Finding Our Unique Abilities:
An Interview With Ivan Rosenberg

By Astrid Liddel

Since my recent interview with renowned author and speaker Sean Barron, I’ve been increasingly interested in how those of us with autism can build upon and express our unique strengths.  So I was intrigued by Uniquely Abled, a foundation headquartered in Valley Village, California, which helps people with autism find their abilities and match them to jobs.  

The idea for the Uniquely Abled Project surfaced in 2013 in collaboration with the Exceptional Children’s Foundation.  They were looking for a way to define individuals as “uniquely abled” and bring their talent to bear in the job market.  To gain more insight about the organization, I interviewed Ivan Rosenberg, Founder and President of the Uniquely Abled Project for the CBS Blog. 

What I found was an empathetic, business-driven approach to maximizing potential and integrating our community—an approach which sees those with autism not as disabled, but uniquely abled.  The transcript is below.


Astrid Liddel:   Why did you decide to start this company?

Ivan Rosenberg:   I have two children on the autism spectrum. Like all parents of kids with a diagnosis, I was concerned about their ability to support themselves after my wife and I were gone. I started looking at the problem, not just of them, but of the larger problem. There are 40 million people who are disabled in the U.S. 1.5 million in the U.S. have been diagnosed with autism. Ninety percent of those with autism are unemployed or underemployed, so it’s a pretty big problem.

Most of the underemployed or unemployed are not living great lives. Many of them are not living the life they could have, given their capability.  My perception was that despite the best efforts of thousands, millions and billions of dollars, those statistics hadn’t changed in decades. There are accomplishments here and there, and they are certainly making a difference with individuals, but it’s a drop in the bucket.  This problem was not going to get solved by charity or government grants.  Any charity or government grant is not sustainable.  Those were not solutions to a 40 million-person problem.  You needed a business solution—a solution that impacted the 40 million.


People with autism have a heightened sense of when something’s not the way it should be, and they’re very focused.  What nobody does is ask what jobs in demand could use those abilities.


IR:   Everybody who has a diagnosis has a compensating ability, and that ability is better than ‘normal’ people.  Statistically, blind people have a heightened sense of touch and hearing.  People with autism have a heightened sense of when something’s not the way it should be, and they’re very focused.  What nobody does is ask what jobs in demand could use those abilities. 

A business decision is hiring someone who is able to fill a need.  By using the term disabled, we’re making it impossible to hire them as a business decision.  If you call someone uniquely abled, their question is what are they uniquely good at.  My goal is to shift the societal paradigm. I want to facilitate the creation of opportunities for uniquely abled people.

AL:   How have you impacted the autistic community?

IR:   Those with high-functioning autism are good at using CNC machines. Airplane parts are made on CNC machines.  The problem is that there’s a huge demand for CNC operators. Companies could sell more having an operator on the machine.  Because my kids are on the spectrum, I notice the characteristics of people with autism, and it’s like they were made for each other.

People with high-functioning autism are focused, they’re smart, they’re familiar with computers. Many can think in 3D. They work alone, they’re good at sensing when something’s not right, and they can do repetitive work.  It impacts their social abilities, but they’re great for being a CNC operator.

We created two academies to date with community colleges.  One of the problems [for] people with autism is it’s insufficient to go to a community college because of the lack of social skills.  We had to build things around the existing CNC training.

Thirty-seven people have graduated to date.  At least 35 have a job. They’re the best; the employers’ reactions are amazing.  They have better characteristics than some of their neurotypical peers. We have 16 currently in training and they’ll graduate in December.  We expect all of them to be employed. However, this was built to be scalable. Our job is to get these academies up and running, and then they run themselves. We have four or five more planned for 2019.

I can see the people that we’ve contacted are shifting their perspective on “disabled” people.  They’re changing their attitude towards people with autism.  However, we are [also] currently looking at starting an inspector training program, and you don’t need to be high-functioning for that.

We believe we can have people who are not as high-functioning get good paying in-demand jobs in B&B [manufacturing] companies.  There is a population who love those jobs.  The problem is that [in many] businesses there’s no such population.  Secondly, they don’t realize how many of those jobs they have.  Even if they realize that, they wouldn’t know where to get those folks.  Autistic kids get retail jobs, and it doesn’t realize their abilities. We have a workshop in which we train job developers how to create opportunities in B&B companies.

AL:   How do you help autistic people find their special skill sets?

IR:   We’re working on trying to be more clear about that. That’s really a process that is under investigation.  First, the diagnosis gives you some indication.  There are some typical characteristics of folks with autism. Typical abilities of someone with high functioning autism are repetitive tolerance and detail focus; you can repeat things over and over again and maintain the detail focus.  You can focus for long time periods. Often high intelligence and mechanically inclined.  They are very able to detect when something isn’t right and focus on things being right. They like working alone.  They’re sticklers for following rules, and they generally do what they say they will do.  They dislike transitions.

If you’re a company hiring an entry-level worker, the concern is that they’ll give them practical experience and then they’ll leave for another company. People with autism don’t do that. They’re excited about having a job. You want to have someone who loves that they’re doing. What do they really enjoy?  You delve into the aspect of that and get out their unique ability.  It’s almost natural.  For older folks, you can ask if people count on them for an ability.  The other part is, do they never get bored doing it?  They like what it is and improving on it. That’s how you find someone’s unique abilities.

AL:   Does Uniquely Abled serve adults, children or both?

IR:   At the present time, for our programs, because they’re vocationally oriented, you have to be 18 or above.  Our plan is to reach into the high schools and do two things: Shift the paradigm and be able to start some of the training so that by the time they’re 18, they’re more prepared than they would ordinarily be. The other part we hope will happen is that people and their parents will look at it as uniquely abled rather than disabled.

AL:   Any advice for our readers about how to use their special strengths in their daily lives?

IR:   I think the biggest thing I would recommend is to shift from looking at people with autism as disabled and start looking at them in terms of having unique abilities. The issues that they have trouble with are often social, and we judge people based on how they are in social circumstances. They have hidden abilities that are great. People see them as damaged goods.

We want to shift to what are their unique abilities and how much they use these abilities that they enjoy to have a career.  We want them to see not what jobs will take them, but what jobs fit their unique abilities.  It’s no different than being tall.  It’s not a disability.


You can help people function better, but to view them as something to be cured is insulting. We want the shift from disabled to uniquely abled for both [people with autism and people without autism].


IR:   Sometimes it’s an advantage and sometimes it’s not. My daughter said when she was 12, “Dad, it’s noble to work to prevent autism.  It’s insulting to work to cure it.”  You can help people function better, but to view them as something to be cured is insulting. We want the shift from disabled to uniquely abled for both [people with autism and people without autism].


Astrid Liddel is a CBS staff member and blogger publishing under a pseudonym.

Disclaimer: This article is for general information only, and is not intended (nor should it be relied upon) as health care or other advice regarding your specific circumstances. Individual circumstances and outcomes vary, and the statements or recommendations in this article may not apply to you. Please contact your health care provider regarding any specific issue or problem.  The opinions expressed in this post are the opinions of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of CBS.

©2018 by Center for Behavioral Sciences, Inc.  All rights reserved.

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A Third Year of ABA Workshops in China

 


Dr. Joyce C. Tu, founder and director of Center for Behavioral Sciences and our related company, ABA Unlimited, traveled to China again last week to present four days of behavior analysis workshops in two cities:  Haikou and Guangdong, the most populous cities in southern China’s Hainan and Guangdong provinces.  Filled to capacity, there were about 500 attendees—primarily educators and physicians.  This is a repeat performance for Dr. Tu, who has presented a series of six applied behavior analysis (“ABA”) workshops in China in three consecutive years, reportedly earning unanimous praise from frontline teachers, industry experts and institutional leaders.

These presentations were jointly sponsored by the China Disabled Persons’ Federation (“CDPF”) and the Ai You foundation.  The CDPF champions disability rights and is commissioned by the Chinese government.  The Ai You foundation is the world’s largest organization devoted to offering medical assistance to orphans and financially disadvantaged children.

With increasing recognition of ABA as an effective treatment for autism and other disorders, the need for ABA training has spiked dramatically worldwide.  Last week’s workshops are another part of Dr. Tu’s ongoing initiative to help disseminate behavioral analytic science across borders. 

Dr. Tu has over twenty years’ experience providing one-on-one ABA services, training, workshops, and supervision, and has previously lectured and presented ABA workshops in the U.S. and overseas in Bahrain, China, India and Romania.  She is the current Vice President of the B.F. Skinner Foundation, and Past President of the California Association for Behavior Analysis (“CalABA”).

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CBS Partners with CEU Provider:
ABA Unlimited!

CBS is proud to announce that as of November, 2018, we are partnering with our related company ABA Unlimited (or “ABAU”), as part of our commitment to behavior analysis education.  Founded by CBS’ Director, Dr. Joyce C. Tu, ABAU is a Type 2 Authorized Continuing Education (“ACE”) provider through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board.  ABAU offers live and online professional educational seminars in behavioral health and applied behavior analysis.  CBS supports that mission by lending talented speakers and hosting ABAU’s live seminars in CBS’ Southern California offices.    

ABAU offers behavior analysis continuing education units and workshops in the U.S. and abroad for groups and individuals in behavior-analytic practice, science, methodology and theory.  Some ABAU online courses are in traditional powerpoint format, while others will be recorded “in the field,” showcasing how behavior analysts do applied work and research.  Either way, ABAU’s continuing education programs exceed the knowledge, skills and abilities required to become BACB certified.

ABAU’s behavior analysis workshops and webinars are available online, or live at your location or at a CBS office.  ABAU’s first online continuing education course, Teaching Social Skills to Individuals Diagnosed with Autism—presented by Dr. Joyce C. Tu—is available now!  Next week, Dr. Tu will be in China, presenting a four-day live workshop in two cities for the Ai You foundation, the world’s largest foundation devoted to offering orphans and financially disadvantaged children medical assistance.  Stay tuned!

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Autism Therapy Robots, Arise!

By Astrid Liddel

 

Some people on the autism spectrum might seem like robots trying to discover how to be human.  As an individual diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), I can tell you that robots and autism can be a helpful mix.  Although modern robot therapy is used primarily in helping children, perhaps someday robots will be used to help people of all ages with ASD.

One reason robots are useful is that children with ASD may respond better to robots than to people.  Probably, this is because objects in general are easier for children with autism to observe (Robots to help children with autism, 2017).  However, robot therapy is currently very labor-intensive.  For example, picture a therapist laboriously controlling a robot’s every move to deliver programming (Kobie, 2018).  One study has suggested devising new methods for analyzing data and emotions so that robot therapy can focus more on the child and less on the robot (Kobie, 2018).  That’s a great idea!

But how does it work?  Robots can help children with ASD by reinforcing skills the children are already learning, such as making eye contact with other people.  In one study, children played games designed to improve social interaction, while a home robot occasionally reminded the children to interact with their parents (Schembri, 2018).  The study showed improvement in the children’s social skills (Kobie, 2018).  But robot therapy is still relatively new, and there is much scientists still have left to learn about its effects.

There are also confounding variables.  Others reviewing the same study note that the children also received therapy without robots, so it’s hard to say how much impact the robots had on their development (Schembri, 2018).  Still, the study presents strong evidence that robots could effectively supplement traditional therapy in helping children to interact better with other people.

Not everyone is on board with this treatment, however.  Even though robots can teach children behaviors addressed in traditional therapy, such as cognitive behavior therapy and applied behavior analysis, some have raised ethics concerns.  For instance, some worry that using robots in therapy will only further the stereotype of individuals with ASD behaving like robots (Kobie, 2018).  Some mistakenly believe that people with autism lack empathy or emotions (Kobie, 2018).  Robots used in autism therapy could possibly cause harm by appearing to support this assumption.

Others believe that autism robots are just a technological fad that doesn’t give kids what they need.  Or that more traditional therapies, such as art therapy, which could be helpful don’t get the funding they need when that funding is funneled into trends like robots (Kobie, 2018).  In addition, while robots can be helpful for autism, there is some research suggesting that robots do not significantly improve social skills (Schembri, 2018). There are even concerns that robots might cause children to isolate themselves more, rather than engage in necessary interaction with others (Kobie, 2018).

Robots and artificial intelligence are one of my special interests.  So, personally I’m excited by the prospect, rather than against this fascinating technology to help kids.  As an individual with ASD (with a special interest in robots), I also relate to the idea of robots in ways you might not necessarily expect.  I don’t see robots as devoid of emotion or empathy.  Instead, I see them as beings that struggle with being different in a world filled with people they can’t understand.  I can relate to that!

You’re probably familiar with many films that show robots attempting to gain a better sense of humanity, such as WALL-E or The Iron Giant. In these films, robots show themselves as capable of learning, love, and change.  Similarly, people with autism are full of compassion, feeling, and a drive to learn.  In this way, robots are very much like people with autism; at least, this is how I can relate to robots.  If we use robots to help people who are different to relate better to others, robots could very well be worth our time and money.

As always, however, people should recognize the limits of technology and the need for personal interaction.  While a helpful addition to therapy kids are already receiving, robots cannot replace interaction with a real human.  Technology can be addictive and an easy way to pretend we are receiving adequate social interaction when what we’re really doing is isolating ourselves from others (Kobie, 2018).  Robots are just one piece of tech we need to use for what it’s worth and watch with a careful eye.

An ideal future for everyone with ASD is one where many different types of technology are used to create a better world.  Robots might be just one part of that world.  If that’s all they remain—part of a collection of helpful approaches—robots might have value in autism therapy.

Imagine a world where robots, instead of rising to destroy humanity, become helpers who allow those with disabilities to integrate with the rest of the world.  Isn’t this a world we want? Or would we prefer to view robots as just another menacing piece of technology invading our lives?  The choice is up to us, the current and future generations of individuals with autism.

 

References

Kobie, N. (2018, July 18). The questionable ethics of treating autistic children with robots. Retrieved October 25, 2018, from https://www.wired.co.uk/article/autisim-children-treatment-robots

Schembri, F.  (2018, August 22). How 30 days with an in-home robot could help children with autism. Retrieved October 25, 2018, from https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/08/how-30-days-home-robot-could-help-children-autism

U.  (2017, June 28).  Robots to help children with autism.  Retrieved October 25, 2018, from https://phys.org/news/2017-06-robots-children-autism.html

 


Astrid Liddel is a CBS staff member and blogger publishing under a pseudonym.

Disclaimer: This article is for general information only, and is not intended (nor should it be relied upon) as health care or other advice regarding your specific circumstances. Individual circumstances and outcomes vary, and the statements or recommendations in this article may not apply to you. Please contact your health care provider regarding any specific issue or problem.  The opinions expressed in this post are the opinions of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of CBS.

©2018 by Center for Behavioral Sciences, Inc.  All rights reserved.

 

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Blue Glass Building

CBS, Inc. Returns to Pepperdine!

This week, Dr. Joyce C. Tu, Ed.D., BCBA-D, Director of Center for Behavioral Sciences returned as an invited lecturer at Pepperdine University’s Irvine Graduate Campus.  In this, our third lecture for the university, Dr. Tu reviewed applied behavior analysis best practices in clinical settings for a group of future marriage and family therapists.  The students were engaged, raised many great questions and we had an insightful dialogue.  We love sharing the science of ABA with future practitioners, who will undoubtedly change lives!  

Dr. Tu has over twenty years’ experience providing one-on-one services, training, workshops, and supervision for parents and professionals working with individuals diagnosed with autism and other developmental disabilities.  She is currently the Vice President of the B.F. Skinner Foundation; as well as an associate professor for the Florida Institute of Technology and an affiliate professor at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology—focusing primarily on the areas of experimental analysis of behavior and verbal behavior.

Pepperdine’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology offers rigorous academic programs that prepare students to serve as leaders in their communities, organizations, and businesses.

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An Interview with Sean Barron

By Astrid Liddel

 

Finding someone with high-functioning autism to interview for my blog was surprisingly difficult.  People don’t tend to advertise their autism, so you can imagine how excited I was to have the opportunity to interview Sean Barron about his inspirations and advice to young people with autism—particularly young writers!

Sean is a journalist for The Youngstown Vindicator in Ohio, as well as an author of two well-known books about autism:  There’s a Boy In Here: Emerging from the Bonds of Autism (co-authored with his mother), and Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships:  Decoding Social Mysteries through the Unique Perspectives of Autism (co-authored with Temple Grandin).  He has been publicly speaking at autism conferences about his experiences since 1992.  The following is a transcript of our interview.

 


 

Astrid Liddel:     How has autism affected your life?

 

Sean Barron:     I had a lot of the classic symptoms of autism:  unusual preoccupation with objects, manipulation of objects, very little empathy.  I had a lot of speech and language delays.  Social skills were challenging because I didn’t learn that as a young child.  I had a lot of dietary problems.  I had a lot of sensory overload things, and that impacted my diet.

 

AL:     Has being autistic impacted how you write and speak?

 

SB:     I don’t think it does today. I learned all those things in-depth as I worked my way through my autism. There was a time when autism didn’t impact my life a whole lot. The same is true of my ability to speak in public. By the time I became more proficient at those two skills, I had made tremendous progress in terms of healing. I worked hard to try to connect to the world.

 

AL:     What inspires you to write and speak?

 

SB:     In the early 90s, I made a lot of headway. I have come a long way battling my autism. I started feeling better about myself. I approached my mother about writing a book. Rain Man came out two years earlier, so autism was more known. I decided I wanted to try to write about it and, hopefully, use what I went through as a source of inspiration for people. Mom was reluctant at first; then I convinced her to try it. We wrote the book from our own perspectives, and it came together over time.

 

AL:     What advice do you have for young autistic people?

 

SB:     I really shy away from giving advice, because I don’t feel like I’m an authority on autism. It’s important to not define yourself by a label, because fifty years ago, when I was diagnosed, autism was a terrible thing to have. Now people on the spectrum are given positive things and making an impact. It’s important to strive to do what you feel is purposeful; the things that we all need. People with autism are just as capable as neurotypicals and can have an impact in the world. Think that way as opposed to being defective.

 

AL:     Do you have any specific techniques to manage your autism?

 

SB:     I don’t have any, because it doesn’t impact my life. When I was going through it, I tried a lot of ways. Nowadays I don’t feel like I have to do anything insofar as keeping it under control. I’ve really worked at learning social skills. It is a process, like learning to play a musical instrument or a sport. You work at it and become more proficient at it. They have that in common, in my opinion. The more you dedicate yourself to it, the better you become at it.

 

AL:     Do you have specific advice for aspiring writers?

 

SB:     Writing is also a process. If you want to write, start writing. It doesn’t have to be anything magnificent or a bestseller. Find what your passions are. As far as writing, the first thing is to take notice of what you feel passionate about. If you don’t feel [an] interest, then it will catch up with you sooner or later. Writing is about being able to effectively convey your perspectives of something in a way that other people can relate to and understand. If I’m not interested, I’m not going to write about it. Even if I have a lot of knowledge, if it’s not interesting, the lack of interest will catch up to me.

 

AL:     How have you grown over your career?

 

SB:     I’ve become a better writer. I’ve had people say my writing is distinctive and know I’ve written something without seeing I wrote it. I’ve become more outward-thinking and socially aware; more interested in other people [rather] than in just talking about myself. When I had  [more severe] autism, I was very self-focused because I tried to make sense of the world. Now I feel more in tune with other people. I hate to see people suffer or go through bad experiences. It’s much more about reaching something greater than myself.

 


Astrid Liddel is a CBS staff member and blogger publishing under a pseudonym.

Disclaimer: This article is for general information only, and is not intended (nor should it be relied upon) as health care or other advice regarding your specific circumstances. Individual circumstances and outcomes vary, and the statements or recommendations in this article may not apply to you. Please contact your health care provider regarding any specific issue or problem.  The opinions expressed in this post are the opinions of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of CBS.

©2018 by Center for Behavioral Sciences, Inc.  All rights reserved.

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