Q&A: Daniel Share-Strom, a 22-year-old with Asperger's, about finding a job
Daniel Share-Strom is a 22-year-old student in his last of year of an honours Communications degree at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. Share-Strom has Asperger's, a high-functioning type of autism. At last month's Geneva Centre autism symposium in Toronto, he charmed at least one reporter in the audience during a panel session on navigating the world of work. Share-Strom spoke frankly about his struggles and triumphs on the path toward finding a job -- which is indistinguishable from the path toward independence, for most adults. The Star emailed him some questions which he took the time to answer in between a busy day of classes.
You’ve found a couple of really interesting jobs. What are they?
I worked at my mother’s retail store for many years, but more pertinently, I am a professional public speaker and Asperger’s advocate and educator. I haven’t been successful in getting interviews for those part-time student jobs that many of my peers work at. Soon, I will be helping to edit my school’s peer-reviewed journal. I’m also writing a screenplay about Asperger’s Syndrome. I’ve had to make my own luck, so to speak.
How did you get those jobs?
Working at my mother’s store? Nepotism. Public speaking? From a very young age, I was able to be my best version of myself when I had a microphone in my hand. My mother nurtured this gift and found speaking opportunities for me wherever possible. When school issues started to dominate, she combined my love of technology with my love of public speaking, and my public speaking career was born. We created a presentation to tell my teachers how I learn and what I need to do well. With regard to my editing job at school, my professor approached me and offered me the opportunity.
You spoke candidly at the conference about some of the challenges you’ve encountered while looking for a traditional, nine-to-five job. Can you tell us about those challenges?
The main issue is the way that the people receiving my resume perceive me or the way I carry myself. I am highly qualified, on paper, for the jobs I apply for, but it seems that, perhaps, my eye contact, gait, tone of voice, and physical presentation must be communicating something about me that makes them decide not to consider my application. I’ll be honest: It doesn’t feel too great.
You say you’re now looking at entrepreneurship as a career option. Why?
Entrepreneurship is an option because I can create a work environment that allows me to be successful and not feel under the microscope for things that do not come naturally to me. Self-employment can allow me to support myself, but more importantly, this option can allow me to maintain my dignity and surround myself with people who accept me for who I am and what I can do, not what I cannot.
What’s been the biggest help along the path to employment?
The most important thing that every individual on the spectrum needs is a life coach. A life coach can teach them those essential social and workplace skills that will help them avoid the pitfalls that result in the incredibly high unemployment rates of individuals on the spectrum. For most people, life coaching falls to their mother, but as a society, I would encourage schools to pitch in here.
What’s been the biggest barrier?
The biggest barrier to employment has always been the kid behind the counter. In other words, give us a chance to succeed or fail based on our abilities, not on my eye contact. People with autism are incredibly bright. With the kind of intense focus and interest we bring to our areas of expertise, I fully expect one of us to find the cure for cancer one day.
What do you want employers to know about people with ASD?
I cannot speak for all people with ASD. Like every other human being, we have gifts and challenges, strengths and needs. We love, we cry, we experience joy. Sound familiar? We are human beings. We have a lot to offer. Please treat us with the same dignity and respect you would like to receive.
What do you want people with ASD to know about employment?
I think it’s important for all people to know themselves in order to find their place in this world. That’s even more important for someone with ASD. However, we’re not great at identifying our own weaknesses or areas of need. Again, I urge my ASD peers to find a life coach that they trust and allow that person to help them navigate the world of employment. Whether that means finding a career path or preparing for a job interview, we need to reach out and ask for help.
Anything else you want to tell our readers?
With all the money that school boards are spending on ASD, they’re missing the mark. Thousands of so-called high-functioning kids on the spectrum are unhappy and unsuccessful in their school setting. I want those kids to know that it gets better. There is more understanding at the post-secondary level. Hang in there.