We in Michigan usually take great pride in our state's natural beauty and precious resources. So, I find it incredibly disheartening that one of our state's most beautiful and precious resources – its autistic community – is largely misunderstood, marginalized and woefully under-valued.
We live in a time when globalism and other factors are impacting Michigan's economy. We must learn to adapt to these changing times if we are ever going to thrive again as a state. And our autistic citizens could be just the leaders we need to help create an economically, socially and culturally robust future. History is replete with examples of high-functioning autistic individuals who have changed our view of the world and how we live our lives. Psychological experts have determined that Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton, Thomas Jefferson, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Michelangelo were all extremely high-functioning individuals with autism. People with an ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) can fall anywhere on the spectrum and be either high- or low-functioning. I have Asperger's Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. It causes me to struggle with socializing and with processing certain sensory input like lights, sounds, scents, and touch. As challenging and daunting as my life can be, autism hasn't prevented me from becoming an author who has been read by millions of people; giving a well-received TED Talk at TEDxMSU; and being featured on the cover of the July 2016 Mensa World Journal. I was also honored by Michigan's House of Representatives for winning a global election to become the World Genius Directory's 2016 Genius of the Year for America. Watch Jeffrey Allen Ford's TED Talk at TEDxMSU
As you can see, there are many people on the autism spectrum who can achieve absolutely anything! With the many profound strengths those with autism can possess, you might assume they were in high demand in the workplace. Instead, an estimated 90% of autistic adults in our country are unemployed or underemployed. That's truly a shame because high-functioning people with autism often excel in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields, and both higher- and lower- functioning people with autism are often happy in occupations that involve a set routine and/or large amounts of repetition that others would find impossible to stand. Both the autistic and the non-autistic are diminished by our society's lack of acceptance. Autistic individuals make wonderful friends, neighbors, spouses, coworkers and bosses. Here are some key steps to increasing autism acceptance and helping everyone with autism to find their place in the world: Parents need to model acceptance. Enlightened parents can teach their children early on to be accepting of their autistic neighbors and classmates. They can explain that autism is merely one of the many different ways that people process the world, and that we all have unique challenges we must face in life. Share with them the natural beauty of accepting people's differences and answer all of your child's questions to the best of your ability. Incorporate autism acceptance throughout the school curriculum. There are numerous excellent examples of outstanding autistic historical figures that our schools could seamlessly incorporate into their classes. Darwin, and Sir Isaac Newton should be mentioned in science; Einstein in math and science; Mozart in music; Michelangelo in art; and Daryl Hannah and Dan Aykroyd in drama. Sharing the stories of autistic individuals achieving at the highest levels will help the non-autistic children to better accept the autistic children. It will also help the autistic children to have a sense of pride in who they are.
GUEST: Jeffery Allen Ford is an author, speaker and the World Genius Directory's 2016 Genius of the Year for America.