IP Community: Raising Autism Awareness

April was Autism Awareness Month.  The Center for Disease Control (CDC) defines autism disorders as a group of developmental disabilities, which can cause social, communication and behavioral challenges.  According to CDC estimates, 1 in 88 children are identified with an autism disorder.

The social, communication, and behavioral challenges associated with autism disorders often make it difficult for persons diagnosed with an autism disorder to find and maintain a job.  Indeed, parents of children diagnosed with autism are often told that their child will not likely be able to sustain an independent life.

This, however, is not always the case.  In 2008, the Fairfax Virginia based law firm of Muncy, Geissler, Olds & Lowe, PLLC (MG-IP) hired Kevin Gibson, a Fairfax resident who was diagnosed with autism at the age of 18 months.  Like many others diagnosed with autism, Kevin was told he would never live independently.  Kevin, now 26 years old, continues to work full-time at MG-IP managing the firm’s file room.  Kevin organizes and manages thousands of patent files and is able to immediately locate any file in the office.

Kevin receives a full-time salary, with yearly salary increases, health benefits, and a 401(k).  More importantly, Kevin is able to live independently.

While Kevin has found success at MG-IP, others with autism, or other disabilities, struggle to find quality full-time work.  Some reasons for this are that employers may be skeptical of hiring a person with a disability or are not aware of the ways in which someone like Kevin could aid their firm.  Below are 10 exemplary tasks in a law firm that can be performed by someone diagnosed with autism or other disability.

1)     File room clerk – organizing and locating files throughout the office.

2)     Making copies.

3)     Facsimiles – receiving, acknowledging, and delivering facsimiles.  Many law firms still receive a large amount of facsimiles from clients.  It is important that the facsimiles are carefully acknowledged and delivered to the responsible attorney in a timely manner.

4)     Supplies – checking the firm’s supplies (e.g., pens, toner, paper, etc.), restocking if necessary, and ordering if necessary.

5)     Mail.  Similar to facsimiles, firm mail must be reviewed, sorted, and delivered to the responsible attorney/department in a timely manner.

6)     Making coffee.

7)     Reception/answering telephone calls.

8)     Assembling/moving office furniture.

9)     Sending mail – filling envelopes with client correspondence, applying postage, and delivering to mail box or post office.

10)  Recycling – collecting papers to be shred and recycled and collecting used toner cartridges and other recyclable materials in the office.

In some instances, an attorney’s administrative assistant is responsible for some of the above tasks.  These tasks, however, often interfere with the more substantive tasks that the administrative assistance must perform.  In some instances the attorney herself must perform these tasks, which is typically inefficient.

Certain tasks, such as a file room clerk or receptionist, may be full-time jobs on their own.  Other tasks, such as sending mail, making copies, checking supplies, etc., are often performed by a number of part-time employees or by other full-time staff members, which may reduce their overall efficiency.  Many of these jobs could be combined and performed by a single full-time employee.

It is important for employers to be open-minded when considering employing someone with autism or other disabilities.  Those who are open-minded will find employees who are diligent, hard-working, and who take extreme pride in their jobs.

Services exist for employers who are open-minded to potentially hiring a person with autism, but are concerned with how to hire or train someone with autism.  For example, Kevin worked with ServiceSource, which helps match jobseekers with potential employers.  ServiceSource assigned a job coach to Kevin, who not only prepared him for applying for a job, but also helped Kevin improve his social and communication skills, which Kevin could apply once he found a job.  Furthermore, the job coach worked with Kevin once he was hired to assimilate Kevin to his new job.

Employers with an open mind will likely find a valued addition to their firm.  As the attorneys and staff who work with Kevin have found, MG-IP is better with Kevin as an employee than without him.

 

EDITORIAL NOTE: When I heard about this story I invited the firm to write an article for publication.  We all too frequently read about the bad or controversial, and not nearly enough about the positive and inspiring.  A tip of the hat deservedly goes to Muncy, Geissler, Olds & Lowe!  It is refreshing to hear about those in our industry doing good.  

If you, your firm or your company has a “feel good story” to share please let me know.

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One comment so far.

  • [Avatar for Dale]
    Dale
    May 20, 2012 02:30 pm

    I found your story really interesting… because I’m an even more rare bird:

    A fully licensed attorney who’s been diagnosed as high-functioning autistic… and registered with the USPTO to boot.

    I wasn’t diagnosed until after I was admitted in Kentucky, although I had suspected it for a while. Law is actually my second career—I have an engineering background. More accurately, I thought law was going to be my second career.

    However, I’m now on SSDI, although I’d MUCH rather be actually working. My last full-time job, back in 2008, had been with the PTO as a patent examiner trainee. I washed out of the training academy in less than 6 months. Looking back, I’m convinced that the work conditions were about as bad a fit as possible for me. Since then, I’ve done some sporadic work—not enough to keep me from getting SSDI—doing patent searches for, and talking over prosecution strategies with, one of my law school classmates who’s also registered with the PTO. (We communicate by email and phone—he’s in Mississippi.)

    Frankly, if I had known about the full implications of my condition, I seriously doubt that I would have gone to law school.

    You mentioned the CDC’s statement that autism “can cause social, communication and behavioral challenges”. That fits me exactly…
    (1) As a small child, I was labeled as too disruptive for public schools. (I did wind up getting back in later.)
    (2) To this day, I tend to repeat words and even full phrases, though not as much as in my childhood.
    (3) According to my mom, I spoke so fast that no one outside my family could understand me until I was about six.
    (4) I’m 50, very much straight, and never been married, despite longing for it all my adult life.
    (5) Even outside the romantic context, I have more than my share of social challenges, mostly when it comes to establishing relationships. I tend to have a few intense friendships and little else.

    You may ask then how I managed to function as well as I did for so long. The answer: 153. The neuropsychologist who diagnosed me gave me a complete IQ test as part of the process, and that was my full-scale IQ.

    I’m not asking for sympathy or any favors, and I apologize if I came across that way. I just want to let you know, if you don’t already, that you can even find highly intellectually gifted people on the spectrum. (One even more prominent example of such a person: Temple Grandin. I’m not anywhere close to being accomplished as she is, though!)

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