Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The New Dandelion: a plan for highly functional autistic employment


I appeal to all readers of this article to circulate it as widely as possible. It proposes the creation  of employment for High Functioning Autistic young people in a natural  way, supplementing the institutions we already have  and leveraging their resources. The model I use as inspiration is the distributed, collaborative grid computing. What I describe below is a most unusual impact

"The most interesting developments in technology are not the gadgets and products themselves. It's how they impact the society"  (David Pogue in Scientific American 10/2013)

The Magic of OSG

You can see how an organization called Open Science Grid (OSG) creates in the example below, 1,780,000 CPU Hours in 24 hour time in our lives. This is mind boggling. In this snapshot below,  OSG did in one hour the work of about 74,200 single core desktops.

Fig. 1 OSG Display http://display.grid.iu.edu/
The snapshot of the display above refreshes every 15 minutes and it shows often two million computational hours squeezed in one hour clock time

You will be surprised to hear that Open Science Grid does not own any hardware. They never buy servers as they used other people's servers who work in  what OSG calls Virtual  Organizations.

An official description of what OSG is and how it works you can read on this wikipedia web page.

For a more intuitive description, perhaps this picture is worth a thousand words

We see at the bottom, represented by columns the capacity used locally in each Virtual Organization, VO #1 to VO #N. Each VO has servers grouped and managed locally as clusters. OSG does not manage those local clusters. Each VO has local users, they have priority and the red area is percentage used locally. Experience shows again and again that no one uses 100% all resources in the VO, 100% of the time. Each column shows in green the percentage of idle resources at one moment in time. The green area will always exist. It is virtually impossible that all VOs use 100% their resources at the same time.

The green area - the percentage of idle resources in each VO - are the bread of butter of OSG. Using a very clever software, -  based on High Throughput Computing (HTC) computer science principles - OSG is able to recover and use all these huge pools of idle resources. OSG customers are the same VO users, mostly scientists, researchers  who need resources that exceed the local VO capacity. In  some collaboration project, scientists from other projects, not working for a VO, will access the OSG virtual resources.

The final result is like a creation ex-nihilo . If OSG were  in a magic show, then Fig. 1 is what the audience sees. The public made of lay people will be mesmerized.

What this has to do with a employment plan for Highly Functional Autistic people, that integrates the HFA in the society? Please read on.

What is a High Functioning Autistic disorder?

This is the WebMD definition
High-functioning autism (HFA) is at one end of the ASD  (Autism Spectrum Disorder). Signs and symptoms are less severe than with other forms of autism. In fact, a person with high-functioning autism usually has average or above-average intelligence. The differences from other forms of autism have led many psychiatrists to consider high-functioning autism as similar to or the same as Asperger's syndrome. However, usually children with HFA have language delays early on like other children with autism. Children with Asperger’s, though, don’t show classic language delays until they have enough spoken language so that their language difficulties can be noted.
 Unlike people with other forms of autism, people with high-functioning autism or Asperger's syndrome want to be involved with others. They simply don't know how to go about it. They may not be able to understand others' emotions. They may not read facial expressions or body language well. As a result, they may be teased and often feel like social outcasts. The unwanted social isolation can lead to anxiety and depression.

What are the goals of an HFA employment plan?

These are not in order of importance.

The #1 goal is to make an HFA candidate productive so the profits per employees exceed the cost of her salary and of the total expenses incurred by the mainstream employer. 

The #2 goal is to have a plan that is scalable and can relatively quickly  expand in a natural way throughout California and US

The #3 goal is make sure each HFA has a mentor both at school, college, university and in the place work

The #4 goal, is to make the top mainstream graduates from our colleges and university HFA employment champions

The #5 goal is make as many HFA young people feel happy. with a sense of fulfillment  

What HFA people  need to have in order to get a good job?

By a good job, we mean something more that a minimum wage salary, everyone needs
  1. An education to acquire skills that are in demand and lead to much better paid jobs
  2. A network of people they know who can provide references and recommendations
  3. Connections with many people already employed and who can provide inside information and do some door openings
  4. Mentors, who can make our career  grow
  5. Reach some  independence, not to depend on one employer only
HFA candidates, just as mainstream candidates, must have the door open to these opportunities

Existing autism  employment organizations

 Specialisterne are the pioneers for autism employment and they started in Europe. They call themselves "a social enterprise", although they present themselves also as a non-profit organization. Thorkil Sonne the founder - who appeared in HBR, WSJ, The Guardian, NYT articles, TV prime time - is a media darling. They are heavily subsidized in Europe and most recently, Specialisterne Denmark have received an injection of growth capital from the newly established The Social Capital Fund (“Den Sociale Kapitalfond”)

They employ the autistic job candidates and train them to offer Software Management, Testing and Registration and Data Logistics only.

They do not offer any College or Universities degrees. All their autistic employees are dependent for life on the Specialisterne.  There is no freedom to choose another job, they have no network of their own  and, no option to change an employer.

Perhaps for medium autistic people, such a protected, yet artificial environment is better suited.

But not for HFAs . They have higher goals in life, which fit the goals of a good HFA employment plan.

Specialisterne claims on one web page "Our long term goal is to enable 100,000 jobs in the US." Long term is vague. On other web page they claim "enabling 1,000,000 jobs - one step at a time" These numbers are not substantiated and are kept intentionally vague.

Some estimates tell  us it may take about 100 to 200 years to reach 100,000 employees using Specialisterne methodology.

We have the case of another  organization dedicated to the employment of the disabled, called Pride Industries. They deliver manufacturing and service solutions to businesses and government agencies nationwide, while creating meaningful jobs for people with disabilities. They have not been very successful with autistic employees, mostly with other types of disabilities. They employ 2,400 disabled people using 4,600 mainstream employee. It is a well run non-profit corporation, founded originally in 1966. Today their income is around one hundred millions dollars per year.

In half century of existence, using an operational model almost identical to Specialisterne, they only have created jobs for 2,400 disabled employees, of which a tiny subset are from autistic spectrum.

As we can see, organizations like Specialisterne and Pride Industries simply do not scale. They do play a positive role in our society, but they can never reach the hundreds of thousands of jobs for HFA to change the society attitude.

Proposed employment plan  for HFA young people

Lets re-list from above what we need to create jobs for HFA people. 
  1. An education
  2. A network of people 
  3. Connections with many people already employed 
  4. Mentors
  5. Reach some  independence
My plan is based on experience and I refer to the many articles from this blog describing our discoveries: The Experiment , The extraordinary laptop repair, and more.

Here is a picture that is essence the same the Open Science Grid. We tap huge and highly effective teaching and mentoring resources already existing, but dormant.
Fig. 2: Leveraging HFA students to attend higher education with the help of tutors recruited from the student population
Using a tutor, another student at Sierra College in Rocklin, my son had a spectacular improvement in revealing his abilities (see The Experiment).

 WSJ reports "Virginia Commonwealth University recently published the first study of its kind to demonstrate that the strengths of youths with autism can be parlayed into gainful employment given the right educational program."

At Sierra College we pay the tutors with funds from Alta California. But to accelerate the process, we need an organization to raise funds to pay HFA tutor salaries. The tutors must be fellow students.

When these students graduate and get jobs in corporate America, they act as HFA champion advocates inside the companies .They will part of the network of each HFA job seeker. They are ideal door openers for the former HFA students they helped as students. Thy know how to make them productive

We call this organization, a true non-profit, The New Dandelion. TND will not employ tutors. They will approach each educational institution to make a case for accepting HFA students and create a plan. The local management of the tutors will be handled by the higher education school via specialized contractors. In Sierra College Progressive Employment manages the tutors

For the system to work, every HFA needs a mentor in the companies they join. and if for some reason the young HFA does not feel at ease in a job, there is a chance to appeal to the network of former tutors and find a more suitable job.

Once they reach a critical mass, the former tutors will change for good the entire fabric of  corporate attitudes towards HFAs

The New Dandelion: Can we make it reality?

Absolutely Yes! Like Open Science Grid unleashing some extraordinary resources we didn't know they exist, The New Dandelion (TND) uncovers precious resources in our 11,000 higher education institutions from US alone. There is no need to create gargantuan organizations of tens of thousands of employees. TND is lean and be replicated easily in every state of US and outside US 

But I can not do it alone. I need more influential, powerful, reputable and resourceful backers. And I need every reader to spread the word. 

I welcome any ideas on how to take this plan off the ground. Please email me miha dot ahronovitz at ahrono dot com 
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