Dr. Stephen Shore is an autism expert who served as the keynote speaker for Lime Connect's annual Leading Perspectives on Disability reception on March 22, 2018, in New York City. He sat down to chat with us about some of the focus of his presentation.
You've famously said, "If you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism." Why is that an important point for people to understand about their interactions with individuals with autism, in particular?
This quote emphasizes that there is great diversity within the autism spectrum. While the commonalities of people on the autism spectrum include differences in communication, social interaction, sensory receptivity, and highly focused interests, it's important to understand that the constellation of these characteristics blends together differently for each individual. This is why some on the spectrum are good at mathematics while other may be good in their arts, sports, or writing – just like the rest of humanity. Autism is an extension of the diversity found in the human gene pool.
You share a similar perspective with Lime Connect in that you often speak about the importance of focusing on the abilities and not the disability. What are some of the unique strengths that individuals with autism bring to school and the workplace that should be recognized?
Turning away from thinking of autism as a collection of disabilities, disorders, and deficits and transitioning to an abilities-based model enables us to presume competence and ask what the person with autism can do. In combination with the motivation and intense focus that people on the autism spectrum have for their deep interests, we can find these individuals excelling in information technology, engineering, the performing and other types of arts, writing, and in many other areas we find individuals not on the autism spectrum doing.
As a college professor who also happens to have autism, what do you see as the biggest challenge facing students with autism today – particularly those in higher education? What can be done (or is being done) to support these students?
Some of the greatest challenges facing people on the autism spectrum in higher education today include possible overload due to environmental conditions, social interaction with classmates and professors, knowing when it's time to ask for additional support, and the executive functioning aspects managing one's schedule for effective studying and completion of class projects. For example, while many may think the baseball cap I wear is a fashion statement, it is actually an accommodation as standing under recessed lighting fixtures is like looking into a spotlight for most other people.
The good news is that increasing numbers of colleges and universities have programs specifically for supporting people on the autism spectrum. The focus needs to turn towards supporting professors in developing strategies for effectively educating students with autism.
What is the most important thing that students and professionals with autism, and disabilities in general, can do to set themselves up for success in the classroom or the office?
Preparing for success in education and employment includes proactively learning what supports are available. Another important factor is making sure the person with autism understands what it means to them to be on the autism spectrum. For example, one aspect of being autistic means that I have difficulty remembering faces of my students. Some strategies I implement to address this challenge include having students use name tents on their desks and disclosing to them that I have difficulty remembering faces. That way they will understand if I don't recognize who they are and they are more likely to reintroduce themselves to me outside of class.
Do you have any final thoughts that you'd like to share related to this topic?
Strategies for accommodating people with autism and other conditions make for a better school and work environment for everyone. I've heard educators report that learning how to teach students with autism makes them better at teaching. Similarly, I have heard supervisors report that learning how to more effectively work with individuals having autism makes them better at managing overall as they develop clarity in communication and other aspects of managing others.
Dr. Stephen Shore is a world-renowned professor, author, speaker and expert on autism who happens to be on the autism spectrum himself. The author of Understanding Autism for Dummies, Stephen draws from his own experiences, and his research, when educating others about lifespan issues related to disclosure, employment and more.