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How an Autistic Child Changed A Career For the Better
Typically, career choices are based on responsibility, compensation, or prestige where an entrepreneur makes a change to get a higher salary, more responsibility, or more prestige. What about the situation, however, where the driving force behind a career choice is none of these; where are the needs of a child driving the change? My choice was precisely that.
Trevor was a happy, normal and active child. He was able to laugh, coo, cry, and do all the other normal things that his older sister, Briana did at that age. To my wife Patty and I, everything seemed to be right. At the age of two, we noticed that Trevor said almost no words and was very much in his own world with puzzles, colors and videos. Over the next two years, we took him to a speech therapist to help with his language and also enrolled him in a special needs preschool. During this time we noticed other peculiar characteristics for a child; a strong desire for structure (his preschool teachers called him “Mr. Rigid”), obsessive fixations on various topics, and no real desire to associate with other children. Yet Trevor was very easy going as he kept himself busy for hours on end playing by himself and acting out any imaginary things he could think of. It was very perplexing for us.
When Trevor was five years old, we took him to specialists at the Autism Center at the University of Washington who performed a series of tests to assess speech, cognitive intelligence and relational behaviors. At the end of the evaluation, one of the specialists explained that Trevor had Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), a mild form of autism. This was strange for us because we used to associate autism with the most severe cases (think of Dustin Hoffman in “Rainman”) where the speech was limited to non-existent and without real interaction between the child and others. Trevor was able to speak and interact, but was about two years behind his developmental peers. The specialist explained that, while Trevor had many characteristics of “normal” children, he saw the world as expected through a rolled-up newspaper; he had a narrow focus on the world and was oblivious to things that did not interest him or how others perceived him. To give an example, think of Jack Nicholson in the movie “As Good as it Gets”. His character, Melvin Udall, was a brilliant and successful author who was obsessed with cleanliness, kept a very strict schedule, didn’t walk on sidewalk cracks, and was generally clueless about how to get by. others. Although not labeled as such, Melvin may have had PDD-NOS.
In some respects, knowing that Trevor had a milder form of autism was a relief that he could learn to control his behaviors and be a high-functioning adult. In other respects, however, having a milder form of autism puts him in a kind of purgatory when it comes to other children. He does not fit into a traditional special needs category, but he is clearly unique when compared to other children. If Trevor grew up before the 90s, his actions would have been seen as a behavioral problem and would have been labeled a difficult child. The truth is Trevor does not have a behavioral problem; he is just wired differently than normal children.
Trevor’s public elementary school was wonderful to work with; he qualified for special services and was able to get one-on-one assistance with a special education teacher. While we were very appreciative of the attention the public school system gave him through sixth grade, we grew concerned about his transition to middle school. Through much discussion, we have decided that the best thing for Trevor is to remove him from mainstream school in seventh grade and take a more personalized home-school approach. With that in mind, Patty and I decided that in order for Trevor to have the best opportunity to succeed, we needed to share the teaching responsibilities. I had spent eleven years at Accenture and was in my ninth year at Microsoft and I was very happy with my career. At the same time we also understand the importance of giving Trevor the best possible educational experience to ensure his leading a normal adult life. We decided it was best for me to leave my secure full-time job at Microsoft to focus on a new career that gave us more flexibility to tend to Trevor. It was during this time that I wrote a book called The Project Management Board which was in the process of being published. I had also started a meal business delivered to your door called delBistro with a friend. The timing seemed perfect to take the plunge and leave Microsoft to build a new career as an author and entrepreneur to make sure Trevor gets what he needs to ensure a normal and happy adult life.
The last six months have been focused on me adjusting to my new career as an author and entrepreneur and we have begun research on how we are going to approach Trevor’s home school. I have already seen a great benefit in being more available to my family and in Trevor getting used to being around more often. I have tremendous peace with the career choices I made and see the focus on Trevor as far more important than any promotion or recognition I might have received at Microsoft or some other traditional job. Our goal is to make sure that by September we are positioned to homeschool Trevor and that my career activities do not interfere with our homeschooling priorities. By the way, Trevor’s social butterfly sister has already made it very clear that homeschooling isn’t her cup of tea, so she’s staying in the public school system.
I understand that a choice like the one I made when you have an autistic child may not always be feasible. We have been very blessed to have the financial means and opportunity to make this decision. What I can say, however, is that this investment in Trevor’s future will yield a return that is far greater than any return that could be achieved in a more traditional career and I see this as the smartest career choice I have ever made. never done
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