Autism Occupational Therapy Madison WI

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Making The Transition From The World Of School Into The World Of Work

Making the transition from the world of school into the world of work

Dr. Temple Grandin

During my travels to many autism conferences I have observed many sad cases of people with autism who have successfully completed high school or college but have been unable to make the transition into the world of work. Some have become perpetual students because they thrive on the intellectual stimulation of college. For many able people with autism college years were their happiest (Szatmari et al., 1989).

I would like to stress the importance of a gradual transition from an educational setting into a career. I made the transition gradually. My present career of designing livestock facilities is based on an old childhood fixation. I used that fixation to motivate me to become an expert on cattle handling. Equipment I have designed is in all the major meat plants. I have also stimulated the meat industry to recognize the importance of humane treatment of livestock. While I was in college I started visiting local feedlots and meat packing plants. This enabled me to learn about the industry.

Many successful people with autism have turned an old fixation into the basis of a career. I was lucky to find Tom Rohrer, the manager of the local Swift Meat Packing plant, and Ted Gilbert, the Manager of the Red River Feedlot (John Wayne's feedlot). They allowed me to visit their operations every week. They recognized my talents and tolerated my eccentricities. These people served as important mentors. Educators who work with autistic students need to find these people in the business community. I finished up at Arizona State University with a Master's Thesis on cattle handling and chute design. At the same time I did some freelance writing for the Arizona Farmer Ranchman Magazine. This enabled me to further learn about the livestock industry and develop expertise.

My next step was to get hired for my first job at a large feedlot construction company. Emil Winnisky, the construction manager, recognized my talents in design. He also served as a third important mentor to force me to conform to a few social rules. He had his secretaries take me out to buy better clothes. At the time I really resented this, but today I realize that he did me a great favor. He also told me bluntly that I had to do certain grooming niceties such as wearing deodorant. I had to change. I was most interested to read this passage in one of Kanner's papers about people with autism that make a successful adaptation: "Unlike most other autistic children they become uneasily aware of their peculiarities and they begin to make a conscious effort to do something about them." (Kanner et al. 1972).

Emil was an eccentric guy himself and that may explain why he hired me. About six months after I was hired, Emil was fired. I continued to work for about a year, and I quit because I was asked to participate in some highly questionable business practices. While I was at the construction comp...

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