Autistics Speaking Day

I want to say something. So here goes: FUCK.A bunch of text, including *(#! #W:# and similar text, to stylistically represent internet cuss word obfuscation

Seriously.

No, I’m not trying to make the blog unsafe for kids (that said, I’d love to meet the kid who hasn’t heard the word “fuck”).  But this is a huge part of what I want to say: we will say things people like.  And things they don’t.

We’ll cuss. We’ll insult people. We’ll talk dirty. We’ll lie. We’ll do all the things that the sanitized, nice, touchy-feely movies about escaping from autism or about how there are geniuses in the autistic population won’t say.

We say – if we’re allowed – these things even if we use speech devices. Too often, we’re silenced by being given devices that don’t speak these words. (hint to parents: if your child uses a speech device that uses a language system – not just spelling, but a word-based language system – and it doesn’t include some words you don’t ever want to hear said, the vocabulary is too small for your kid) Seriously, kids cuss. So should autistic kids. Just like neurotypical kids, we need to learn what is and isn’t appropriate in what context. Whether you like it or not, it is appropriate for two fifth graders to share lists of cuss words with each other. It’s not appropriate to do so in the hearing of an adult. That’s a pretty important social lesson to learn – that your communication needs to change based on audience. How do you learn that if you’re only options in language are always appropriate for the adults?

We say we’re horny. That we’re aroused. That we want to have sex. Maybe even that we want to fuck. Just like a neurotypical does. Sure, there are all types of sexualities among autistic people, including asexuality, but most of us aren’t asexual. So we want these things. And need to talk about it. Yes, there are more and less appropriate places. And, yes, we may or may not have our parents’ moral values. But we need the same rights that any other adult has – the ability to express our sexuality, including expressing it in ways that while legal may not be what our parents would like.

Too often, we live in group homes or institutions where the staff fears the complications that a sex life would bring into their own jobs. Or have religious views about what sex is or isn’t okay. That’s fine if we willingly agree to those rules and have real options and places to live that don’t include those rules. But most of the time, we don’t get that choice when placed into group homes or institutions – we have to take what we get, or run away. A neurotypical might choose to live in a monastery. An autistic shouldn’t be forced to. Yet, studies have shown that many – quite possibly most – group homes ban homosexual relationships while allowing limited (usually way too limited) heterosexual relationships. It’s another place where our desires don’t matter.

We also need to be able to say “NO.” As in, “No, I don’t want to go to work today.” Or “No, I don’t want to eat that slop.” Neurotypicals get to do this. Sure, there are consequences (although often we get away with some of this – how many people use a sick day when they aren’t sick?). Heck, sometimes a neurotypical might wake up in the morning and decide – for better or worse – that going to work sucks, that there is more in life than their job, and that they really don’t want to go to their job. Ever again. Yep, that causes unemployment sometimes, but it’s something many neurotypicals have done sometime in their life. They were allowed to. Sure, there are consequences. But they weren’t prevented from making the choice in the first place.

So I guess that’s my theme: if people want us to speak, you need to let us speak. Even when we say shit you don’t like. We’re not pets, we’re not puppets. We’re human. And that means you won’t like every moral choice we make. Just like I won’t like every moral choice you make. That’s life.

 

The iPadification of Communication

Remember Apple’s video about how the iPad is helping Autistic kids?

Ignoring the fact that a video about selling iPads giving people a voice doesn’t actually have anyone using that voice to talk about the issue (it has a parent, a clinician, and a product developer, but doesn’t use a person with autism except to give you something to look at – our words are obviously not as important), there’s an issue here.

The iPad isn’t a good tool for this.

Yes, I know I just pissed a lot of people off.  But, really, the iPad has some problems here. Big ones. Ones that can prevent communication.

I will say I recognize that there are tons of people communicating using the iPad, and it’s a wonderful, wonderful thing for those it works well for.  It’s also got a ton of advantages over other technology, like cost ($500 instead of $5,000 or $15,000), easy availability (where can’t you buy an iPad in the world?), lots of accessories, choice of different AAC software, relatively easy to write software for, nice big screen, non-stigmatizing appearance, and it’s easy to change things if it turns out the software is wrong for the user. It’s opened up AAC to tons of people that wouldn’t qualify for a funded device.

But, often, it’s chosen because it’s cheap and available, not because it’s the right solution.

And it’s often chosen because other options suck too.  Other solutions are expensive, ugly, hard to replace or repair, lock you into a specific language system, and are inflexible as the person gains more language ability. Too many have features like secret recording modes and configuration locks that prevent a user from truly having a personal voice.  So I’m not exactly in support of other devices.

But I’m definitely against the idea that a communication device should look like an iPad.

Here’s what I see missing – both from the iPad and from most of the dedicated devices (in some cases, all of the devices):

  • Durability. Seriously who doesn’t think a 7 year old will drop the thing? Heck, many adults I know would drop and break it! I’ve seen kids not allowed to take their device with them to play – because it might break. Well, duh – give a 10 inch piece of glass to an active kid, it probably will break.
  • Outdoor Usage. Fortunately the iPad wouldn’t work well outdoors anyhow, since it’s hard to see the screen. So I suppose keeping it away from play makes sense in that way. Okay, it doesn’t. People need to communicate everywhere, not just in classrooms and at home.
  • Charging. Watch someone without great motor skills try to plug in the charger to any speech device made. Why can’t there be a drop-in charger that self-aligns for a communication device? I know of none that are easy for someone without good fine motor skills to charge. And that seems important for an electronic device.
  • Feedback to the user. I talked yesterday about how the click of a traditional keyboard helps me communicate. I doubt I’m the only one.  Everyone is different, but if someone needs loud feedback to unfreeze them, the iPad isn’t it. Likewise, some people need an input method other than touching a touch screen – some of these have options on the iPad, some don’t.
  • Speaking of volume, volume. It’s nice to have a loud enough communication device to be heard in a loud room. Without having to put it on life support by taking along a lot of speakers and such. Tons of devices have this problem.
  • Pronunciation – I’ve not found a speech application in iPad that has two features I consider essential, particularly for a literate user: spell check confirmation (to avoid ugly pronunciation, it should prompt me when I hit speak to correct misspellings – not just highlight my words with squiggles, although many programs don’t even do that) and pronunciation overrides.  I should be able to say DOT is “Dee, Owe, Tee”, not pronounced like dot.  But, beyond this, I should be able to specify these by phonemes, not by just spelling out words as they sound.  Give me access to all the sounds, not just the sounds that I can write phonetically.  And while you are at it, give me a mode to speak long strings of numbers (like a phone number) or to spell out to someone a word.  I could do phonemes and many other things with Dectalk 20 years ago. Why not now (I can tell you: it’s hard to put into an API, although MS managed to do so just fine – why can’t Apple)? Hell, you could sing with Dectalk.
  • Speaking of voices…voices…  This is one thing that is good with the Android devices in particular – it’s easy to replace the system voice.  But there’s a lot of crappy nice sounding voices out there.  There’s a difference between a voice that’s easy to understand and a voice that sounds natural. Sometimes you can do both (I like AT&T Natural Voices still, but there are others). But there are plenty that sound good but suck for understandably.

These seem like reasonable things to want changed. But of course in the race to talk about how iPads are wonderful (and I do recognize they often are), we’re short-changing ourselves and people we care about if we don’t think of the ways they fall short.

We short change when we don’t think about what the person really needs, but think instead about what can be paid for easier.  Please don’t do that to yourself! Keep trying to get the right system for yourself, even if you don’t know how you’ll pay for it. Your voice is worth moving heaven and earth for. You have something worth saying.

 

Hiring Autistic Employees

It’s all the rage for companies such as SAP to seek out autistic employees for software development or testing positions. But, when I read about this trend, I have mixed feelings. It’s an improvement from the charity model where we’re hired for, in general, only low paying jobs (link via NFB) or to do jobs that only exist as a form of adult day-care.

And I do think autistics can be good software people! I’ve worked in computers since I first started working and I do think my autism makes me a good worker – I think it gives me a different insight into how things work, a different point of view. I think it’s good for employers to recognize that.

So, people being paid good wages for software development or testing is a good thing. That said, I do get a bit nervous anytime a company starts seeking to specifically hire a minority group – often wages are less than the prevailing wage, a charge that has been leveled against the US software industry’s usage of foreign workers on H1B visas. After all, someone might be willing to take a less-than-fair wage if it is either more than they make in their home country or if it is in a location want to be at, but couldn’t normally achieve. In other words, the competitive wage market pays people less if they have a harder time getting employment (after all, not every company is is interested in H1B visa holders). Do you know who else has a harder time getting employment? Oh, yes, autistic people!

Now I’m not saying that SAP or others are paying autistic people less – I really don’t know. But it’s certainly something ASAN and similar organizations should closely monitor. We should not become a cheap form of highly productive labor (albeit cheap for SAP is nothing like cheap for Goodwill). So let’s keep the pressure on to make sure we’re treated right, not as a new low-cost employee class. But this is not the main thing that bothers me with the autistic employment programs.

There are other things that bother me more. First, most of these programs are “trials”. Rather than creating employment situations where employees with disabilities can succeed (often required under today’s laws for all jobs), the companies feel the need to prove that we’re not only productive, but that we’re more productive than other employees. What happens if we’re not? What happens to the autistic person who isn’t? Certainly, we have some extremely talented people in our community. But at the same time, not every autistic is going to be better than the average NT at software testing or any other random job.

That’s the second thing that bothers me. It substitutes the old “we can’t do anything” myth about autistics with one of “but there are geniuses among autistics” idea. While, absolutely, there are geniuses among autistic people, I suspect that we have tons of people who can work but probably won’t quite be considered a genius. They might not have a skill that closely aligns with a highly commercially valuable occupation, like software testing. They may be like anyone else walking down the street. They might be the greatest garbage truck driver in some sanitation company’s employ, but they might also be an average garbage truck driver! That’s not a bad thing – my guess is that most of the sanitation company’s drivers are average – and that’s plenty good to make good money for the company.

So I don’t like the idea we have to be geniuses. We shouldn’t have to be.

I also don’t like the idea that we can employee autistics as software engineers, but positions as garbage truck drivers are ignored.

But, finally, more than the above, I want to see all companies examine their culture and practices to see how they are excluding people from employment for reasons other than job skills. I don’t know if SAP’s internal culture is good or not (I hope it is), but plenty of software companies could expand their doors to women, LBGT people, older people (meaning “older than 25” in some cases!), and, yes, autistic people, by simply getting rid of some of the cultural garbage – as others have written. I imagine other industries could do similar things.

We don’t need companies to seek out autistic people to work. We’re not being denied jobs generally because we’re diagnosed autistic or we have “autist” stamped on our forehead, so we don’t need that targeted. We need the things that keep us from getting work targeted. Why not have jobs for people who have trouble working the 9-to-5 schedule, rather than calling that an “autistic” job (some autistics might need that change, others don’t, and certainly plenty of unemployed non-autistics would work if there was more flexibility in scheduling for positions). We’re being denied jobs because we come across badly in interviews, don’t fit the normal environment, are too much trouble to deal with, or we don’t fit the “culture.” We need the companies we already have, with jobs unfilled, to take a good hard look at their culture and learn to be a bit flexible with everyone. We need companies to quit forcing people into a certain mold (which typically has nothing to do with what they do – what does having a brightly lit office have to do with writing computer code, for instance?) and fight their employees over stupid stuff (like an employee that finds light painful). We need companies to look at their managers and figure out, “Are these people treating our employees good? Even employees that don’t socialize and interact the same way? Even employees that might need an occasional workplace adjustment?” We need companies to quit violating the ADA (in the USA; substitute your local law outside the USA) and other laws, and instead embrace not only the law but also the spirit of the law. We need companies recognizing that not everyone is cut out to work a 40 hour-per-week job, but that person that can work 20 hours is still worth hiring and not just outright excluding.

If you want to make work good for autistic people, and encourage autistic employment, here’s some things to start on:

  • Do you accommodate people who ride public transit and are thus sometimes late? Is your company close to a public transit hub? Do you have accommodations to help me get home if I stay late or work shifts?
  • How about medical care? Does it start on day one? Does it exclude any pre-existing conditions (thank you Obama for fixing most of that)?
  • Once a disabled person starts making money, they often will lose government benefits. If they lose their job, it may be a while before they can convince agencies that they are still in need. How can you reassure the disabled person that the risk of working for your company is worth it, that their life (literally) is not at risk?
  • Can I call in sick because I’m overloaded? Can I go home early for that reason?
  • Speaking of health, what if I’m not perfectly healthy? What if I need more than the typical amount of time-off?
  • How am I going to manage my home, personal needs, and work? A neurotypical person might struggle with this, but an autistic person exhausted from work may go home and straight to bed – without dinner – because of the stress. You might say it’s not your problem, but it is what keeps some of us from working!
  • How about communication and meetings. Is your culture meeting-centric? Can it handle someone that needs space and quiet? Do I really have to go to 6 hours of meetings a day (like many technology people, for instance)?
  • Is it okay for me to skip the company social events? Or do I get pressured to come lest I not be a “team player”
  • What buzzwords are you into? (For software shops, I’ll give a hint: agile isn’t necessarily enjoyable for anyone, but particularly not for many of us)
  • If I complain about noise, light, or smells that don’t bother any other employees, will you believe me and do something about it? Or will you tell me that you don’t have any way of fixing it? What if I end up needing a private office (you know, that mythical thing with a door)?
  • How does your training work? What if I don’t learn the same way that the other 99% of your employees learn? What if I need to you to train differently?
  • If I am getting bullied by coworkers or a boss, will you do anything? Will you do it before I have to go to HR? Will I get penalized when I do go to HR?
  • Do you expect me to do the job just like everyone else, even if one part of the job is something I’m really good at and another part is something I’m really bad at? Or can I be put in the position where I’m doing what I’m good at without failing at the stuff I’m bad at?
  • Can you assign me work in a clear way? If you expect me to use “common sense” meaning “figure out what I should have told you,” I might not do great.
  • If I’m overloaded or provoked, and do something unusual but not dangerous, are you going to react in fear and consider it a safety risk, or are you going to actually figure out what I need to succeed?

I’m sure there are other things. But these things do matter. And, yes, they are complex. It’s hard to do this.

But let’s focus on that. Instead of finding the autistics that fit well into your culture and advertising the “autistic friendly” jobs, let’s find ways to make the culture inclusive of as many people as possible – including the autistics that have the skills and desire to work, but can’t get in the door anywhere. These aren’t the easy-to-hire autistics who can fit into a standard 9-to-5 office environment (sorry, we have an 8-to-5 environment in most places) but also the people that can’t find for all sorts of other reasons – not because the word “autistic” is on their resume, but because they interact differently socially, have sensory differences, don’t typically multitask great, and may have skill patterns with a different set of peaks and valleys than typical employees.

Hopefully SAP and others are doing that (and if so, I am thrilled!). Let’s hold them accountable to make sure.

Why Self-deprecation is Ugly

Autistic people sometimes live a life where they are never good enough in the eyes of people important to them. Perhaps not “good enough” in the eyes of a parent, friends, classmates, or someone else’s eyes.

One response is to internalize this feeling of inadequacy. You believe yourself to be inadequate. So you express that. I understand that, I lived through it.

This is horrible for a person to feel. And sometimes there aren’t a lot of good ways to deal with this miserable life. You may discover self-deprecation. If you’re going to fail in other people’s eyes, you might as well be the person to say you’re inadequate – and beat anyone else to, getting a little bit of control. You can’t succeed, but you can take the words from others.

Of course this is not a positive thing. But understandable.

Where it becomes a problem is when it continues when the person can succeed. It then becomes not an expression of depression but rather of manipulation.

Yes, manipulation.

Once someone can succeed, the self-deprecation is now a manipulation. It can be used to get people to look at the person, give them attention, and even get others to give compliments.

It sometimes gets seen as humility (sometimes by the person acting in the self-deprecating way, sometimes by others). But it’s not humility. Humility doesn’t seek to gain control, while self-deprecation does. Humility allows someone to succeed and recognize their own success – self-deprecation actually draws attention to the success, by drawing other people into acknowledging the success. Humility doesn’t seek recognition, but self-deprecation attempts to pull out recognition from others. Humility is good. Self-deprecation is not (although sometimes it’s an understandable symptom of depression).

Self-deprecation attempts to control criticism. It seeks to get others to either sympathize with him (and tell him his being, attributes, or work are actually even better than they really are) or to see that he knows what is wrong and really is smart and able, just didn’t quite pull it off this time. Most people, being polite, will appear to sympathize outwardly.

Humility doesn’t control criticism. If someone says your work or attribute or being sucks, you analyze the truth of the statement and move past that. It allows for someone to point out a flaw you don’t know about. It also allows you to dismiss their opinion, if it isn’t well founded. Not all criticism is accurate, after all.

Simultaneously, self-deprecation not only controls criticism, but removes the need to act in it’s presence. You’ve already said it or you suck. So, what does the other person expect? You suck. You know that. You told them! If you suck, how can anyone expect you to do better? You don’t have to act, if you employ this strategy of manipulation.

Again, I think most people that practice this manipulation are doing it because of pain and hurt. They’ve probably had a horrible past. But, at the same time, it’s not always a good way of interacting with others and can become manipulative and ugly.

For myself, it took me quite some time before I could accept that a compliment was not just setting me up for abuse or humiliation. So I’d question a compliment, rather than accept it. Even when I was able to succeed, I’d deprecate. It was a bit of a habit and a bit of coping. But it wasn’t humble. It was still manipulative, even if it was developed as a strategy to cope with depression and horrible life circumstances. I needed to learn what was wrong with the self-deprecation, learn why I did it, and learn that, no, I don’t need to live in that way. I could be good at something. And someone else could tell me so – without me needing to set the stage about how horrible I was first. I could also be non-perfect, without the need to avoid all criticism by getting out in front of someone else’s criticism. I could just accept myself as I am (and recognize legitimate areas of improvement). And I could be wrong. That’s okay too.

When I continued that behavior past the places where I was being abused, and into places where I had plenty of positive feedback from others, it became manipulative. It could easily become ugly – a way to get people to do what I want them to do, while freeing myself from potential criticism. Not good. And it’s okay to not want someone to manipulate you in this way – that’s not abuse, it’s not wrong, and it’s okay to call out this behavior when you see it. It is bad behavior, even if it had a good reason. Just accepting it doesn’t help – it doesn’t help if it truly is a result of ongoing abuse (it instead facilitates the abuse – better to find the cause and get it taken care of!). Nor does it help if those things are long past and this is now just plain manipulation.

I’m definitely learning to live – and that a compliment may be just that. I may have done good! That part of my personality really might be good! And, yes, that criticism may even be valid (or not!). That’s all good. As I learn this, I learn that people’s opinions of me, while worth evaluating, are not what is important. Being as decent of a person as you can is important. Yes, you do need some positive input from other people. And too many autistics don’t get that. But at the same time, once that’s there, it’s freeing to recognize it and then let go of the need that is now met and to give up that manipulation of others.

I Would Make an Awful Welder

In the early 90s, a guidance counselor in my school suggested welding as a possible career choice. I’m guessing he didn’t have a lot of respect for welders, unfortunately. I certainly wouldn’t have helped that field any – and if I was welding, there would be more Arkansas pipeline spills in the world. We don’t need that.

Here’s what I think happened: I think the guidance counselor probably was overworked, busy, and required to help 750 students or so find their true calling in life. That’s just not going to work, period. But with autistic people, it can be even more challenging than it is for many other students.

So this guy, who doesn’t know me personally (the school had about 3,500 students with only a handful of guidance counselors), pulls up my transcripts and other records. In the other records, he sees that I was at one time in special education for reading, had numerous absence problems, and was planning on making up some classes in summer school that year. He probably saw teacher notes – you know, things like, “your child has more potential than he uses” on his report card. Then he saw my transcripts – I was solidly at the top of the bottom 25% of my class! My grades in math were poor (D’s), I failed several humanities classes, but did great in introduction to auto mechanics.

So, seeing someone with behavioral problems, trouble reading, laziness (isn’t “your child has more potential than he uses” the long way of saying “lazy?”), failing or nearly failing things like math and English, and who seems to only be doing good in one class, what does he do? He picks something totally out of left field and suggests it (likely, in his eyes, welding and car repair are basically the same thing).

There’s just one problem. He didn’t have all the records, and the ones he had misled him (and plenty of others in my life).

It missed my passion. I had a passion for computers and programming. I still do. In fact, I used to brag that at age 25, I was doing my dream job – the one I wanted when I was 5 or 6 years old. How many people get to do that? (turns out that I found out that job wasn’t quite as great as I thought, so, although it wasn’t bad, I moved on to other related fields) I would never have found my path if I listened to this counselor or ignored my passion.

Passion is important for autistic people. Our skills look uneven to people who equate normal neurotypical strengths and weaknesses with “even skill development.” We’re not neurotypical, so our strengths and weaknesses differ. This isn’t bad, it’s just plain different. And one of my weaknesses was dealing with the structure of a school day and homework. It’s not that I couldn’t do it, it’s that it would burn me out.

But that’s not all of it. That special education for reading? I had a great vocabulary. I could read several grades above my grade level in elementary school. But I couldn’t express myself nearly as well. So, rather than realizing the difficulty was expression, it was believed to be reading. And later writing. Ironically, I didn’t discover until after I finished school that I love writing and am at least fair at it – I truly believed it was one of my biggest weaknesses. I hated reading and writing – today they are both huge joys in my life. Yet, I remember sitting there in elementary school repeating flash card words back to someone, thinking, even then, “Why do they keep asking me to tell them what this card says? This is dumb.” It was.

He could see that I did bad in math. Of course I was getting a “D” in advanced math, but nevermind that! I was getting a “D” because I lost books, pencils, paper, assignments, etc, and because of something else I’ll mention later. But I did great on the tests. Someone looking into this would have realized, “Wow, this kid knows the math but is nearly flunking. What is going on here? We should figure this out. How can he be nearly flunking, but get A’s on all his tests?” Perhaps grading my ability to learn math rather than my executive function without support would have been a good start.

Then, in English, I just hated that class. Same with social studies and history. Ironically, I love all of them today. But I really did hate them in school. I saw no connection to what I wanted to do in life. And that is important to an autistic student! Combine that with the same executive function problems I had in math…well, there’s no way I was going to pass those classes.

But there was an even bigger problem in school: I was suicidal, extremely depressed, and routinely afraid for my life at the hands of others. I was insulted, shoved, pissed on, hit, burned, taunted, molested, and generally bullied in pretty much every way possible. Go figure that I did bad in that environment. When I told a teacher, I was told to “man up” or whatever else would get me out of their hair. I don’t recall any of my complaints of bullying being taken seriously. Some even got me things like a group circle discussion between me and my bullies where the bullies explained what was wrong with my social skills and how I needed to change to not be bullied – uh, ya, that’s social skills training. Apparently the person who is taunting another is fine, but the victim should stop it. So I stopped making complaints to adults.

Combine the bullying with intense loneliness. I had nobody much of the time. Nobody.

So I did bad in school. Well, except for auto mechanics. You see, auto mechanics didn’t require any homework. So I did good if for no reason other than not needing to lug around books and remember to do assignments. But combine that with it being a relatively easy class, and of course I got an A. If you could change oil, you probably passed this introductory class. If you could also not destroy anything in the process, that got you a B. If you knew oil was black, not red, that got you an A I watched a couple of my fellow students drain the transmission and, then, when noticing it was the wrong color, tell each other, “Oh, that’s the RED oil. It’s really good stuff”; I watched another drive a car off of the auto lift. So I was going to do pretty good here. I didn’t destroy anything.

I’m still okay in auto maintenance. But just okay. You don’t want me fixing your car.

But that still doesn’t get us back to welding. I’m still not sure where that came from, but the idea of me welding is absurd. I’ve seen my wife (a master welder) do her stuff – it requires a fine motor control, eye for detail, and patience that I just don’t have. That’s fine. Welding is a great career. But so is my field.

Here’s my advice to people giving others advice. I’ll keep it simple, like people like to do with special education:

Listen!

When the kid says, “I love X”, it might be helpful to look at that field first. Duh.

Look!

If you’ve seen this kid get bullied, that kid has a problem. Even if it was mild. Even if it was only once. The bullies aren’t seen 99% of the time. So if you see it, it’s bad. Really, really bad. And that kid ain’t going to be able to accomplish shit until the problem is fixed. And he might end up dead if you don’t do something.

Think!

Oh, he’s doing great on tests, but poor on homework? Maybe something is going on. Maybe it’s worth investigating. Maybe it’s bullying. Maybe the kid is working to support his family when he’s not at school. Maybe he’s being abused at home. Maybe he’s autistic and has difficulty with executive function. Maybe it’s more than one of these.

But don’t just pick a random career and ignore this!

There’s More

I’d also add the following:

  • Focus on strengths – What is the kid good at? But not just, “Where does he get good grades” since grades measure a whole lot more than the subject at hand.
  • Be creative, school isn’t life – Just because a student doesn’t demonstrate an aptitude for something in school doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have an aptitude for it in a slight different environment. Think about solutions to the school problems and how the student can find solutions to actual career issues.
  • Career isn’t life either – While I’ve been talking about careers, a traditional career-that-gives-paycheck isn’t the only way to have meaning in life or to improve the world.
  • Get the whole picture – Find out if the kid has hobbies or interests that he pursues outside of school. Might these be important?
  • It’s okay if he’s different – Some of the greatest people in our world (not just financially successful or successful in a career) are different. Greatness requires difference.

So, what else is there? I’m sure I’m not the only one with thoughts or experiences.