My Career: Studying Autism to Help Others with Autism

Wednesday, February 12, 2014 View Comments

This guest post is from Michael Shor, an adult on the autism spectrum who is a licensed LGSW in West Virginia. Michael helps provide in home mental health services to children and teenagers with neurodevelopmental and mental health conditions. This post is part of an initiative on our site called “In Our Own Words: Living on the Spectrum,” which highlights the experiences of individuals with autism from their perspectives. Have a story you want to share for the series? Email us at InOurOwnWords@Autismspeaks.org.

Living with ASD has taken me in many directions, presented many challenges and also inspired many positive things in my life.  Since I was a young child, I knew that there were a lot of ways that I was different from other children in how I learned, thought and interacted with others.  In my school years, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, now ASD, and learning disabilities, motor control problems and attention issues, which come from the same neurodevelopmental differences.  School was difficult for me due to social challenges and educational approaches that were not well adapted to how I learn.  At the same time, these neurodevelopmental differences had many positive sides, making me able to learn and see the world in ways that other people have a very hard time doing.

Because of my learning and social difficulties, going to public junior high school was quite problematic.  Not being able to cope with the serious psychological and physical problems that I encountered there, I was homeschooled through high school.  When I went to college, I studied psychology to have the chance to get more perspective on my own experiences and to serve others like myself.  In college, I met a few other people with ASD and similar conditions and I was lucky to have the chance to connect with a strong local community of parents and professionals connected with people on the autism spectrum.

My interests have always been very scientifically focused, though I have not yet had a lot of opportunity to engage with science directly due to the limits of my education.  After finishing college, I applied to several PhD programs in psychology that were focused on autism research and a few clinical programs in different disciplines as backups.  The one program that accepted my application was West Virginia University’s Masters of Social Work program, where I got my MSW.  When I finished the program, I immediately looked for jobs that would give me the chance to do research, advocacy or direct clinical work with people with ASD.  I was unable to find a job focused on ASD so I took a job working with children and teenagers with various neurodevelopmental and mental health conditions.

As I continue my career, I hope to find the most valuable ways that I can contribute to bettering the lives of others with ASD and to contribute to public and scientific understanding of the complexities of having neurodevelopmental differences.  I had to figure out a lot of things on my own and I would like to see other people get more of a head start than I had. Part of what I would like to do is share knowledge and another part is to push the envelope of what is known to truly find the answers that people need to make their lives better.

A lot of great work has been done on the science of ASD within the past couple of decades.  Yet it is still very difficult for people to really understand ASD. I think that this is partly because so much of what has been said about ASD is from people who have not experienced its challenges, how to overcome them or what it is like before and after doing so and partly because people with ASD have not really played much of a role in generating or interpreting knowledge in the field.

If I could tell you about great contributions I have made for the autism community, I would, but I have not yet been able to do this. However, I have overcome a lot of my own problems.  I have spent many, many hours studying ASD and related issues, beyond any professional education I have had.  I have made friends with a few people on the autism spectrum and sometimes helpless self-advocacy.  I have worked with a few clients on the autism spectrum as well.  These are small but important things that should serve as the basis for doing more.

What I think people should know though, is that it is truly very difficult as a person with ASD to get into a position of really serving the autism community.  Many of the institutions that exist today set the same requirements for having traditional education and accomplishments as for people without ASD, making it very difficult for those of us who are intelligent and qualified but have not met these criteria to participate.  There is not yet a system of mentors or community of support to help us get there.  My hope is that eventually, the autism community will unite to change this.

Have a story you want to share for the series? Email us at InOurOwnWords@Autismspeaks.org.