This is part two of How an Autistic Child has Changed a Career…For the Better
In 2006 I wrote of Patty’s and my decision to homeschool our son Trevor to help provide a learning environment more conducive with his autism. It’s now twelve years later and time to write about how things worked out.
Trevor started seventh grade with a customized schooling plan. Patty focused on arts and language and I focused on math and science. He also attended a homeschool-assisted school which provided English and math classes and attended a science class at the middle school he would have normally attended. The curriculum plan was designed by Patty and me along with Trevor’s school counselor. It was a hybrid of homeschooling and traditional schooling which we felt gave Trevor the best likelihood of success. Trevor’s counselor was completely awesome in working with us and putting Trevor’s well-being first. The blended teaching worked very well in seventh grade, but we also noticed that Trevor wasn’t getting enough peer socialization. In eighth grade we decided to start the process of mainstreaming him back into the public-school system. Patty continued focus on arts and language and math and science topics were now being provided by Trevor’s middle school. I like to joke that I was fired as a homeschool teacher and that my wife and son did the firing. In reality the mainstreaming was the right answer because it allowed him to get needed socialization through spending more time at school while also giving him some additional 1:1 focus through homeschooling. In ninth grade we felt Trevor was ready to be fully mainstreamed into the public-school system. While we packed up our homeschool materials, our involvement with Trevor’s schooling and socialization growth was still strong.
Ninth through 12th grade brought some high points but also brought a lot of struggle. Trevor was bullied and made fun of by many other students who took advantage of his autism. He had difficulty telling the difference between kids mocking him versus being a friend. Because he was behind his peers in his social interaction skills, he would say and do things that weren’t appropriate. He did have a few close friends who were genuine in their friendship, some of which he is still friends with today. One bright spot through high school was Trevor’s involvement in drama club. He participated in many performances both on stage and behind the scenes. The drama club was his “clique”, and while some in the club took advantage of Trevor’s autism, many accepted and looked out for him.
Trevor graduated from high school in 2011 with plans to go to college. Feeling that the jump from high school to a large university would be too drastic for him, he attended a local junior college for two years while living at home. He had developed a love for movies and photography, so he decided to major in film studies with an emphasis in photography. These two years were foundational for Trevor’s growth in that he continued to progress academically while also allowing him to work on socialization and adaptation skills. In his sophomore year he decided he wanted to transfer to a four-year university majoring in film and media studies. His decision on where to go was an outstanding example of decision making through empirical data analysis and pros/cons articulation. He developed a visibility board with xx decision criteria including offering of major, closeness of family, and church offerings. He narrowed his choice down to two colleges, Central Washington University and Arizona State University, both of which meant he would be living away from home. He ultimately decided on Arizona State, comfortable through his analysis that this was the best option. It was also during this time that Trevor wrote about his experiences growing up with autism in Six-Word Lessons on Growing Up Autistic.
In August 2013 we took Trevor to the ASU Tempe campus, helped him set up his dorm room, and left him to start his junior year of college. While it was a bit unnerving being a thousand miles away from him, we had peace in knowing there were a number of family members in the area including Trevor’s big sister Briana who was now a nurse in nearby Scottsdale. His last two years of school were those of tremendous growth. He had to figure out a lot of things on his own, make new friends, and be responsible for his own studies. Fortunately, he plugged into a church group that was walking distance from ASU. He fit in like a glove and the church group was a high point of his time at ASU. He got to experience living and dealing with roommates, most of which he felt were too immature for him. We got several problem calls when he lost his wallet, had computer problems, or was having difficulty coping with some situations. He graduated from ASU in December 2015 Cum Laude with a degree in Film & Media Studies.
His post-college life was filled with a lot of anxiety. Now he was out of school and it was time to support himself. He didn’t have a job upon graduation, so Patty and I decided to hire him into our company as our Media Director. He was employed by us for 17 months where we got to help him build good work habits. We instituted a monthly review process called “dones” where at the beginning of the month he would lay out what he would have done by the end of the month, which we would then review at the beginning of the next month. It was an outstanding process in that all three of us were aligned as to what he needed to do, and he was held accountable for getting things done. In July 2017 Trevor was hired by Northwest Center where he splits his time between facilities management and marketing. His marketing assignments have been fruitful, including being interviewed by two local TV news stations.
Today Trevor is 26. He lives on his own in a condo we purchased for him along with two other tenants on the autism spectrum. He pays rent, he manages his own money, he is as self sufficient as any 26-year-old. He’s still got some challenges that he’ll continue to have for the rest of his life. He’ll always need someone else to help coach him through situations. It was a lot of hard work on all our parts, but Patty and I are excited about his future and are grateful that we were in a position to help Trevor.
Done and Done - Promoting Disability Inclusion by Helping Our Autistic Son Transition from College to Workforce
In December 2015 our son Trevor, who was diagnosed with autism at age 5, graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in Film and Media Studies. Despite the challenges and all of the change Trevor endured in his college experience, he graduated with a 3.5 GPA with very little assistance. He also experienced living by himself, living with nice and not-so-nice roommates, internships, and a summer job as a photographer at a boys camp in North Carolina. He gained a tremendous amount of life experience and learned a ton about himself as a person. His graduation in December put an exclamation point on a very rich college experience. But college is only one race in the marathon called life; his next race - employment - was yet to start. Read more
Typically, career choices are made based upon responsibilities, compensation, or prestige where a businessperson makes a change to get a higher salary, more responsibility, or greater prestige. What about the situation, though, where the driver behind a career choice isn’t any of these; where it’s the needs of a child that drive the change? My choice was precisely that.
Trevor was a happy, normal, active baby. He was able to laugh, coo, cry, and do all of the other normal things that his big sister, Briana did at that age. To my wife Patty and me, everything seemed to be just fine. At about age two, we noticed that Trevor was hardly saying any words and was very into his own world with puzzles, coloring, and videos.
Recently Patty and I met up with our financial advisor to walk through our long-term finances. A key component of that discussion was about our net worth, defined as assets minus liabilities. While we had a very fruitful discussion that resulted in some great take-aways, it got me to thinking about how easy it is to focus on a single aspect of one's life and derive how good (or bad) one might be doing based on that aspect. Don't get me wrong; one's net worth is certainly an important measure that needs to be tended to. My point is that there is more to life than net worth when looking at your overall contentment. This hit home for me with the suicides of famous figures Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, and others. These are people who appeared to have it all but to them something was so missing that it caused them to commit a horribly sad act. Lives ended too early; my prayers go to their loved ones.
In thinking about contentment, I looked hard at what, to me, are the most important driving factors behind contentment. Keep in mind my analysis is not from a point of scientific expertise; rather it is from a point of practicality as to what I think are the most important drivers. I've honed my list to 8:
Now I completely realize that some of these above drivers are extremely important to some or not at all important. My point is not to second guess your importance level; what I do believe necessary is to decide how important each of the above drivers are to you. If something is not at all important to you then that is certainly your choice. Just be mindful of avoiding something that could adversely impact you later. As example, if you say financial contentment is not at all important and you decide not to financially plan for the future then you might be creating a problem for yourself later in life.
So what now? I put together a simple excel spreadsheet which allows you to assess, for each of the contentment drivers, how important it is to you, what makes you content, and how you could be more content. I think it's important to articulate both what makes you content and how you could be more content for a couple of reasons. First, it allows you to celebrate things you are already happy with. Second, it enables you to improve on some things which you may already be doing well.
If you find this helpful, you can download the excel template to help you self-assess yourself based on the 8 drivers. Download it here.
As always, would love to hear what you think. let me know your thoughts in below comments.
Some time back I was having breakfast with a couple of guys that I work with in one of the organizations which I volunteer. In this organization, I have been leading a group of about nine men for about four months to set a vision for the group, decide upon our key focus areas, and lay out activities which the group will undertake for the next year. I was very pleased with how the team "gelled" and the fact that we seemed to be moving the ball forward towards meeting our vision. During breakfast, one of the guys told me that, by and large, the team was happy with me but a couple felt that I came in too heavy-handed and authoritarian. Blech.
As leaders we have a responsibility to ensure that our area is managed effectively and that we are driving the organization to achieve its stated objectives. We also have a responsibility to grow the next generation of leaders to ensure that the great work we've done continues on after we've moved on. Keep some of these nuggets in mind as you ponder making the next generation of leaders great:
Brad was an incredibly bright young executive with a very promising future. Ever since graduating college, he seemed to take on increased responsibilities in his company like a duck to water. He married his college sweetheart, Nancy, right after graduation and has two small children. Brad's talent didn't go unnoticed in the industry, with several competitors approaching Brad about his willingness to join another firm. He steadfastly resisted, that is until the offer of all offers came his way.
Cantata Group, a larger and more prominent competitor to his current company, wined and dined Brad and ultimately offered him a VP position with a higher salary and better benefits. The offer was too good to pass up so Brad talked with Nancy about the job and they both became enamored with how this was going to advance Brad's career and what they would be able to do with the extra money. Brad joyfully accepted Cantata's offer, gave his current company two weeks' notice, and started in his new VP role.
Within a year of joining Cantata, he noticed some unexpected side effects of his new position. He was required to be in weekly global executive virtual meetings which could happen at any time of the day or night. He was routinely working 60+ hours a week, missing dinner with Nancy and the kids. He traveled at least once a week, many times to put out fires at clients. His eating habits were horrendous and he wasn't exercising due to his schedule. He began putting on weight. Nancy was frustrated with him not being around and his kids missed their daddy. The stress was unbearable and led to Brad one day grabbing his chest and collapsing during a customer meeting.
As a small business owner I’ve had many many discussions with colleagues about my products and services. Throughout these discussions I have gleaned some outstanding pieces of advice about things I should be focusing on and ideas that I should be pursuing. I also have been on the receiving end of some pretty random ideas which may have had some merit in the eyes of the beholder but just didn't seem to fit well with the direction that I want to take the business. One colleague of mine got pretty peeved with me because I wasn't executing upon his advice. The truth is, his advice just didn't align with the other advice I was getting and didn't fit well with the direction that I want to go. I stuck with my spider-senses and didn't execute upon his advice.
Project management is changing….it's becoming more strategic, more mainstream, and not just synonymous with technology implementations. Today's PM needs to be more than technically adept or be able to whip out a gantt chart. Get a read on some of these crucial skills the everyday PM will need to succeed:
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