DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Ken Kellam is personable, talented… and autistic. “My wiring is different from other people’s,” says Kellam. “As a result, I struggle with things that other people take for granted– such as social situations.”
Diagnosed in his late 30s with Asperger’s Syndrome, Kellam says the diagnosis helped explain lifelong struggles. “I didn’t always know how to relate to other people… it took me a long time to learn how to empathize with somebody else’s position.”
Asperger’s patients are typically regarded as being what experts call the “highly functioning” of the spectrum of autism patients.
Kellam now works as an administrative assistant at the Autism Treatment Center of Dallas, where his diagnosis and its challenges are understood.
“People know what I am already, know what I’m dealing with, and that helps a lot,” says Kellam. “It’s not like other workplaces where people wondered what was wrong with me and I wondered the same thing.”
The Centers for Disease Control now estimates that one child in 88 in the United States is autistic. And there is no cure — only treatment. So autistic children will become autistic adults and advocates say more needs to be done to help them lead productive lives — and that includes finding them jobs.
“You need to celebrate their abilities,” says Carolyn Garver, PhD. Dr. Garver is the director of the Autism Treatment Center of Dallas. “I think that we focus a lot on the disability part and I understand that. But we have to look at their abilities.”
For example: Kellam can figure complex math problems in his head and play music by ear. So he’d like to encourage other North Texas employers to view disabled applicants with an open mind.
“Just because people with autism are wired a little differently than others, maybe they have to have things explained to them in a different way… that does not mean they’re stupid,” says Kellam. “It certainly doesn’t mean they can’t learn… they may have to be taught in a different way. But, they can still learn and be very productive.”