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It’s spring and the Iowa Lakes(and rivers) are turning blue

October 18, 2017
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

The world, including the Empire State building in New York City and a host of other world landmarks, are going blue for autism awareness on Sunday, April 2. I'll be wearing blue and I think my family will, too. Iowa Lakes Community College, already awash in blue with gold, will be bringing to the Lakes Health Conference in June the author, speaker, and livestock structure specialist Temple Grandin, a woman who has lived on the autism spectrum and found a way to thrive.

My son, Dylon, is now almost seven feet tall, a 24 year old with a job at one of the local grocery stores as a night stocker. It's going well. There was a time we didn't think it would get to this point, and it speaks to his determination, intelligence and intrepidness that we have.

Dylon is smart, funny, kind, introspective, and a superb older brother to his two siblings. He may be the world's foremost expert in both the Marvel and DC comic universes, and in others, too. He likes 3D art, drawing, games, movies, listening to music and other indoor things. His allergies make a lot of outdoor activities a challenge, but he does enjoy swimming in the lake. He was also diagnosed as belonging on the autism spectrum when he was seven years old. He still lives with us at home, but I look forward to watching him venture beyond the protective confines of being here with us. This job was the first step.

Opportunities are opening for adults on the spectrum. Microsoft created "Autism at Work" last year, targeting recruitment of adults on the spectrum and building retention structures ways to keep these individuals at work, rather than having them get fired over issues that could be fixed with accommodations or quit due to their stress levels from sensory overload and related situations. Other tech firms from Google to HP to CollabNet have adopted this program, too. Non-tech employers like Ford Motor and Best Buy have also developed autism initiatives, usually with the partnership of Specialisterne, a consulting firm specializing in autism employment.

The local grocer is one that has been visible in its hiring of individuals with disabilities. In Florida, a father opened the Rising Tide Car Wash and hired his son and his friends on the spectrum, and has since expanded. At Rising Tide, you can bet your car will be clean. People on the spectrum are known for their attention to detail and desire to get things right. Among the 50 known small businesses nationwide are: ULTRA Testing, Spectrum (tee shirt) Designs, Chocolate Spectrum, and SMILE Biscotti.

Social media and the Intenet have of course opened new opportunities. Picasso Einstein, the Art of Autism, and the Autistic Creatives Collective are all Internet-based platforms to showcase the works of adults with autism who are painters, artists, musicians, writers and photographers.

According to Forbes Magazine, this trend is expected to continue. Universities and foundations are starting to develop social enterprise to help more people on the spectrum with employment. The University of Miami with the Taft Foundation announced the "Awakening the Autism Entrepreneur" campaign, a $510,000 campaign to train and move forward autism-focused businesses. Part of the challenge of all of these efforts is finding the marketing niche of buyers attracted to the goods and services of people on the autism spectrum. Despite the great skills, potential, eagerness to do well, and attention to detail of people on the spectrum, 85 percent remain unemployed. Forbes says it is locally-generated and locally-based efforts that will show the most growth this year and beyond. There are a number of people on the spectrum in Emmet County; I'm sure I don't know all of them. I don't know if the advances in gene therapy and other neurology steps will lead to a cure for autism. I'm not sure I'd want that if it did. I wish Dylon didn't have to struggle so much, but I do know when he finds his place and his bliss, he will enjoy magnificent, brilliant success.

Right now, right here, he is very successful at working hard, striving to do well, and seeing his job to its finish despite his mind's constant distraction. He's also successful at an individual, showing love to a world that has not always been the kindest to him.



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