than a "disability model" as the best way of encouraging people to come up with their own conclusions.  It worked for Socrates, it works for Zen masters, and it works in law schools where students have their brains deliberately unhinged by a system that forces them to consider all sides and options while arriving a solutions to complicated problems.

 

     For many adults with AS, employment is a complicated challenge.  One of the highest hurdles to clear for persons with AS is "knowing how to start" a project.  In this case, the project is the person's own understanding of themselves as a working person.  A major difficulty faced by persons diagnosed with AS is not only knowing how to start a project, but also how to tell a coherent story.  The questions in my workbook act as prompts and guides to this process.  That is the reason why the same questions are repeated for the three jobs the reader chooses as representative of different periods of his or her employment history.  Building one's personal understanding and coming up with meaningful insight from a systematic inquiry about one's own unique background is something that doesn't lend itself to providing simple answers in advance.

 

Some of your comments about experts and the adult service system are critical.  Doesn't this discourage your reader from seeking out professional advice?

 

     Yes, and I realize that is a problem and perhaps a turn off for many professionals interested in helping AS adults.  On the other hand, there is widespread consensus among adults with AS that the existing system of traditional experts has failed us.  As systems, vocational rehabilitation and career counseling as presently practiced have failed with persons who have cognitive disabilities, and AS involves very complicated cognitive differences.

 

     There are further problems with that system that have to do with power struggles, authoritarianism, information as a source of control and manipulation, and the parsing out of benefits as rewards for compliance.  As Mary Weiss, a student of Herbert Lovett says, there is no other system other than the human services system that uses the term "compliance" when it comes to adult behavior.  This type of thinking is toxic to persons whose principal difficulty is that they are neurobiologically different from those who serve them.  AS adults tell it like it is, and as a person with AS I refuse to any longer buy into the myth that others know what is good for us, or have a right to steer us in directions or paths that are "for our own good."  They aren't.  We aren't children, yet we remain treated like children -- infantilized by those who should know better.

 

     At several points in my book I recommend that readers look for assistance from non-traditional resources, people who have a fresh view -- an unorthodox view -- of how to problem-solve.  AS adults have been incorrectly characterized as lacking in imagination.  As long as experts believe that to be true of us, they don't look for the unique creativity that defines our core identity as individuals.  Not seeing that in us, they don't encourage us to nurture it in ourselves.  Seeking experienced experts who don't join us as companions on our walk through the woods may only prolong the sojourner's life-long story of disappointment and frustration.

 

Are there some people with AS who can't work?  Can your book help them?

 

     There are some individuals with AS for whom my book may not work.  I wish I could have designed my book for everyone, but clearly it can't meet the needs of those whose concept of work is unreal to the point of their not being employable for cognitive reasons, and not because of any skill or actual interest and talent limitations they may possess.  If there are cognitive impediments to a person's capacity to form an understanding of work, intensive personal cognitive-behavioral therapy may be a necessary precursor for career and employment or career counseling.  While this approach is beneficial, there is no guarantee of its success with hard core cases.  In such cases, the person is more likely to have other conditions that markedly impair their ability to function in any kind of work setting, even the most ideal one, without substantial natural and other supports.

 

     My book is designed for adults who have already formed an adult concept of work.  The challenge for some adults who haven't worked at all -- and there are quite a few who are in this category -- is that they don't know what work can entail.  Part of this lack of understanding is a function of their upbringing.  Current thinking in the vocational literature suggests that children form their concept of work at a surprisingly young age (about six), and that the family itself has a profound influence on this process.  A significant challenge in some families lies in the fact that a parent or an influential relative may also have AS and may have a very distorted notion of how to impart a positive concept of work to the AS child.  If the family of origin's expectations, reinforced by others in the child's upbringing, are that the child may not work as an adult, the child and young adult's thinking influenced by this family state of mind may be virtually impossible to correct.  With several of my young adult clients, that is clearly the case, and their having applied for and being accepted by Social Security may make a transition in their thinking very difficult.  The likelihood of their doing this is very slight:  "The return to work/go to work figure for individuals finally qualified for SSI/SSDI benefits is less than one per cent.  Social Security presents a mixed blessing, and parents and adults alike should consider the implications of applying for it and dependence upon it very carefully.

 

     For young AS adults who merely lack accurate information about the meaning of work in adult life, the book presents a number of questions about the employment experience that may assist them through the process of self-determination with respect to work.  Self-determination is the first stage of understanding that leads to self-advocacy.  It is through the person's self-advocacy that career counselors and rehabilitation specialists ascertain the person's motivation to work.  Assessed sensitively, a person with AS who shows a good understanding of their strengths, talents, skills and abilities can work but may require good coaching and encouragement to move the extra distance towards considering employment as the goal of further self-development.

 

     It is with such individuals that supportive teachers, counselors, family members and career guidance professionals may use the book as a guide to self-exploration and self-determination.

 

What approach to professional career counseling of AS adults do you recommend?

 

     I'm a firm believer in whatever works for the individual rather than "whatever is."  Outmoded knowledge influences many professional career counselors in their approach to cognitively impaired clients.  Not only do they fail to understand that the changing nature of work and the workforce has passed them by, but they continue using assessment tools and job development techniques that don't work and harm their clients.

 

     [I'd like to apologize in advance for using the terms "his," or "him."  I ask the reader to interpret my use of these terms as sex-neutral.]  I use person and family-centered planning techniques.  In considering employment issues, it is essential to be mindful of the whole person and his support environment.  If an adult individual is substantially involved with his family, family active support and encouragement is essential to guarantee success with his own plans for employment and independence.  Where the individual has lived a parallel, isolated life even within the family, it is sometimes necessary to work with the person individually before coming back to the family for a re-education job.  This is especially true where the family has been responsible for restricting their adult child's concept regarding independence by their overprotective behavior.  Because the family hasn't been prepared in the past to become case managers and boosters for their adult child's future, they often remain mired in behaviors that once worked to protect their child from abuse and incompetent providers when the adult child was much younger.  For both the family and the adult individual, these old behaviors affect the adult person's self-esteem and sense of who he is.

 

     Even if the family is supportive and positive, it is essential to identify natural allies outside the family who can take on responsibilities and provide support for the individual in the community.  Doing so, and facilitating the process of their involvement in helping the adult plan his future on all fronts -- with employment being only one of them -- is the over-arching theme of person-centered planning.

 

What advice can you provide for a worker recently diagnosed with AS?

 

     A diagnosis of AS is a life-changing event.  I cover this topic in the first chapter of the book.  Most adults who seek a diagnosis on their own do not have others in their lives who can cushion the blow or introduce them to their AS gradually, as parents may do with their children.  Even if the person "knows" before receiving the label from a professional, there is a period of adjustment when the person revisits many areas of his or her life.  If the person is computer literate, I strongly recommend joining an on-line support group.  If the person doesn't have a computer, most public libraries do.  They can become sufficiently computer-savvy in a short time to join such groups and search out further information on the Internet.  Many persons diagnosed with AS appear to relish this type of support and discussion with others in a non face-to-face setting.  Adult diagnosticians should know of local support resources for persons they see and be willing to inform the person of them.  There are a small but growing number of self-managed AS adult support groups.  In many areas, there are support groups that have formed among parents of children diagnosed with AS.  Once an adult becomes more comfortable with the diagnosis, it is often personally rewarding for AS adults to attend these parents' meetings, even if they don't have children themselves.  In most instances that I've heard of, parents are hungry for information relating to what happens in adulthood.  Although the adult may not initially wish to share much information, it is likely that over time, a give and take can occur of mutual benefit to parents and the AS adult.

 

One suggestion you make for adults with AS is that they consider working for themselves.  Is that a realistic suggestion, given the challenges with organization and time management many adults with AS are said to face?

 

     Self-employment isn't impossible.  Although my income is that of a person who is semi-retired, I'm self-employed as the owner of a multi-service disability consulting firm.  My activity level, most of which isn't income-producing, is that of a full time working person, often characterized as a self-directed person on steroids.

 

     Self-employement is one choice that a person with AS can make.  The key to success lies in securing the right type of technical assistance and advice in setting up your business, and assuring that if you need it, your management plan includes having  experts available to manage parts of the business you know you're not efficient at handling.  In my business, I have legal consultants, a book keeper and a tax accountant, a group of clinicians who I use as my supervisors in keeping my casework practices and values up to date, and others who I consult to keep me on target.  I have valuable skills that I hone, and I'm constantly developing new ones.  Sometimes I consult specialists who help me reign myself in and advise me regarding efficient use of my time.

 

     Persons with physical or mobility limitations have done this for years, using personal care attendants.  Many individuals develop family businesses, relying on relatives or their spouse as business partners and employees.  Because AS is a cognitive, hidden condition, it may take re-education of systems and agencies that support the physically disabled to recognize that cognitive disabilities are more a difference to be acknowledged and worked with than an complete impediment to independence.

 

     There are artists, artisans, musicians, and other creative persons who hire managers to assist with time management, travel and appearance details, and financial issues.  Some of them rely on family members and spouses to provide an extra level of managerial support so that they can continue doing what they do best.  Not every successful self-employed person is equally well-qualified to run the business aspects of his enterprise.  Smart folks use good tools, and within the definintion of "good tools" comes the intelligent utilization of human as well as other material resources to assure business success.

 

     Other individuals with AS may already have professional careers that they can sustain in solo practice, while others can contract their services out on a fee for services basis and still be in control of many of the conditions governing their work.  Other individuals with AS can make their individual careers within organizations that allow for specialized expertise where eccentricity is not only tolerated but also is a part of the institutional or corporate culture.  Computer and information technology is one such area.  College and University higher education teaching and research is another.  Under current guidelines governing vocational rehabilitation and Social Security, individuals can receive substantial assistance in preparing to set up their own businesses.  This is a new area for both of these programs, so persons "with" would be advised to secure the services of an AS-knowledgeable advocate who can help them navigate these systems.

 

What advice can you give to a young AS adult just about to enter the workforce?

 

     "Know yourself."  Individuals not willing to look at all sides of themselves won't succeed.  Self-knowledge means, primarily, an acceptance and understanding of one's own unique flavor of Asperger Syndrome.  Actually, self-determination is the key to adult success, whether the person has a disability or not.  Knowing who you are, and being an effective self-advocate will mean the difference between a life of continued dependency and learned helplessness and a life that leads towards independence.  There may be things you can't do, but that's true of every adult.  The things one can already do as well as those things one can learn will make the difference between whether you will make it as an adult or whether you will wallow in the past with irrelevant skills, immature interests and a bad attitude.

 

     It's ideal to say that the world should accommodate everyone, but until it does, reality testing is the order of the day.  There are people and services out there whose job it is to support a young adult's move towards independence.  It's the family's job, along with others in full support of the young adult, to find those resources and to make independence -- in as many areas of adult functioning as possible -- the primary goal for the young adult.

 


 

Notice to the reader

 

     This article is copyright 2004/2005 by Roger N. Meyer.  No use of this article is permitted for personal gain.  If it is to be reproduced, the article must be reproduced in full with attribution to the author.  It may be reproduced in single copy and for educational purposes only.  Individuals wishing to reproduce this article in multiple copies must secure the written permission of the author.  "Fair use" of portions of this article is permitted for journalistic and academic purposes under legal definitions of fair use prevalent at the time of such use.

 

 

Roger N. Meyer

"…of a different mind"

Disability Consulting and Advocacy Services

Phone and FAX:

503-666-2776

Cell:  503-358-6463

18162 East Burnside

Portland, OR  97233

E-mail:  rogernmeyer@earthlink.net

http://www.aspires-relationships.com/

http://www.oregonparentsunited.org/

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