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May 2017

The Jenny McCarthy Show

My Thoughts on the Jenny McCarthy Show

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JENNY MCCARTHY & AUTISM

 

Last week was an important week for me. As you may have heard, I made my first appearance on the Jenny McCarthy Show on SiriusXM radio. To start, I believe it went well, and I enjoyed the conversation with Jenny about autism and my new book.

 

But I will say, when I received the invitation to be on the show, I definitely had to think twice about what it would mean to accept the invitation and to speak with Jenny about autism and her controversial opinions.

 

WHY I WENT ON THE SHOW

 

My instincts told me to avoid the show, and to tell the producers that I would not accept the invitation. But that seemed like the easy way out. I understood that a large portion of her audience would benefit from hearing about my experiences and my perspective on life in general.

 

I felt like it was important to go on the show, but to also make it very clear that Jenny and I have differing opinions on many issues within the autism community.

 

In case you’re wondering why this is so important — Jenny’s son, as she has openly talked about, is on the autism spectrum. She has been very vocal on the topic, and it’s safe to say that over the years I have disagreed with a few of her points with regard to vaccinations.

 

That said, whether you’re a fan of hers or not, Jenny has given a voice to the autism community. She is a celebrity and world-famous, so if she’s talking about autism — people are likely going to listen. Although this isn’t always 100% positive, in my opinion, she truly does care about the happiness of people with autism.

 

MY KEY TAKEAWAY

 

So, after speaking with her, it’s clear that her main point is that if parents have children on the spectrum who are in immense pain because of their autism, then she would love to find a cure for that pain — not for the autism. This was a key takeaway from the show.

 

Overall, one thing that is always important to me is the idea that we need to remember that even when we strongly disagree with someone, we need to see life from their perspective before jumping to any conclusions. Most of the time, they’re just doing what they think is best for the people they care about.

 

TAKING THE RISK

 

I took the risk. I went on the show. And I knew that if did not go well, then it would be pretty damaging to my reputation in the autism and disability community. But I felt that sharing my message with her audience was worth the risk.

 

I hope you agree.

 

I’ve posted the 25-minute clip on my YouTube channel, so feel free to check it out by clicking here.

 

We also talked a lot about my new book: AUTISM – Behind The Locked Door: Understanding my Life as an Autistic. You can always learn more about the book at the link below.

 

Behind The Locked Door on Amazon.

 

Thanks.

— Paul

People around desk looking at files

Advice When Employing People With Autism

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A major focus right now in the autism community and a topic that is very important to me is employment for people with disabilities and autism. Right now, we’re learning more about autism and employment, and specifically about high functioning autism and employment. Specifically, we’re learning that lot of times people on the autism spectrum are better able to perform specific types of tasks at work, in which they have a very clear responsibility.

 

A lot of times, this means repetitive tasks. Tasks that don’t require a lot of personal initiative, but do require the absolute following of directions, and the repetition of a precise set of steps. A lot of this is attention to detail. And in a lot of cases, there are both small groups of educators and businesspeople, as well as large companies, hiring for roles in which people on the autism spectrum can actually be more effective than some people without autism.

 

Sometimes it’s very hard for some people with autism to hold jobs, and while it may not end up looking like typical employment in the future, there is research on a lot of fronts going into ways that people on the autism spectrum can find jobs and roles that fit, so that they can stay at their jobs for longer periods of time.

 

I’d say that one of the biggest reasons people with autism tend to struggle with holding jobs is that a large part of those jobs is social interactions with people at work. It’s how well you get along with your co-workers. It’s how well you get along with your manager. It’s how much your manager likes you. This is not a great metric for successful work for some people on the autism spectrum.

 

For a lot of people on the autism spectrum, they see a job as, “These are the job requirements that I was given.” Maybe it was a writing a document. Maybe it was a creating a briefing for a manager. Or maybe it was putting together or finishing a training program. These are all clear cut job responsibilities — black and white.

 

The typical response for someone on the autism spectrum when someone asks them to do something that does NOT fit their job description is, “Well, that’s not my job.”

 

The typical expected response of an employee in that same exact workplace situation is, “Well, he’s the boss. He gets to tell me what to do. And now I have to make an adjustment and do the new work that I was just assigned.”

 

But I would tend to ask, “why?”

 

In this example, we have the huge issue of gray area vs. black and white. You’ve given the employee their “guidelines and instructions,” and then you start changing things around on them. That makes it very difficult for with someone on the autism spectrum to really fit in and flourish in the long-term at a place of employment.

 

People sometimes ask me, “Paul, what if I had a to-do list for you at work and halfway through the day I added a few things, would that bother you? And the answer is – yes, it would bother me.

 

Absolutely. I would be very bothered.

 

Of course, this is a case-by-case basis, but it would certainly not be ideal for many people on the spectrum.

 

If someone were to say “Well, Paul, this just came in and we need to get it done today because it’s more important than your previous task.” Then sure, I’d work hard to understand that. I know that some things just need to get done before others. For some other people on the spectrum, this might be harder to deal with. Often, there’s a lot of resistance to change, and I’ve learned to deal with change as long as I understand the reason for the change. But a lot of people on the autism spectrum are really firm on the fact that all change is bad.

 

Overall, this sudden change does induce quite a bit of anxiety, but I have learned to cope with the anxiety by trying to understand the root of the change and why it is necessary, in certain cases, to be flexible at a job.

 

So, in closing, it’s important for employers and other people working with people with autism to understand the issue a lot of us have with sudden change and a lack of certainty. If we can all work to mitigate this sudden change, people with autism would likely have a much easier time flourishing in the workplace.

Culture Sign with Arrrow

The Importance of Culture

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Culture is a very important part of life and a very important part of the development of people all across the world, especially people with autism.

 

One of the major influencing factors about autism is that as a young person, you don’t learn from observing people that you spend a lot of time with in the same way that a person without autism does. The reason for this is that a big part of autism is not having very solid social connections, of course, some people may have better social skills than others.

 

Typically, I don’t focus on the same things as a neurotypical person. I might look at different things that are happening around me and perceive them differently. A typical example is that someone with autism might tend to avoid making eye contact, and that’s because, to an autistic person, often the eyes aren’t as important as maybe the mouth or other parts of the face when someone is speaking. Even though a neurotypical person gains a lot of information from the eyes, someone with autism may gain more information from a different part of the face.

 

When you’re watching people around you, you’re learning different things, especially as you start to grow up and your mind develops. One of the big things we pass on to our children is our culture. We pass on to them how we interact with people, what values we hold, what is most important to us, what is not important to us, and how we think you should treat other people. People who are autistic often grow up with a different culture than the one of their own family. It’s not a specific culture, there’s no single, individual autistic culture. It just means that they have different reactions to the world and the people around them.

 

One thing I learned as my family moved around a lot and from living overseas is that there are so many differences in culture that every country, and every group of people, has their own culture. That is sort of what it’s like to be autistic. It’s almost as if you’re living with a group of people that grew up with a different set of values – a different culture from what you understand. You don’t know how they originated, where they came from, and you don’t really understand it.

 

You’ll often see that in support groups for people with autism that people understand each other a little better than they understand neurotypical people. You would think that if autism is simply an issue with having social interactions, then there would be challenges with everyone in these support groups. But when you put a group of autistic people, or at least higher functioning autistic people, together often they’ll understand each other in ways that they would never understand neurotypical people. It’s partly because they just have a different underlying sense of what they’re looking at and how they have experienced and are currently experiencing the world.

Man with hands over eyes

Social Situations & Stress

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Falling Behind

 

When those of us on the spectrum find ourselves in a social situation where it seems everything is going wrong, we feel like we’re falling behind.

 

Once that starts to happen, it becomes very hard to resolve things and every situation becomes more stressful, especially when there’s not enough time to recover between events. It gets incrementally worse until something goes horribly wrong.

 

Maybe we’re shouting at someone or locking ourselves in a room because we don’t feel like we’re able to come out for a while. I’ve been there.

 

Learning Limits

 

A big challenge is learning limits, and I’ve gotten a good feel for where my stress level is at any given time.

 

Now I can tell people when I’m getting too tired to spend any more time with them and that I need to go home; or tell them, “I’m sorry, but I really need to ask you guys to head on out.” I have an awareness of my stress that’s taken a long time for me to develop.

 

A lot of people on the spectrum don’t really have any awareness of how stressed they are, how to recover, or how long it’s going to take to recover, so that presents a challenge for higher-functioning individuals with autism. It’s learning to recognize that self-awareness of, “What stresses me, how stressed am I, and how do I recover from it.” It is an important step in figuring out how to comfortably live.

 

Improving Social Interaction

 

It’s important that everyone involved works hard to not interpret struggles in social situations as a lack of desire or avoidance of social interaction. Sometimes, it’s just hard and it becomes very difficult. Unpredictability is something that I believe a lot of people on the spectrum struggle with, and I think that if we can all work to recognize that sometimes people just need support, social situations can become a less intimidating thing.

 

Some tips that others have offered include getting to know people better before entering larger social situations, working toward a focus on areas of interest within social situations, and lastly, understanding that social situations will be perceived differently by all people on the spectrum — not one person is the same as the next.

 

Challenges will always be apparent in social settings, but it does not always mean we’re trying to avoid them.