Let me introduce you to a friend of mine. I’ll call him Mike to protect his privacy. Mike loves watching busy streets, listening to music, and playing video games. He doesn’t talk much, but when he does it’s about cars. He won’t stop until he’s shared all he knows about virtually every make and model since Henry Ford’s Model T from 1908. He reads books about them and he’s watched just about every movie and documentary there is about cars.
Needless to say, Mike is a car guru; a socially awkward car guru. All the shifting feet, watch-glancing, and looks of boredom are lost on him. Mike has Asperger’s Syndrome, the same syndrome that has made national headlines and come under recent scrutiny in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy.Mike is a car guru; a socially awkward car guru.
When Mike was a child, his parents were told to lower their expectations to avoid disappointment. His teachers were frustrated by his behavior and his obsession with odd details of seemingly useless information.
High school was simply a disaster. His peers poked fun at him day in and day out, and he quickly became the default butt of every nasty joke. He often escaped to the closest busy street and would sit for hours observing the cars that drove by.
That’s how I met Mike, leaning against a utility pole, scanning the traffic. After watching him for several minutes from the window of a coffee shop, I walked over to introduce myself and make sure he was ok. After he’d finished converting me into an expert on the automobile industry, I asked him, “Did you see any Chevy Silverados drive by? They’re my favorite car.” He answered immediately, “Yeah, 34 not counting the 9 GMC models that drove by.”
Today, Mike is 23 and lives at home with his parents. He has been written off by a society unwilling to notice his talents but quick to pinpoint his syndrome as the cause for a horrific tragedy without research or proof.
If Mike was a car salesman he would be the most honest and straightforward in the business. If Mike was a car journalist his assessments would be unbiased, frank, and very thorough. If Mike was an engineering technicianhis descriptions of the vehicle production process would be so clear that the accompanying drawings would seem redundant.
Yet, Mike still lives at home and has no job.If Mike was a car journalist his assessments would be unbiased, frank, and very thorough.
In truth, Mike is a myth. I made him up for this article. Well not really, because I know about 25 Mikes and I’m sure you know a Mike too. You might even be related to one. The 25 Mikes that I know are unique. They have different personalities, are talented in different areas, and have entirely different interests. But what they have in common is their unwavering honesty and non-judgmental nature. They show commitment, are hard workers, and pay close attention to detail when the subject appeals to them.
Through my work with The Friendship Circle I have met so many wonderful Mikes. Until now, we have focused on providing social opportunities to children and teens with special needs by connecting them with local teens who share similar interests, and together they have formed many genuine friendships. But to help change the Mike situation we are now launching an employment training and job skills center for young adults with special needs. We are starting with a thrift boutique to enable these underserved members of our community, like Mike, to focus on developing their interests and talents, while acquiring essential job skills and training in an inclusive environment which celebrates their individuality.
We want to give them jobs, a salary and a future. Not out of pity, but because we believe they are among the most qualified human beings on the planet. Stay tuned, because we’re going to prove it to you!