This is an historical post from an earlier blog, Adopted Son of the Autism Family, which I had before this current blog. It is re-posted without modification (other than this introductory sentence).
I have really been enjoying interacting with the autism family via Twitter, where I can be found @soulmirror. I have learned so much from other advocates, and I love sharing stories from our clinic and also connecting people with autism with each other, and with resources.
With this blog, I would like to start engaging the community in more detailed discussion on autism-related topics, and I hope to provide a space to provoke thought, build community, and work together towards our common goal of communities where people with autism and us “neurotypicals” thrive together.
By way of background, I was the child who was always building with Legos, and for most of my life, my career aspiration was to build spaceships someday. As I went through engineering college at the University of Michigan, though, I became less sure of this goal. I had been exposed to an interesting concept in high school debate, the question of how society would change if we engaged in a paradigm shift away from exploring outer space and towards exploring inner space — understanding ourselves and each other. I ultimately did get a bachelor’s and master’s in engineering, and I worked for a number of years, at the Big Three, in consulting, and at an automotive supplier. Truth be told, I was a great engineer. But, I knew it wasn’t for me.
Around that time, I took some classes in psychology on a lark, just to stay sharp mentally while I prepared for a career switch. I got accepted to a prestigious business school, but I couldn’t sign on the dotted line, because I wasn’t sure I would be any happier. I loved those psychology classes, though, and I began reading voraciously. One thing lead to another, and I wound up at the University of Florida to study clinical neuropsychology, a clinical science that uses cognitive testing to understand brain development and functioning, and to help with diagnosis and treatment planning.
At that time, I hated kids. I didn’t want to be around them, I didn’t want them as patients. I was afraid of them. I knew I would have to work with kids, however, and so I decided to volunteer at one of Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Camps, Camp Boggy Creek. This changed things for me. When I learned specific skills and tools, I found that I loved kids. And more importantly, they loved me. In a few short months, people from my program who passed me in the hall thought I was a “kid person,” and they were surprised when I told them I wasn’t. However, I made it through my first child clinic (a big part of which involved assessing for autism), and I actually found them remarkably rewarding, both for working with the children and for their families. From there on, I made it a point to continue working both with children and adults. It makes sense. All adults were children once, and doesn’t every child dream of who they will be when they grow up? So, I continued my training in a lifespan perspective, not only there, but also at the University of Chicago, where I interned. My fellowship, at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, was not lifespan, although I was glad to informally collaborate with the pediatrics team there.
That brings us to my current position. When I left Mary Free Bed, I joined Hope Network, to lead the clinical team in their fledgling autism program. In the beginning, this was a challenging job — a clinic without children to be seen and no funding to treat them sounded terrible. However, I was fortunate to be a part of the effort to pass our state’s autism therapy law (some of my press appearances are available on my work bio page), which was signed in April 2012 and went into effect that October. In the meantime, I became Director of Children’s Services, and that gave me the exciting opportunity to design and grow our whole autism program.
Today, I have a job I love like no other. The autism family has been remarkably accepting of me, and I love laughing and playing with people with autism and their families just as much as I love leading our clinical program, our informal social supports, and all the things we do professionally.
I hope you come back and get to know me more. I’ll leave you with one more glimpse into who this adopted son is, however. Early after coming on board here at Hope., I launched a professional education program, GrandRounds, and I gave the inaugural speech. That series is about to begin its second year, with lots of exciting stuff coming. Here I am, talking more recently at the Kent Regional 4C conference about screening for autism in early childhood services.