Saturday, February 2, 2013

Hire Me! I'm good for your bottom line!

I sent this letter to my employment specialist, Jeanne Eisermann, so she could use it for job developing for an office assistant position. If anyone knows of any job openings, then please let me know.
My name is Katherine (Katie) Kagan. I am a part-time college student, and I am seeking part-time employment as an office assistant. 

I am extremely detail-oriented, have excellent attendance, a strong work ethic, and I am results-driven. Also, as evidenced by this letter, I have very strong written communication skills.

I have worked for three years (2009-2012) at Light and Associates, an accounting firm. The majority of my work was seasonal. I scanned and processed (put together) tax returns. I also filed client folders (manually), made copies, and did other office tasks.

Prior to my paid job at Light and Associates, I volunteered at the Jewish Family Services Association (JFSA). There, I redid their whole file cabinet system. I rewrote all the names on the file folders, and I made sure that the folders were neat and organized. I also filed papers.

The experience from both jobs has helped me grow both professionally and personally.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best Regards,

Katie Kagan

Friday, February 1, 2013

Communicating With Adults With ASD

The Autistic Hoya, Lydia Brown, continuously blogs about the mistreatment and abuse of adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). She does an excellent job of detailing all the injustices done to autistic adults.

You may NOT speak for me. EVER. If you want to talk to an employer about my disability, financial, or personal business, get verbal or written permission from me first. If you doubt that I am capable of advocating for myself, close your mouth, take a step back, and let ME do the talking.

I know that I have high-functioning autism. I know that I'm not typical. I also know how to speak. Keep that in mind, please. I also  know that I have trouble speaking, at times.

I know how to read. I know how to write. I know how to think. Unsolicited scribing is very inappropriate. Unless I request a scribe, don't assume that I am physically unable to write.

Case in point, I know how to fill out hand-written applications. I graduated Kindergarten in the early 90's. I just celebrated my 25th birthday. Disabled adults are NOT large children. I am a whole adult. Please respect that.

Also, I shouldn't have to ask extensively to fill out what I should have started filling out myself. If I ask once, please take that request seriously. I don't enjoy repeating myself. Don't do anything that I have said I can do myself. That is very rude.

If an employer needs to know something, then please ASK me if who should tell them.

As one adult with a disability stated, "Do not help me even if it makes you feel good. Ask me if I need your help. Let me show you how you can best assist me."  Her words ring very true. It's not about you; I am not helpless.

I'll let the employer know that I have autism (or ASD) and any other things that he or she needs to know. If I ask you to come in, that doesn't mean immediately start talking to the employer. That literally means come in and stand there. I may just want you to be there for the support (in case a question comes up that I need help with). To reiterate, I don't need help thinking. I'll let you know if and when I do.

I don't mind telling an employer that I have autism spectrum disorder. I refuse to say "quirky." That's a lie. I have trouble communicating (verbal and non-verbal) and sensory issues. That's not "quirky." It is impairment. I have a lot of skills too - unfortunately, communicating and interacting properly with others are not part of them.

As Landon Bryce, an adult with autism, wrote in a song "I'm grateful that you don't ignore me, but you cannot speak for me."
I appreciate all your assistance, however; if I ask or tell you not to do or say something, I should only have to do it once.

Response: Autism is NOT An Identity

No, it's not. Autism is a spectrum DISORDER, and it is a developmental and medical condition. Autism is not a physical or personality trait. Sure, it's part of my brain, but that is not a choice I made.  Personality traits can be altered, but I can't change (remove/erase) autism. Go ahead, attack me... I would if I could.

It was suggested to tell my prospective employer that I'm "quirky" and have difficulty socializing. Quirky autism fashion sense! Autism is much more than that (duh!). Also, I have trouble communicating. Yes, that sometimes could mean difficulty speaking. It's all part of who I am. I would still be an eccentric geek without the autism. Autism just adds a bit (or rather a lot) of very fashionable deficits, impairments, and struggles.

First, not being able to read body language or facial expressions is part of who I am. It's a new personality trait. I chose it. Unfortunately, I can't erase it. Unlike my hair or eye color, inability to read non-verbal signals and other social cues impairs my ability to relate to others, form friendships, and romantic relationships.

Employment problems that can include challenges with speaking in stressful situations, socializing, and reading, understanding, and interpreting social cues are also part of the autism fashion sense. Don't worry, the employer will accommodate that (or not!).

Sensory issues? Those are just "cute reactions" to people and things. They're part of the "gift" of autism.

Getting distracted by noise? Difficulty filtering things out? Getting overwhelmed and anxious? Try earplugs or listening to music with headphones - IF the employer will allow it.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Response To David's Blog Post

This blog post is a response to David's recent blog post, "Children and Philosophy."Maybe the kid is a brat. Maybe he isn't. The article doesn't provide enough information to draw a sufficient conclusion. Lack of parenting/discipline can certainly cause a child to act "bratty." It wouldn't be accurate to judge American standards (where Cary writes his column) against the Korean culture (where David teaches). 

I will say that I was surprised by the intensity of the Korean educational system on children as young as five, and although David has told me that I would do well in such an educational system, after reading his post, I have to reconsider. Of course, it isn't quite fair to compare children to an adult; therefore, let's think back to when I was 5 years old. I couldn't sit still, interact with others, tie my shoes, and I was barely toilet trained.

As is rightly stated, childhood is about learning from experience, to experiment, understand, and learn. To do that, you need to be able to pick up social cues instinctively and respond in a manner that is "sensed" by others. When you have autism like I do, you have to be taught what is acceptable and what isn't.

I have to disagree with David's statement that empathy is the most important human trait. There is empathy, the ability to put yourself, in anther's shoes, to understand where they are coming from (perspective taking), and to react in an expected manner. Sharing (in David's example it is chestnuts) is a form of empathy, but sharing is not the total of empathy. I have no problem sharing. In fact, I've been known to give people to many gifts. However, the physical act of sharing with the absence of initiated and reciprocated emotion does not translate into genuine empathy regardless of the intent. Also, to properly empathize with another person, you must be able to instinctively react in an expected manner. I have to disagree that sharing equates to "true and genuine" empathy. 

For example, if someone  is sick and in the hospital, it is expected to give them a card. That is the physical act of giving something to someone. It is called sharing. I have been told things like cards and candy make sick people feel better. It is simple to do the physical act of giving a sick person a card. But most people expect you to feel sad, sorry, worried, etc. when you give the card. The absence of an appropriate and expected emotion in addition to the physical act is not real empathy. Empathy is not a physical act. Empathy involves responding emotionally in the expected manner.

Lack  of empathy is not caused by lack of discipline, although it can be, and good parenting and discipline can be (or not) related to empathy. Case in point. I have high-functioning autism, and I promise you that I most certainly didn't get everything I wanted (not even close) nor was their a lack of discipline. There are many reasons for lack of empathy expression, and a disability can be one of them.

"Appropriate" behavior is very different from empathy though. It's not related, but it can be. According to societies standards, appropriate behavior is "acting normal." But since "normal" is a setting on a dryer machine (and people aren't machines), appropriate behavior is extremely subjective. For the purposes of this note, we will say that inappropriate behavior is any action, word, etc. (since that's what a behavior is) that causes psychological, physical, mental, emotional, social, or any other harm to a person or people or interferes in some way in their life. For example, I used to have a need to log onto Facebook every day and rant to a particular person. This behavior was not appropriate as it was mentally and emotionally harming the person as it was taking up their time and annoying the person. This behavior was inappropriate, and I had to learn to find other outlets for my stress and anxiety. 

There are also "behaviors" that society deems as "inappropriate" because they don't make the person "look good." But, by definition, a behavior is not an art project, and it does not have to "look good" to others. For example, for those of us with autism spectrum disorders, we are often told that our fidget/stim/rock/flap/etc. is not appropriate because it doesn't "look right." However, if it is NOT interfering with anyone or anything else (or even our lives, it helps us in many ways), then it is not inappropriate. Of course if were to do this behavior on someone else (and it does happen) then it would be inappropriate because there is potential harm to another person or thing.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Lives Lost To Down Syndrome

For some, Down Syndrome can be deadly. 

There is a blog out there, Lives Lost To Autism, with the tag-line, "For many, autism can be deadly." It is authored by a variety of people, including Kim Stagliano, an excellent autism advocate for the whole ASD spectrum and a parent of three girls with autism. 

I do not think ASD is - by itself, fatal. However, lack of awareness of danger coupled with improper or no supports can put a child or adult with ASD in a very dangerous and possibly life-threatening situation (i.e. wandering and getting lost).

ASD is not the only medical condition that can put a person in a life-threatening situation. 

Down Syndrome, for some people, can cause serious and terminal illnesses that could lead to death.

Scott Widak, 47, died of liver disease. 

Kristin Kirton, 22, died of Leukemia (ALL).

Martin Ryan, 43, died of 26-day starvation.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Korea, Employment, And People With Disabilities

One of my on-line friends', David Light, lives in Seoul, the capital of South Korea. He teaches English to Kindergartners who are neurologically and physically typical.

What happens to Korean children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD's) when they become adults?

"Why did the study find so many kids in "mainstream" classrooms, not receiving special support? One explanation may be the Korean school system. Children go to school six days a week, 12 hours a day. They don’t have much recess time, have fewer transitions between classes, and spend more time on rote learning."
That's a good educational model, but how would it help people with Asperger's in the school system learn how to generalize this information that typical people do instinctively? 
 I have a great long-term memory (most of the time). I can memorize facts, mathematical formulas, and other types of information.
"Roy Richard Grinker, a cultural anthropologist at George Washington University who worked on the study, said his own child with autism would probably function very well in such a system."
David told me that he imagined that I would do better if I was growing up in Korea because the social norms (rules) were clearly stated. I imagine the educational system in Korea would have been of great assistance. I saw a video of (from Children Around the World) of typical Korean elementary school students. The great news is that Korea uses universal design to teach students academic skills - visual and kinesthetic (hands on). In one example, students were learning to purchase food and count money with toy food and "play money." This a an excellent example of the principles of universal design - teaching to a wide variety of learning styles.
For people with Asperger's, the skills goes beyond purchasing food and counting money (the simple part). They need to be taught to greet cashiers. If they're working as a cashier, they need to be taught to greet customers.  If they're purchasing food and have questions, they need to be taught how to approach an employee or manager appropriately. They need to be taught to make eye-contact with the cashier or customer. Typical people consider lack of eye-contact as a sign of rudeness. The neuro-typical Korean children know this instinctively, but children with AS do not.

What happens after people with Asperger's (the ones who can and choose to go) finish college or university? Korean government handouts? 
Korea has a lot of people in bureaucratic  positions. These people are employed in government and positions of power. The skills required to work in these positions go beyond technical capability. Communication skills, interpersonal skills, integrity, excellent problem-solving skills (for both people and things) and the ability to empathize with citizens are also extremely important. I don't know anyone with an Asperger's diagnosis who can do all of these things. Even this highly talented and successful adult with AS that I know has difficulty relating to typical people.

However, I heard that people with disabilities are not given a chance to work in Korea. If people with invisible disabilities, such as Asperger's, are not permitted to work in Korea, what will they do all day? It's WASTED TALENT (any geographic location) to deny adults with AS the opportunity to work and contribute to their community. People with AS thrive on structure and stability, and employment provides that (except if your employer rarely shows up). If someone with Asperger's is denied that structure, stability, and opportunity - anxiety and panic erupts (think: emotional problems and reactions). If someone with Asperger's gets bored, like Gary McKinnon, that person can get get illegally creative. It's good for business to hire adults with Asperger's. It hurts society (any location) when you don't allow them to work.

Why do Korean businesses not allow people with physical disabilities the right to work?

In Korea, businesses don't want to hire people with physical disabilities because a wheelchair makes someone "look bad." The reason is that Korean people are obsessed with "beauty," so a wheelchair is an "interference." From the logical standpoint, this is baseless discrimination. 

Productivity isn't measured by your ability to walk, and many people who can walk have higher absenteeism and perform below the company's standards.

Unfortunately, because the business perspective doesn't exist in Korean culture, people in wheelchairs are not allowed to be employed. They receive government handouts, so they can live below the poverty line. The business perspective employs people based on qualifications - including technical, communication and interpersonal skills, work ethic, personal characteristics, and first impression. Companies that practice the business model do NOT discriminate based on personal equipment such as a wheelchair.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


I know MY brain BETTER than anyone else. That includes (but is not limited to) parents, professionals, etc. even with the best of intentions (which many times they do).

You've gotten the talking down, just not the LISTENING

People hurt me, both physically and emotionally.

I was ignored by my peers in elementary, middle, junior high, and high school.

I was bullied, both physically and verbally. Think: a death threat ("I will kill you.")

They called me retarded. I DESPISE the "R" word. Even if used correctly, I do not have an intellectual disability.

In my life I tried to make everyone happy, while I HURT and HIDE. It's MY TURN to decide who I WILL and will NOT please.