Top 5 tips for entrepreneurs on the autistic spectrum

By Rosalind A. Bergemann author of An Asperger’s Guide to Entrepreneurship

For many of us on the autistic spectrum, employment can or has been a challenge. Whilst we may be intellectually capable (if not ideally suited) to do a particular job, the reality is that the workplace is centered around working with and through other people. Even a job that you might perceive as being undertaken in isolation will still require you to be part of a team.  ‘Teamwork’ is a workplace buzzword at the moment, and no matter how much that may be in conflict with the way we might work, this is unlikely to change.  For some of us the lack of required social skills needed for teamwork has resulted in our inability to secure permanent jobs and for others it has meant constant tension in the jobs we hold. It is also true that while we may be extremely Bergemann_Aspergers-Guide_978-1-84905-509-3_colourjpg-printcreative people with great ideas for new markets or products, corporate culture requires this to be presented in a certain way within an organization, and this can end up being extremely frustrating for those of us who can see the potential of something but are unable to directly contribute to its success.

For these reasons (and others) many of us make the decision to start our own businesses and become entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship is a career that I believe suits people with Asperger’s extremely well – provided that we are properly prepared and have developed our coping strategies in advance.

So with that in mind here are the top 5 tips I would give to someone with ASD who wants to start their own business.

 

TIP 1. Ensure that the vision for your product/service and its unique selling point can be shared clearly with others.

Many of us will have a vision of our business in our heads that is very clear and logical to us. Whilst this is great it is important to recognize that when starting a business there will be times that you will be required to share this vision with others. To make sure you can do this, take some time to write down as much detail as possible regarding what your product or service looks like, and exactly what it is that makes your product/service unique. Ask yourself

  • What would make people come to me instead of more established companies?
  • What am I offering that is different to what is already out there?

Writing down or recording answers to these questions will help you put your vision into a format that can be shared with people you will be working with, such as potential investors.

Another thing to consider (particularly if you have experience in a corporate role) is that a plan for a small business does not require the same level of corporate documentation as a larger organization. You certainly need your plan, but it needs to be brief and to the point. A start-up business plan should really only be 4 to 5 pages long.

 

TIP 2: Do an honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses

Before starting out, do an honest assessment of the strengths you have as a person with ASD, but also an assessment of the weaknesses you have.  This will allow you to develop coping or development strategies for areas where you have some weaknesses. Answer these questions as honestly as you can:

  • How well do I work with other people?
  • How important is it for me to have control of my work?
  • Do I have any sensory issues that may create a problem?
  • How are my written communication skills?
  • What cause me challenges as a person with ASD in the workplace? How could this affect me in my own business?
  • How am I at networking?

 

TIP 3: Consider sharing your diagnosis with those working closest to you

Since you will be working far closer with your own team than you might have as part of someone else’s, it is really important that there is no chance of you creating problems unintentionally due to some social skill problems.  It may be worthwhile considering whether you want to share your diagnosis with your team, possibly as part of a development programme promoting understanding and communication.

 

TIP 4: Don’t allow your new business to take over your life

As people on the autistic spectrum, we do not do things by halves. If we say we are going to do something, we tend to give it all our attention and energy. It is extremely tempting to fall into the trap of making our new business the totality of our lives. Whilst it is expected that we will spend a lot of time on our new project, please make sure that other parts of your life (such as your family and home-life) do not suffer as a result. After all you don’t want to start a new business but lose a family as a result.

 

TIP 5: Be prepared to experience change

Most of us on the spectrum tend to stick with things that have worked in the past, however as the owner of a small business you need to be open to adaptation and change.  If you are a person who struggles with change, I recommend that you spend some time developing coping strategies for change, and practicing when you have the opportunity.  Examples of coping strategies include:

  • Scheduling regular change adaptation breakaways where you can spend some time alone examining the changes that are happening or that need to be made, and coming to terms with them.
  • Developing a change business plan for yourself, where you can highlight areas of your business that may need change in the future so that it does not become sidelined or occur unexpectedly.
  • Assess how you have handled change in the past and highlight the coping strategies you used at that time (eg. at high school, when you first started work, etc). Think about how you can adapt these and write them down. Review these when you are feeling overloaded.

 

Starting your own business can be challenging, but it is also one of the most fulfilling and inspirational things one can do. People on the spectrum can make a huge contribution to the world in this way.

I wish you all the success in your new business!

 

Rosalind A. Bergemann is the Chairperson of Asperger Leaders and the CEO of a global change management consultancy. She is also the author of An Asperger’s Guide to Entrepreneurship and An Asperger Leader’s Guide to Living and Leading Change both of which are available from Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

 

Try out some exercises from the Autism Fitness Handbook

The Autism Fitness Handbook is designed to address specific areas of difficulty for children, teens and young adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Physical fitness – so often overlooked when helping people with autism reach their full potential – provides extended and far-reaching benefits for children of all ages on the spectrum.

Download this extract and follow ‘Coach David’ (Geslak) as he takes you step-by-step through a selection of his most engaging, fun and easy-to-do exercises, such as Frankensteins and Downward Dogs.

To read the full extract CLICK HERE

Frankenstein

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Autism Fitness Handbook by David Geslak is available in paperback from Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Helping a Child with Autism Handle Halloween

Walking around the shops in October it is impossible to escape the ghoulish Halloween theme. The supermarkets are full of masks, deathly hands and creepy cobwebs. A child may shrug this off as you walk them quickly past displays, which are a little too creepy for comfort.

But let’s think about the child with autism. These children often have a different way of processing, heightened or jumbled perception and sensory issues. How might they perceive those costumes, decorations and unexplained changes?

The best way to understand is to try walking in their shoes…

HalloweenPhoto

Shops.

You are now a child with autism entering a supermarket.

The volume has been put up and every individual noise is becoming unbearably loud. The sound of a trolley is like thunder clashing, those sliding doors are nails down a blackboard screeching as they open and close, open and close. Colour is gone and the lighting creates a nightmare strobe effect coupled with a continuous, loud hum, which feels like bees moving about and buzzing inside your ears. Your senses are all muddled. Revolting shop smells of food and body odours, do not stop at your nose, but become sickening tastes. Your mouth is dry. The floor seems to wobble and your clothes begin to grate and chaff and burn into your skin. You anticipate these feelings, but at least you know this shop. You know the routine. You’ve been here before and survived…

But wait!

Suddenly there is an isle of terror where the toys usually are. That piano with the coloured buttons, which is the ONLY reason you’ve ever endured this shop has been replaced by a cauldron full of skeletons and black spiders. That Lego set you’ve been told to “wait for until your birthday” is GONE too! You zoom in and take in every detail – image after image like the ‘click, click, click’ of a camera. It’s fascinating, but also terrifying. You’ll think about it later. It is all too different and uncomfortable right now. Images will be stored for when are home and feel safe – maybe bedtime?

Dressing up.

Maybe you hate dressing up or seeing other people dressed up. Maybe you recognise people by what they wear and the sameness of style makes you feel more secure. Maybe dressing up makes you feel you must become that character. If you are dressed as a tiger then you feel like a tiger. Grown up’s don’t seem to get this and keep telling you off as you leap about roaring and scratching…

Face Paints

Maybe you find face paints frightening – the sad clown with a painted smile. Is it happy or sad? Good or bad? Facial expressions are already confusing, without throwing face paints in to the mix. Maybe someone wants you to wear face paints, but you have a sensory fear or do not realise that those paints are only temporary. Maybe the face paints are okay, but you have a deep, scratchy memory of the face washing after.

Trick or Treat?

Now there are knocks on the door after dark and you see Mum or Dad giving away your sweets to other children. When will it end? Maybe Mum and Dad turn the lights out and neighbours know not to knock on your door. But then there are the neighbours, who still welcome trick or treating. They make this clear with decorations – a friendly pumpkin or a full on fright house…

What can we do to help?

Whether you choose to get involved with Halloween or not it is important to prepare a child with autism for the run up to October 31st.

Here are my top 10 tricks to preparing a child with Autism for Halloween.

top 10 Tricks_small

Click Here to download a poster of the top 10 tricks to prepare a child for Halloween

Adele Devine is the author of Colour Coding for Learners with Autism now available from Jessica Kingsley Publishers 

Why some disabled people might deserve MORE than the minimum wage

Well done Welfare Minister, Lord Freud, for apologising for his recent “foolish and offensive” remarks where he suggested that people with disabilities could potentially be paid less than the minimum wage.  At least he has admitted to being so wrong.  I think forcing his resignation is a bit harsh however.  It seems to me that he was, after all, as many of us still are in our modern society, simply uninterested, unknowledgeable and/or unaware of the various and steadily increasing conditions that are or can be classed as a ‘disability’ today, such as an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Asperger’s Syndrome. I have a teenage son diagnosed with an ASD who is currently studying at college and the remark left me feeling, as a parent, very concerned, angry and frustrated.  Did this comment mean that my own son could potentially leave college next year to an ever lower wage than the current minimum – just because he has a diagnosis of an ASD?  Was I now to worry that these types of comments would lead to my son being either completely unable to find work in the future or paid less than the neurotypical student sitting next to him in class at college (who is not even as high an achiever as my son)?Obviously Lord Freud has never heard of the condition or bothered to look into ‘autism’, or the ‘autistic spectrum’- if he had I am sure he would never have remarked as he did.

Classed as a disability, autism spectrum disorders usually means diagnosed people will have difficulties in some areas, especially in communicating with others and social interaction, but other skills may develop typically.  Some autistic individuals have special abilities or talents – and I don’t just mean the autistic savants who can, as an example, amazingly recall a phone book from A-Z or count cards in Las Vegas (most of us have watched the fabulous movie Rain Man) – some, for example, especially enjoy and thrive in doing repetitive, or what others would describe as ‘boring’ work or tasks, and many others have amazing, advanced skills and knowledge of modern technology. An accepted fact these days andLonie_Online-Safety-f_978-1-84905-454-6_colourjpg-print a subject that I go into in more detail in my new book is that many people (both children and adults) with an ASD are extremely computer literate and some can show amazing talents in computer programming or even hacking.  I have worked directly with computers for over twenty-five years and my teenage son (with an ASD) is still able to teach me new technology related skills and frequently helps to enhance my knowledge.  In my book Online Safety for Children & Teens on the Autism Spectrum – A Parent’s and Carer’s Guide I explain why some autistic children (and again adults) can actually understand modern technology better than they can other people.

During my eleven year employment (2001-2012) with Autism Concern (a large autism charity based in Northamptonshire, UK) as their IT Specialist & Webmaster, I worked on a project in which we produced a simple interactive guide for employers or potential employers of people with an ASD.  During this research we found that in some cases hiring a person with an ASD was actually more successful than hiring a ‘neurotypical’ person.

Because of their condition, the benefits to the employer can be (but not limited to):

  • Some autistic employees exhibit extreme attention to detail – making sure the job is done right the first time!
  • Some autistic employees become very focused on a task – and enjoy repetitive jobs – meaning a high productivity rate.
  • Most autistic employees will work according to schedules and keep to them – i.e. they are typically never late and will not take more than the allowed time for lunch or breaks.
  • Because autistic people are very literal and often do not know how to ‘lie’, these employees will typically not take unnecessary or unauthorised days off absent.

So what if some need additional support or cannot answer the telephone, or prefer to sit alone during their lunch hour?  As long as the job they are doing is done well and in accordance with their contract of employment – surely we, as a society, are obligated to help these special yet disadvantaged individuals into securing employment and giving them the ‘normalcy’ that comes with working, such as commitment of hours and paying taxes, etc? It seems clear to me that some of these amazing individuals may even deserve more than the minimum wage – not less – after all they have to live with their disability on a daily basis as well as contend with the day to day struggles we all face in our modern society.  Try walking in their shoes for a day and getting £2 an hour for a hard days work while your ‘neurotypical colleague’ (who’s doing exactly the same job, and not as productive or reliable) is getting at least minimum wage. Why are we therefore not, as a society, grabbing at the chance to employ these talented individuals? Why are our computer industry giants, research and government agencies not hiring more autistic employees and developing their natural talents?

With reports worryingly showing figures as high as 1 out of every 68 boys (although not confirmed) are now thought to be on the Autism Spectrum, surely Lord Freud is also not thinking clearly about the future working population.  If we do not provide adequate education, training and work experience for the future generations of autistic children (and unless a cure is found the rate of diagnosis is only set to increase) there is a higher chance that there will be a significant rise in these ‘disabled’ yet fit for work people relying on benefits because they cannot find suitable employment, or no one has helped them to do so. In summary I feel we need to take immediate action as a society together to make sure we can employ these remarkable people in future generations to come – and not simply ignore the increase of diagnosis and hope it will go away, or think of ridiculous ways to save money – such as simply paying them less.

In my humble opinion I feel we need to:

1. Promote and support autism in the workplace – clearly explain to employers the benefits to them and reasons why they should hire that person with an ASD .  Highlight the positive not the negative and possibly initially offer financial help incentives for the employer.

2. Try to secure and offer more training facilities for ASD students, particularly those with high computer literacy levels, focusing on their individual skill set or talents and using these to secure future employment.

3. Demand that large computer companies (such as Microsoft/Apple), who make ridiculously high profits, step in and offer/provide paid (not government funded) apprenticeships/jobs for gifted young autistic individuals – and pay them at least the minimum wage!

4. Request that autism charities and other such important organisations be given more grants and/or funding to help them help people with autism secure employment and give them the financial backing to be more readily available with information/resources for parents and education professionals as well as employers.

5. Provide more free autism awareness training for ministers (before forcing them to resign), GPs, educators, social services and other such professionals.

 

Nicola Lonie is the author of Online Safety for Children and Teens on the Autism Spectrum now available through Jessica Kingsley Publishers

‘Contact with Nature can be immensely healing.’

Caroline Jay founded and runs the Seeds of Hope Children’s Garden, a national charity which aims to promote the use of nature in helping children manage loss. For twelve years she ran a SAND (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity) group, supporting families after the death of a baby. We spoke to Caroline about using life cycles to teach children about change, how nature can help us come to terms with loss, and how her own experiences inspired her to write her new book, Seeds of Hope Bereavement and Loss Activity Book.

What inspired you to write the book?Jay_Seeds-of-Hope-B_978-1-84905-546-8_colourjpg-print

A love of Nature and of being outside in the sun and air has been my inspiration for the Seeds of Hope Activity Book – that and the realisation that so much in Nature echoes the changes that happen in life.  None of us can live life without change.  All change implies loss and new beginnings  – and this is a pattern ever present in Nature.

In your book, you use life cycles in Nature as a means of explaining death.  Why did you choose that particular method?

Mainly because life cycles are fun!  How amazing to see frogspawn turn into tadpoles that then turn into frogs!  Or a grub become a caterpillar that disappears into a chrysalis out of which bursts a butterfly!  Also because looking at the lifecycles that happen all the time in Nature can help us understand that change and loss are part of a natural order.  “Death is a part of life is a part of death is a part of life is …” and so on as the circle turns.  A seed becomes a plant that becomes a flower that becomes a fruit that contains the seed from which a new plant will grow.  A baby becomes a child who becomes an adult who becomes an old person who will eventually die as new babies are born.  The 4 stages of the life cycle in Nature reflect the 4 stages of a human life.  The pattern continues: there are 4 seasons in the year, 4 weeks in the month, 4 quarters in the year.

Have you found yourself applying the methods you describe in the book in your own personal life?  Have they been helpful?

When my first child, Laura was stillborn, I found myself completely out of balance.  My hospital notes said I was a mother but I had no child.  The world around me seemed suddenly full of babies and heavily pregnant women.  The pain of grief was palpable.  I took long walks in the woods.  I found contact with Nature and the outside world to be immensely healing and grounding at a time when my world had been turned upside down.  Grief for most people can be a very dark place.  Planting seeds or plants and watching them grow in the Spring after the darkness of Winter can be uplifting and provide some hope of brighter times to come.

Does the grieving process for children and adults differ greatly?

The huge range of emotions we may feel when grieving – sadness, anger, shock, disbelief, fear, guilt, numbness to name a few – are generally speaking the same for children and adults.  One difference is that children are usually only able to stay with their feelings for short periods of time – a bit like jumping in and out of a puddle, they may be very sad one minute and want to go out and play the next.  Adults will generally have easier and clearer access to the information surrounding a death or a loss whereas children will generally be dependent on the adults around them to tell them the facts.  It is a natural instinct to want to protect children from painful life experiences but, in the case of a death, this can lead to confusion.  Children fare better when they are given honest information.

What has your experience with SAND and the Seeds of Hope Children’s Garden taught you about how people deal with loss?

Everybody responds to loss and bereavement in different ways.  There is no right and wrong way to travel the road and there are no shortcuts.  Very generally speaking men and women tend to grieve differently in that women are inclined to want to talk about their feelings for longer while men are more inclined to want to take action to restore the status quo.  Partners, whether male or female, often grieve in different ways and at different speeds.  In the case of a child’s death, the loss is equal and therefore no one person is better able to support the other.  Some seek out a support group while others prefer to grieve privately.

How do you hope your book will make a difference?

The activities in the book serve to provide structure for and clarify the grief process for a child allowing them to see the natural process of the cycle of life in Nature.  The images encourage exploration and observation of creatures, plants, and seasons.  The way in which a child’s journey through grief is handled will fundamentally determine how they manage all future losses in adulthood.  I hope the Seeds of Hope Activity Book will empower children to explore their feelings in ways they can understand – by drawing, playing, exploring and having fun.

You can find our more about Caroline’s book, read reviews or order your copy here.

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Praise from a reader— An insight into how ‘The Asperkid’s Launch Pad’ changed one mother’s life

Rebecca in England shares how reading The Asperkid’s Launch Pad by Jennifer Cook O’Toole changed the way she thinks about autism:

Just dropping by to say that I got hold of The Asperkid’s Launch Pad yesterday, read the first couple of chapters and felt my life changing.

I have an 11 year old Asperboy who has just started college here in the UK. He is doing an amazing job. An absolutely amazing job. But he is finding the change really very difficult and of course, he is under scrutiny by all those older kids who seem so together and adult, as indeed many of them are. I guess it feels kind of like you are a tiny boat and you are trying, everyday, to negotiate the Bristol Shipping Channel; one of the busiest waters in the UK, if not the world. I think that’s what college must feel like to him.

Last week he had a big anxiety outburst and shouted at himself that he was a ‘stupid baby.’ It was the first time it had all come out like that, in those words. I held him and talked to him and made him an icy drink (your tip—thank you xx) and we spoke about demons and how they can grow inside your head. We talked about how they get put there and how they love to be fed with all the evidence they can find to back up their idea about you … which is not the truth. We spoke about how they lie and twist things and hang on to all the bad stuff and discount the good stuff so they can get bigger. My son said he had had his demon for years and that was what it said to him and it made him not like himself.

We both cried a lot at what demons can do. I told him his demon was wrong and I told him about my bad demon and he said my demon had it wrong too. We had a lot of hugs. We wrote down what those demons said, along with our other worries, and put the words in a box, on the shelf, in a cupboard (again—your tip from your video—thank you xxx) and left them there until we want to talk about them again. He calmed down instantly after doing this exercise. It really helped him. Thank you.

Anyway, yesterday, whilst reading The Asperkid’s Launch Pad I realized that I have been feeding my son’s demon. It makes me cry to say it but I can see it’s true. Not in the things I say but in the fact that I do so much for him, hover over him, jump in and help when he struggles. I guess I want his life to be as easy as possible and I know it is very far from that so I do all I can to help. Yesterday I saw that for what it was—that although my intentions were good and true, the effect of my actions was actually harming my son by not allowing him to grow, learn and take responsibility for things. I realized I have been doing too much for him, taking over when he struggles, doing tasks that he is actually really capable of doing if he was shown how and got support to do them.

I saw this, cried, took a deep breath and said ‘I can fix this!’ Again— your words—so simple but so good to say. I went downstairs and got to work. I cleared the surfaces in the kitchen so there would be space for him to help me cook. I made a dead space that just had an old box of bills in it into a space for him to have his college things. I made a sign for that space to designate it his—it was a good sign mounted on shiny card with his school logo on it. It looked great.

He came home and together we made hot chocolate. With all that space on the surfaces it was easy to do. I demonstrated and he copied. He made the whole thing. He got a bit worried but I did not jump in and do it for him. I just showed him how and encouraged him. He even lit the gas hob after I had shown him how. We went and sat down and watched our favourite TV show with our drinks.

Later last night we went into the kitchen to get ready for the next day. I have been packing his bag for him for college but now I can see that he needs to do this for himself. The funny thing is (although it will make sense to you I think) that I didn’t need to ask him or encourage him to do it. He went to the space I had made and packed his bag himself, got his water bottle and placed it next to his bag in the space for the morning. He got all excited and looked at the sign I had made and said “I like going to college,” and then, I’m not kidding, he drew himself up and said “I’m NOT a baby.”

I saw, right there, what I can do to make that demon shrink and to make my son’s confidence grow. After only one change in my little house I saw the difference right there in front of me. He said it. He spoke up against his demon and I saw it wince and shrink. It felt good, better than good, to see that.

I thought that my most important job as a mother of an asperboy was to protect my son and smooth out everything I could for him. I have been wrong. My most important job is to empower my son. To step back. To let him be him. To be there for him but not to take his powers away. To encourage his powers to come out, and, as they come out, so his demons will retreat.

I am so moved by what I have learned I had to let you know. It was your book that made me see a very very important thing. It is so often your advice and your words that I turn to when things get tough. I always come away from an encounter with your work feeling positive … yes, feeling empowered. You empower me so that I can empower my son. And thus the world gets better.

Bless you Jennifer. We are so lucky to have you in the world.

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