Growing up in Milwaukee and later in South Florida, the schools did a great job of detecting visual and hearing impairment, but there wasn’t much in the way of autism detection or assistance.
The United States has made great strides in recent years to better understand and diagnose autism, and to assist with the challenges and expenses faced by educators, parents and those living on the autism spectrum.
And yet there is still much work to be done, as autistics generally struggle to thrive in today’s workforce, leading to unemployment or underemployment relative to their creativity, competencies and hard skills.
During times in my life that I have sought employment, I was often surprised at being passed up regularly for jobs that I was extremely qualified for and even overqualified for, especially as my track record of personal successes continued to grow.
Being “high functioning” on the spectrum, it wasn’t until my late 30s that I was diagnosed and able to focus on overcoming the obstacles that autism posed in my work life.
That growth in overcoming autism’s challenges came with the help of Joie Pirkey, who has spent her career helping people overcome personal limitations and difficult life circumstances. Joie now serves as my business partner as president of dodles.
In other words, it’s a natural extension of dodles and our personal histories to advocate for autism.
The challenge for employers
The underemployment for autistics is somewhat understandable.
Autistics often take a number of soft skills for granted and have difficulties effectively executing them. Starting with the interview process, we often struggle to create that face-to-face connection. We often come across as awkward with little self-awareness and a lack of polish or easy personal engagement.
Our conversation may be too focused and detailed, and we struggle to modulate our tone, making it difficult to listen and engage in a comfortable manner.
Having spent most of my career employing others, I understand how this can be a problem, as companies are looking to minimize risks when hiring. A communication weakness might not be a great fit for everyone’s productivity or for customers to interact with.
As a consequence, many with high functioning autism tend to keep their autism secret and wish to avoid being labeled with having a “disability”, and that secrecy can also be stifling.
The opportunity for employers
Autistics shouldn’t be defined solely by weaknesses, but rather viewed as a spectrum of strengths and weaknesses.
At dodles, we believe everyone has value and want to celebrate their uniqueness, creativity and strengths.
Autistics who can get beyond the layer of communication difficulties are able to maximize their skills in a way that often gives them and their companies distinct advantages over others competing in today’s workforce.
Most notably, a typical autistic’s focus and attention to detail allows them to engage work at levels that others rarely can compete with. Autistics can be incredibly creative and combine that creativity with a high capacity to develop the skills that design elegant solutions to complex problems. Many are able to “hyper focus” and produce far more than others are able, fully enjoying the process.
Practicing what we preach
At dodles, we have made hiring autistics a priority, with roughly 20-30% of our staff being on the spectrum throughout our existence.
We also work with Lawrence University and the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, placing people on the autism spectrum in dodles, and helping them find their niche and area of expertise in a position that they can excel in. We have been surprised by the incredible talent of autistics sitting on the sidelines or taking a much lesser job, simply because they don’t interview well or have complications that are easily worked around.
The autistic community represents a gold mine of unlimited human potential yet to be fully tapped, and we hope to do our part in making this happen.
How dodles will help
We often hear stories about the inherent dangers coming with this interconnected future and the rise of artificial intelligence. But while there are some real threats, there are also some opportunities.
dodles is one such opportunity to bring about beneficial changes, drilling further into human creativity and collaboration.
In it’s current state, dodles is a tool that removes the technical barriers of animation so that the average person can casually animate. There will be far less investment of time or money than usual for someone to go from a creative idea to a working animation, and autistics often make great storytellers and animators.
But more than that, dodles will offer the ability to bypass the face-to-face skills where most autistics struggle, and drill into unlocking the creative skills where autistics can thrive. We will accomplish this through simple tools for advancing animator skills and combining this with a network of creators to build an audience, collaborate, and sell assets.