Neurodiversity and the Dignity of Work

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Dennis Sanders

Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Minneapolis, MN.  You can follow Dennis through his blogs, The Clockwork Pastor and Big Tent Revue and on Twitter.  Feel free to contact him at dennis.sanders(at)gmail(dot)com.

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15 Responses

  1. Avatar Damon says:

    Welp, I had a staff meeting just last week where my director was saying that our team of analysts needed to step up our game. “You’re all level 3 staff. I cut my level 1 staff more slack than I do you…they are expected to make mistakes. You aren’t.” That’s why level 1 staff are heavily supervised….that’s why my group isn’t. So, yes, folk do learn on the job–or you’re not going to be around long. That’s why the pay for a junior employee is lower than someone who’s been around for 5-10 years.

    I work with plenty of engineers who are a challenge to work with. I’m sure some of them are on the spectrum. They don’t think like other folks do. Of course, finance and accounting folk don’t think like other folks do either. Our Director of Buss Dev HAS to be on the spectrum–he’s like a cat on cat nip and coke. He’s not suitable for certain jobs, just like you’d not put a finance guy in technical skill job.

    But I doubt that smaller business have the time and resources to train up someone…and that’s their choice if they so choose.Report

  2. Avatar Kazzy says:

    I’ve sometimes seen the obstacles face by individuals with special needs* go even farther, wherein they demonstrate they have the skills and talents and experience necessary to do the job and are essentially met with a “Yea, but still…” There often seems to be an underlying assumption that there are more needs and challenges associated with them as employees or just people. It’s really, really gross.

    One time, we were evaluating an applicant for school. She was a lovely child with so much to offer. She also had physical disabilities due to birth defects that limited her mobility. She required the use of a wheel chair and braces for move throughout the school. Our building was equipped to meet these needs and she met all of our expectations for a student. In discussing her application, an administrator said (paraphrase… it’s been about 10 years), “I know she passed the assessments and her reports all check out. But I can’t help but think about the mind-body connection and how her physical needs may lead to learning needs down the line.” And this was from an EDUCATOR whose background was in SCIENCE… BIOLOGY no less! Holy crap, man. I was floored.

    So while I agree with everything you offer here, having been on the other side of hiring/decision making, I also see that it can be far worse.

    * Apologies if this language does not feel applicable or appropriate; this is the terminology we use in schools and I believe it remains an appropriate general term as well.Report

    • Avatar Damon in reply to Kazzy says:

      “demonstrate they have the skills and talents and experience necessary to do the job and are essentially met ”

      It’s not just about “can they do the job”. Do they fit in? Can they function well in the culture of the organization? One of the requirements of my job is that I challenge program managers on their inputs. It’s my job to vet their estimates and push back, tactfully, on them. Someone who can’t do that shouldn’t be doing what I do. Can a candidate display critical thinking skills and act independently, while also ensuring compliance with company regulations and applicable federal law, including reporting someone for violating those rules/laws? If they can’t…..they can’t do the job.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Damon says:

        Well, I would consider that among the “skills and talents”. Different jobs have different requirements with regards to “culture.” But “Do they fit in?” is often used as a way to exclude folks for reasons entirely unrelated to the job, both hard and soft skills.Report

        • Avatar Damon in reply to Kazzy says:

          “But “Do they fit in?” is often used as a way to exclude folks for reasons entirely unrelated to the job, both hard and soft skills.” Yes it has been, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that that aspect should be prevented 100% from being a valid criteria for not extending an offer.Report

  3. This has changed over my career. My first real job was with a very large company, which assumed that employees would stay with them for a long time, quite possibly until retirement; it was a point of pride that they’d never had a layoff. Given that, there was encouragement (even badgering) to take courses that would increase your value to the company: self-improvement like speaking or time management, general knowledge like refinery operations, and specifics like (for my job) computer programing. On my team, which designed computer monitoring system for refineries, it was accepted that there weren’t many people who know both chemical engineering and computers, so it was necessary to hire people who knew one and teach them the other.

    As the average time people stay in one job had gone down, companies have decided that it’s less rewarding for them to train people. And to some extent this is a vicious cycle — your employer showing less interest in anything beyond “What can you do for me today?” is an encouragement to keep looking for something better, as is the low bar for having layoffs.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      As I’ve said before, company loyalty is a two way street. If a company expects employees to stick around so the company can realize a return on their investment, they need to keep employees employed and give them a path to grow.

      Too many companies, big and small, held layoffs every time executive and management bonuses were in danger, and got in the habit of not promoting from within. Employees responded by not bothering to trust the employer and by jumping ship when they wanted a promotion, rather than trying to advance internally.

      Which is fine, I guess, although when I hear the upper management and the C-Suite bemoan the lack of company loyalty these days and how hard it is to find good employees who can hit the ground running, I am amazed at the lack of self-awareness.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        There was a cartoon making the rounds back in the 90’s with a CEO behind a giant desk asking “Why don’t our temporary workers have any company loyalty?”Report

      • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        How much of this is a chicken/egg problem though? Or, conversely, do we have perverse incentives that create less employer/employee relationships? Is the changing nature of tech a factor in this? Too many MBA’s and not enough ME’s in the boardrooms? Have we lost something in the use of degrees and universities to outsource our hiring practices, where we expect someone to be fully trained on the first day of work?

        I don’t have an answer to any of those questions, but it would be an area for research for an enterprising soul.Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Aaron David says:

          I don’t think it’s that much of a chicken/egg problem, in that employees tend to want to be loyal to an employer (stability being highly valued by people starting families and purchasing property), whereas the MBA set has taken to treating employees as less important than shareholder value* and bonuses.

          Once short term Shareholder value set the dollar value as a metric, the egg was laid by business. And let’s face it, training people costs money now, with an uncertain return on that investment, so if shareholder value is impacted in the short term by training costs, it makes sense to outsource that training.

          *I know Friedman laid this stinker, but Jack Welch is the one who convinced everyone that it smelled like roses.Report

          • Avatar veronica d in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            This is living memory for me, back in the late 90’s. I recall a lot of weird “manifesto” type things being written, mostly from techie type, who were realizing the new trend of super agile companies had destroyed any sense of loyalty. The general theme was, “Yes, we know you can hire and fire at a moment’s notice, but that cuts both ways.”

            So in this case, it seems it really started with the companies.

            I wish I had a better memory. I’m sure a lot of this is on the Wayback Machine, but I don’t remember enough to effectively search for it.Report

            • Avatar Aaron David in reply to veronica d says:

              I sold a LOT all kinds of weird manifestos to wanna-be business types during the ’90s. And an additional metric ton of “Manage your business like Picard/Buffy/Homer/the Yankees/Gengis Kahn/The Mayflower Madam/etc” around the same time.

              I think that during the ’90s, the tech sector was expanding so fast that keeping up from the business side was damn near impossible, and as a consequence, a whole lot of iffy “management” was hired. But, this was the era that if you could use a two-button mouse you could get a six-digit salary.Report

              • Avatar veronica d in reply to Aaron David says:

                I agree the discourse was rather “fevered,” but I do think people were responding to something real. Just as we were struggling to figure out how to write software for the internet, people were figuring out how to monetize the internet, and even different people were figuring out how to invest in companies trying to monetize the internet.

                I feel as if, at least for the engineers, are loyalty was often to the product more than the companies. What I mean is, we cared about the thing we built. We wanted to see our projects thrive on their own terms. Often these feelings were deep and passionate.

                For example, find a former Solaris engineer. Ask them if they felt loyalty to Sun Microsystems.

                The answer would likely be, yes, very much so, but that stems from the fact that Sun was passionate about Solaris.

                Now, ask them what they think of Oracle.

                Then duck behind a chair. Objects will be hurled at an unimaginable velocity.Report

              • Avatar Aaron David in reply to veronica d says:

                I am going to agree with this 100%. Especially with the part about caring more about the product than the company. And not in a bad way, as I think that this is human nature. And probably holds true for the other two pillars of the industry you mentioned, marketing and finance.

                But, as I am not a historian of this, it is just a guess.Report

  4. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    Dennis, I didn’t realize you were spectrum until I read this. I can add you to the list of people on the spectrum I know, and I want to tell you that I enjoy and appreciate the company of every one of them. I do have a “spectrum person interpretation module” in my head, and that helps sometimes. Generally though, they are people I’m happy to spend time with, and would be happy to work with and train.

    Not that that’s a possibility for you.Report

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