The Toughest Part Of This Job

What’s the toughest part of your job?   Dealing with difficult clients?  Working with an annoying colleague?  The daily commute?  Everyone has something that makes them want to scream…or run.

Parenting is no different.  It’s tough but incredibly rewarding.  It takes everything out of you but adds so much to you.  Raising another human being takes skill, wisdom, and a dash of “moxie.”  Yet for some parents, the things that many parents might typically say are the tough things are actually quite manageable compared to what these other parents deal with regularly.

These are the parents who welcome strangers into their homes to teach skills and challenge their young children for hours every day.  Who juggle weekly appointments and therapies often along with another full-time job.  Who clean out their 401K’s and bank accounts to pay for all kinds of interventions.  Who have to make advance preparations for something as routine as a trip to the supermarket.  It’s herculean parenting for sure, but believe it or not, these aren’t the things that make this job tough.

What makes this job tough for parents of children or teenagers with Asperger’s Syndrome is the level of awareness needed – and subsequent “work” required – when something happens involving someone *else* with Asperger’s.  It’s called “antennae up” while trying to explain to people (those who want to know and will listen) what this diagnosis means while earnestly trying to protect their children from people who know little but believe they know it all.

I just learned about an incident involving an adolescent with Asperger’s who was involved in the death of her parent.  Not the first time a tragedy has been associated – whether directly or otherwise – with this diagnosis.  Sad situation for sure, but for the other children with the same diagnosis who attend the same school as this teenager … whose parents know each other … and where others know or suspect which other children have this diagnosis, it’s life in alert mode.  People are talking.  They’re making assumptions.  And drawing conclusions.  And more often than not, it’s all wrong.

We group people together all the time.  All seniors wear cap and gowns.  Computer programmers are smart.  People from California love the beach.  We make assumptions based on preconceived factors moreso than on proven ones.  Or we do it just because it’s what we “think” vs. what we know.  Yet here are the problems with it all…

  1. Categorizing people is risky at best and discriminatory at worst.
  2. It assumes things that cannot nor should not be assumed.
  3. And without proven data, it lumps everyone in any category together, eliminating the fact that every person, with or without a diagnosis, is an individual.

Sure there may be similarities in certain situations – e.g. children with ADHD may have trouble focusing.  But not *every* child or teen has the same issues because they hold a similar diagnosis.   And a diagnosis alone does not mean that certain situations will develop or happen *because* of the diagnosis.

Parents of children with Asperger’s Syndrome know that their children face a daily world ripe with social situations and expectations that may be beyond their understanding or reach.  They also know that their children are bright, sensitive, creative, and move on to achieve in the worlds of academia, business, and beyond.  Descriptions may help to bring understanding, but I don’t know a single parent who would want to “define” their child by their looks, size, GPA, or diagnosis.  Parenting is tough enough.  Why make it tougher.


What Exactly Are We Measuring?

Last week, I came upon the Wired Business Conference during some late-night channel surfing.  I likely would have kept surfing yet there sat Marissa Mayer (a la Yahoo) speaking with a journalist during a sit-down interview.

While I clearly tuned in midway through the conversation, it was time enough to hear at least part of a discussion about her decision to end telecommuting for employees.  Yes, I know this issue has been discussed ad nauseum, but bear with me for a minute.

Stating yet again that it was the right decision for Yahoo and that the response from employees has been positive (sorry…but I’d like to see the data on this), she said:

“People are more productive when they work alone, but more collaborative and innovate when they work together.”

I sat up and said aloud, “What did she say?”  Doing some verbal mediation, I said aloud, wait…people are “more productive” when they work alone?  That sounds a lot like telecommuting to me, I thought, so if the goal in business is to measure productivity, doesn’t her decision then run counterintuitive to the goal?

Yes, I know innovation and creativity are the driving forces behind everything new…ideas, processes, systems.  Yet if a business is framing their operations on, let’s say, innovation, and people are developing all kinds of great ideas, how then does productivity against these new ideas occur?

It seems to me that business – including Yahoo – needs to clearly define how they are measuring success and then how they plan to achieve it.  There’s no question that many teams, by pooling their thinking and expertise, create innovation every day in the workplace.  There’s also no question that bringing that innovation into practice – the real, daily work – is often best achieved by individuals having the flexibility to do the work where they wish and without many of the “traditional” constraints that some organizations still seem to believe are applicable today.

The business world, and the people who comprise it, are far different today than they were 25 years ago.  Technology allows for productivity (and creativity) to occur anywhere and anytime.  It allows someone sitting in a coffee shop to figure out a solution to a problem or someone quietly sitting in their living room after their toddler is in for a nap to develop a new process.

It’s wrong and backward-facing to assume that innovation can only occur, or occurs best, when people are face-to-face.  Not only are there practical concerns including commuting, costs for childcare, and a host of other factors that create issues for employees, but many people struggle in a socially-charged work environment where their creativity and productivity suffer.  Distractions, personality conflicts, and environmental issues are just part of the challenges often overlooked.

Organizations need to not only recognize how innovation, creativity, and productivity really occur, but to understand that a diverse workforce means that a “one size fits all” approach simply doesn’t work.   Every business uses a different yardstick to measure success, yet I would venture to say that each uses their bottom-line to determine whether results are being achieved.

Every business has pain.  Something that’s not working, something that needs assessing, something that needs to be changed.  And it takes leadership (and guts) to institute change.  But stating in one breath that employees are more productive working alone yet in the next breath that no…they can no longer do so, does little to ease the pain.

A creative idea is only as good as its execution, and execution requires productivity…and flexibility.  So maybe Yahoo should be providing employees with the option to create together, not only at the office but at a local diner or in someone’s dining room – and to allow them to produce alone if they so choose.  Measuring business success takes far more than glaring at the bottom-line and watching the numbers climb upward … it takes understanding just who gets them there and how.


Snap Out Of It…

I love this line from the film “Moonstruck,” when Cher tells Nicholas Cage to snap out of it after he says he loves her (she is planning to marry his brother).  It’s a favorite that I often use when a particular topic arises.

The topic is labels and let me first say this…no one likes to be labeled anything.  Labels are restrictive and create barriers.  They convey things to others that are often incorrect and can be discriminatory.  But…they can also open doors and create avenues that may otherwise not be available to pursue.  And they also help to bring explanations and reason to things that may truly need clarity.

All this to say, it always confounds me when I hear a parent say that they know their child is struggling yet don’t want to have them evaluated.  My initial reaction is to empathize, saying that I understand that finding out “why” can be scary and overwhelming.  It taps into fears of the unknown, of what we may *think* we know about something, and of what finding out will really mean.  But it takes less than 10 seconds to move from an empathetic reaction to a “snap out of it” response mode.

No parent wants to think or be told that their child has autism.  Or is bipolar.  Or has ADHD.  What parent would ever want their child to be “labeled” no less to face the reality that others will know about it too.  What parent would wish therapies or being pulled out of class for support on their child.  None.  But parents who resist or refuse to “face the music” need to realize a few facts:

  1. They need to separate their own preconceived notions and “what if’s” from the realities facing their child.
  2. They need to recognize that every day, week, and month of delay is precious time wasted.
  3. They need to understand that the label is essential to securing the supports and services the child may need in school…and beyond.

When I hear a parent express their concerns, I ask whether they prefer speculation or knowing.  Whether the status quo is working.  Whether their child is on a trajectory of success or failure.  Of *course* every parent wants their child to be healthy and happy.  To get good grades, make friends, and be successful in the world.  These are foundational desires all parents share.

Yet many children have been struggling for years, taking a huge toll on the child in immeasurable ways.  Repeated “F’s” on tests can be seen (and can be devastating to the child), but it’s the things out of view – the sense of failure, of not feeling smart, of always having difficulties – these are the things that can take away a child’s desire to even try anymore.  And it doesn’t matter if the child is in 3rd Grade or is 15-years-old; feelings of despair accumulate and struggling saps the drive and hope for a better tomorrow out of the youngest of children.

Do parents who resist an evaluation and “label” think that the struggling is going to stop at will?  That the child is intentionally failing math, purposely not making friends, or planning to have behavioral issues in school?  Of course not.  And this is where the “snap out of it” message needs to be said…and heard.

It is incumbent upon parents of children for whom struggling defines their existence to put their own fears aside and mobilize.  With the end of the school year upon us, summer is the time to secure an evaluation and to plan for how to make things better in September and beyond. Yes, this may mean special education services, frequent meetings with school, and involvement of private clinicians and outside experts.  But which vision do you choose…pretending the issues don’t exist, hoping they’ll just go away with time, or telling your child that you’re now “on the case” and that things are going to improve?

A label is words.  Dyslexia.  ADD.  Asperger’s Syndrome.  They only have power if parents allow them to.  These words are also doorways to answers and strategies that will move the needle from failure to success, defined differently for every child.

If you happen to be one of the parents who have allowed your own fears to override getting the information – and diagnosis – your child needs, please…snap out of it.  Your child is depending upon you to do so.