At 21, Dawn Prince-Hughes was homeless and destitute when she found her calling — at a zoo in Seattle, Washington. It was 1985. Prince-Hughes had fled to Seattle from rural Montana, where she had feared for her life after coming out as gay. She did not yet know she was autistic — she would be diagnosed with autism about 15 years later — but she knew she had trouble making friends. “I had failed miserably trying to connect with human beings,” she says. “They do not make sense to me.”
Interesting segment on 60 Minutes about this Center – Greg
The Frist Center for Autism and Innovation, engineering technologies and transforming the workplace – inspired by neurodiversity, at the Vanderbilt University School of Engineering brings engineers, business scholars, and disabilities researchers together with experts in neuroscience and education to understand, maximize, and promote neurodiverse talent. From a strengths-based – as opposed to deficit-based – understanding of autism and neurodiversity, the Center sees opportunities for innovation in technology and in workplace practices.
As I child and teenager I never really explored my interests to see if they could have developed into a way to support myself. Being in a boarding school I helped out in the kitchen and helped clean the school on the weekend when other kids went home. I wanted to become a priest or a police officer as a kid.
As a teenager I just did the typical retail and fast food jobs. Over the years my mother felt I should learn a trade, become a forest ranger or attend the merchant marine academy to work on a ship. A professional did some testing on me that suggested learning a trade, otherwise I would be subject to a lifetime of low wage jobs. At the time I wanted to attend college and was a bit hardheaded. Yet I felt I may not be smart enough for the merchant marine academy or go to college to be a forest ranger due to the science courses needed. Some of my testing after being in the workforce showed the following areas would be good matches: outdoors technology, science skilled, protective service, medical billing and coding. I value orderliness, clear directions, and efficiency in my work settings. My profile indicated that I enjoy structure as well as repetition of tasks to work at optimum performance levels and master assignments. I also value settings which includes social interaction. I read a book called Employment for Individuals with NVLD. Some of the careers the book suggested were library science, bank teller, college professor, medical information tech, and vet tech.
Knowing what I know now I would have made an application to the merchant marine academy to see what that would have brought. Living on a Semester at Sea ship for almost 4 months showed me how well I did on the ocean. Or, I would have done the Junior College route and learned a trade or received technical training. I always wanted to be an expert at something.