By Alyssa Apuzzio
The stiff fabric from his shirt rubbing uncomfortably on his exposed skin, the itchy lanyard constricting around his neck and the clangorous vent blowing above disrupted his work and triggered his sensory elements.
This is how David Finch described his experience with his first full-time job out of college as a software developer, and as an adult with Asperger’s Syndrome.
“The corporate environment isn’t meant for people on the spectrum,” Finch said. “People can’t concentrate because of sitting under fluorescent lights that might buzz and noises such as a pen clicking, shoe shuffling and conversation right next to you.”
Finch gave a lecture on Wednesday, April 5, in honor of Autism Awareness Month. Some students in the audience were wearing blue in support of the cause.
Hosted by Friendship and Unity for Special Education, Finch spoke in room 113 of the Education Building about the challenges for those with special needs. Senior dual secondary education and i-STEM major Mariah Belber, co-president of FUSE, said FUSE also brought Finch to the College last year during Autism Acceptance Month.
“I really enjoy Finch’s talks about how we can make the world more accessible for everybody,” Belber said. “As a special education major, I’m more about differentiated teaching and work settings.”
Diagnosed with Asperger’s when he was 30, Finch is very knowledgeable about Asperger’s and autism.
“Outside of my wife and myself, I originally couldn’t go around telling people I had a mild case of autism,” Finch said. “There was, and still is to an extent, a negative stigma associated with a person who is on the autistic spectrum.”
Finch said people view those on the spectrum as not the right type when, in reality, their “constellations are aligned differently.” Most people do not view society as neurodiverse, according to Finch.
“The fact you aren’t, let’s say, for example, a type one brain and you are instead a type two brain, it makes people think those on the spectrum are different in a bad way,” Finch said. “However, autism as more of a collection or a clustering of different underlying conditions, which come together and manifest differently in each person who is autistic.”
A myriad of people who are autistic can have skillful organization abilities, attention to detail or have artistic talents, Finch said. In many cases, these skills in those with autism are superior than in those without.
“Now, I am comfortable being myself, but prior to that, I knew I was much different than others,” Finch said. “There were things that shouldn’t have been a challenge to me that were, but there were things that came easy to me that other people shied away from, such as writing and playing music.”
Finch said he wasn’t looking at his strengths, but his deficits caused by his Asperger’s. After being diagnosed, it gave him a new perspective and he looked at things not as a deficit, but as a difference.
While Finch accepts his Asperger’s, he notes some work and education environments are hard to fit into.
“We can be designing (environments) for neurodiversity, such as buildings, and work settings,” Finch said. “When we solve the problems for those with autism, we are helping all of us. Everyone has a dash of autism in them.”
Work settings aren’t designed for people who need quiet space or who can’t be bombarded with sensory distractions, such as those on the spectrum, according to Finch.
“The issue is not just with the work place, but with education. If a student is acting out or isn’t comfortable, they get placed in time out, or sit in a corner and are practically reprimanded for being autistic,” Finch said.
Buildings and rooms aren’t designed for perfect acoustics or a perfect physical environment, according to Finch. Therefore, those on the spectrum can have a difficult time concentrating and working.
“Luckily today we have a lot of technology available, and teachers can individualize an experience for their students,” Finch said. “iPads can perform a variety of tasks for children with different learning abilities. We need to make inclusion opportunities so that these students can go out on their own, such as graduating college or moving out.”
Finch said neurodiverse approaches and philosophies will not only improve academic and work environment.
“Most importantly, they will enhance the lives, health and happiness of people who are on the autism spectrum and their families,” Finch said.