Faith Jegede is a writer and frequently shares her experiences being raised with two autistic brothers and awareness for the disability. Jegede presented her talk "What I've learned from my autistic brothers" at TED@London in 2012.
Renae: Autism affects 1 in 68 children in the United States and 1 in 54 in Utah. It is the fastest growing serious developmental disability in America. It does and will continue to affect our workforce and businesses. Faith Jegede explains autism in her Nov. 2012 TEDTalk and how it relates to her two brothers as “a complex brain disorder that affects social communication, learning and sometimes physical skills. It manifests in each individual differently, hence why Remi is so different from Sam. And across the world, every 20 minutes, one new person is diagnosed with autism, and although it's one of the fastest-growing developmental disorders in the world, there is no known cause or cure.”
I've been able to volunteer on a committee at a local school for autistic students. I have talked to a multitude of both parents and teachers. The one theme I have gathered from them is this: Autistic does not equal bad, just different. Members of our workforce who have autism often find jobs that are perfect for them, jobs that play to their skills and at which they excel. These workers may need adjustments that businesses are not used to making, but they often bring a new way of thinking to a problem.
Jegede stated, “Normality overlooks the beauty that differences give us, and the fact that we are different doesn't mean that one of us is wrong. It just means that there's a different kind of right. ... The pursuit of normality is the ultimate sacrifice of potential. The chance for greatness, for progress and for change dies the moment we try to be like someone else.” If we find the beauty in difference, it might just be the first step towards something amazing.
Jordan: Autism is a dominant and pervasive issue in Utah County, in regard to both education and looking forward to the future in the workforce. It seems every month brings more information and news that updates the way we perceive and address this developmental disability. (Just recently, a BYU professor played a significant part in a study done that claims doctors' tests are woefully falling short of identifying autism early on for many children -- leaving them to go undiagnosed for years.)
Jegede's instructions for us are powerful and inspirational. For several generations, in not only society but also in the workplace, I believe the pursuit and demand for normality has been the bar to which all is measured. However, as younger generations take their place in influencing society we are finding more opportunities to embrace differences and the gifts and talents that come with them -- including those with autism -- all of which has the ability to benefit our creativity, our companies' staff and our economy.
Regardless of whether all businesses choose to embrace unconventionality and differences early on, it is not something that can be ignored forever. We don't have to be normal. We can maximize these higher instances of differences into creating a truly gifted community and refuse to sacrifice the mass potential sitting at our feet.