Graves: Disciplined with a Shake in his STRIDE

Many employers suffer a grave loss of which they are unaware. They shy away from hiring prospective employees because they are on the autism spectrum.

The mere words autism spectrum conjure images of inept social skills, stark refusal to follow instructions, bursts of fury, refusal to take correction or responsibility and more.

Amid such a tsunami of negativity it is no wonder they drown out the positives.

Yet, even as toddlers, there is a lot we can do to help our kids secure a job. We need to learn to recognize and respond to the potential.

Prior to Annie Sullivan’s arrival, Helen Keller had no discipline. She prowled her family home, doing as she pleased and responded to attempts of refusal with violent outbursts.

Her parents labored under the misconception that allowing Helen’s atrocious behavior expressed love.

Lucky for Helen, a fiercely determined, courageous, half-blind teacher understood the roots of love begin in discipline. And discipline blooms from the small things.

I was nervous about my son Colton’s first involvement with STRIDE (Supporting Therapeutic Recreation for Individuals with Disabilities Everyday).

I knew it was a fantastic program, but it forced me out of my comfort zone. It challenged me to face my fears even as I sought to still Colton’s.

I had to swallow my pride, accept I wasn’t the only one able to care for my son and get myself out of his way. He was evolving.

Pandering to my fears placed me between the child he was and the man he would someday be

Recently, Colton started his first job. It’s a goal he’s pursued for several years. He has worked for family, friends and neighbors but has been unsuccessful in the traditional job market. Until now.

Like most on the spectrum, Colton excels at repetitive tasks. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t advise the fast-paced and often stressful environment of restaurant work. However, food prep at Steak and Shake is ideal.

Colton’s job is to remain in one station and chop, weigh, bag and otherwise prepare food for use the next day. He is able to work at his pace, somewhat segregated from other employees, spared from the hustle and bustle of peak hours, doing the same thing daily and works off a list. An Asperger kid’s dream!

One of the greatest hindrances to children and teens on the spectrum is fear of the unknown. Doing things for the first time is scary for most but debilitating for some on the spectrum.

Colton didn’t have that hurdle. He had an idea what to expect because STRIDE taught him the basics of food preparation years ago.

When we faced our fears and trudged the painful path of discipline and self-discovery in STRIDE, we had no inkling of what it would bring. The dividends of that years old investment are evident today.

Colton loves his job at Steak and Shake. His self-esteem has grown exponentially because his coworkers lavish him with praise, kindness and encouragement.

Times have changed a lot since the days of Helen Keller. But a child’s need for discipline have not.

The world’s expectations of special needs children tend to be low. It’s our responsibility to be the Annie Sullivan our kids deserve.

We must love them through our pain so they may be a valuable, productive member of the workforce and the community at large.

For more go to