Straight from the Source: Autism at Work – Meet the Panelists

One highlight of our conference each year is our Straight from the Source series, a grouping of panels featuring individuals with autism and those closest to them. This year, we held an Autism at Work panel, a session for adults on the spectrum to share their experiences of joining and being a part of the workforce. During this panel, attendees got to meet Evan Spencer, Amy Kleinman, Angel Russo, and Tim Hughes, self-advocates with a variety of perspectives gained from employment. Evan, Amy, Angel, and Tim were kind enough to sit down with Milestones after their panel to share a little bit about the topics discussed and why they wanted to get involved.

Thanks so much for taking some time to talk to us today! Would you mind telling us how you first heard of Milestones?

Evan: My mom runs a support group that works closely with Milestones. I came my first year to the conference kind

of nervous, to see what was here for myself. I always thought it would be people my mom’s age who are working for individuals with autism, but then I saw it was also for individuals and that’s what sold me on coming back.

Amy: I’ve known about Milestones for I don’t know how many years. My mother and I had talked about coming to the conference for years; we have gone to Beth Thompson for some

help when we needed it. And finally last year, we were just like ‘you know what, we’re going to get scholarshipped and we’re going to go!’ Then this year, Beth asked me to speak, so we’re here again. And hopefully next year too!

Angel: Haley Dunn who is with Milestones, I knew her for a long time so she asked me to come speak.

Tim: I met Nathan and Beth (from Milestones) with my friend Amy in March.

Can you share a little bit about the topic your panel discussed today?

Amy: We discussed our experiences at work as adults with autism. Each of us have had a range of jobs, a range of experiences, and we were able to share that and hopefully help some other people with autism who are looking for a job.

What you would say to someone else on the spectrum who is looking for a job?

Tim: If and when you are hired for the job you aspire to take, you have to stay on task and not wander off. One of the things that I mentioned on the panel is one of my former jobs was at a library. Sometimes I wouldn’t stay on task because I always loved the library as a kid. I had to learn if you’re going to get this job, you have to stay on task, otherwise you’re going to get in trouble. Sometimes they would catch me reading a book past my ten-minute break. I had to get back to work so I could make the money.

What would you say to an employer who might be considering someone on the spectrum as a potential hire?

Evan: I don’t want to compare it to buying a fixer-upper car but at the same time, we may need a little more work or attention. But I think it can bring more benefits maybe. I think we might not have all of the normal tools that some neurotypicals might have but it’s just as easy and worthwhile to hire someone on the spectrum because we have weaknesses but our strengths are magnified more.

Angel: I would say try to help us out, try to help us find a certain job and talk to us individually. Try to help and be a friend and let them know there are jobs out there.

Why do you think it’s important for you as self-advocates to share your experiences with professionals, parents, and other individuals with ASD?

Amy: I think it’s important to bring awareness to what people with autism go through on a regular basis. I know I was one of those kids who almost fell through the cracks at school but had very strong parents who advocated for me. If I can help one kid not end up the way I almost did, it’s a success.

Evan: I think for professionals and parents, especially professionals, they’re mostly neurotypicals. You may have thousands of hours of trainings on autism but you don’t have the diagnosis so you never truly know what it’s like. I think it’s important for us to be that voice to get them as close as they can be to understanding because at the end of the day, we’re the ones who have it.

Amy: Nobody understands unless you’ve gone through it. Even my parents and my sister who have dealt with me since I was born don’t always understand why I do what I do or why I think how I think. It gets frustrating for them because they can’t always understand. But with time and with experience, I can explain or try to explain why my brain works the way it does. They may not get it, but they realize it’s a part of what makes me.

What would you say to self-advocates who are experiencing challenges in their lives right now?


What have you enjoyed most about the conference so far?

Tim: I’ve enjoyed meeting these other people. I’ve been to the conference before. My friend Amy and I came out last year this time so it’s been really nice seeing everyone and running into a few familiar faces. What I really like about this conference is you never know who you’re going to run into.

Amy: It’s been really interesting to run into everyone from my past, I’ve had many serendipitous run-ins. Everyone’s here! And then spending the day with my mother.

Evan: I think seeing people who were a huge part of my life in elementary school and middle school and helping me with all the problems that I’ve had… seeing those people makes you realize the impact they’ve had and how far you’ve come and where you might go. And then all the information here is great to have – two days where you get smashed with information. To have the ability to print off all the information and be able to pass it on, either use it yourself or give it to somebody else…

Thanks again to Evan, Amy, Angel, and Tim for being a part of an incredible panel this year. If you or someone you know with autism is looking for helping with finding employment opportunities, give the Milestones coaching staff a call at 216.464.7600 today.

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