Life for autistic people is something that most folks can’t comprehend, no matter how hard they try. While so many on the autism spectrum are high-functioning people with jobs and normal relationships, many are not, often making day-to-day life a struggle in many ways.
When Kyle decided he was on a mission to ease the lives of people in similar situations to him, he knew right from the get-go that he would stop at nothing to reach his goal. He had no idea, however, just how massive it would be…
At just 28, Kyle has already achieved more in his life than most 50-year-olds. Since he was a toddler, Kyle has had a vision; one he holds very close to his heart. For Kyle it was always just a matter of time before he put the intricate plan in his mind into action.
Kyle’s life is pretty normal day-to-day, even if it isn’t what you’d call “run of the mill.” Being autistic means that Kyle doesn’t quite experience life like other people do. However, the flip side of that coin is that he also possesses some uncanny talents and skills that your average Joe simply doesn’t possess…
Speaking frankly, the new virtual learning program, headed up and directed by the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas, is all that Kyle really thinks about these days. He hates the fact that the real world is out of reach in so many ways for autistic people, so he decided he was going to do something about it; something radical and life-changing.
The program which Kyle has basically dedicated his life to is called Charisma; an apt name indeed. The ground-breaking program aims to assist autistic adults and to help them improve their perception when it comes to social cues, which they achieve through real conversations but in a virtual setting.
What To Do With Them?
Kyle is acutely aware of the various stigmas that surround autistic people like him; in a world which doesn’t “know what to do with them,” in Kyle’s words; he no longer wants for people like him to be sidelined or ignored by society.
It took Kyle two years of interviews before he found a job after graduating from the University of Texas at Dallas. Many accused him of not being suitable, while others claimed he clearly wasn’t on the autistic scale at all,”They still have this very Rain Man image of autism,” he said…
Kyle is a person who wants to make the world a better place, and he works tirelessly to that end. After taking a job as a staff instructor at the nonPareil Institute, teaching life skills to adults with autism, Kyle hopes that he can help others to fulfill their potential as he has.
On The Spectrum
“I liken being on the spectrum to sort of being separated by a chain link fence,” Kyle said. “You can see through the links. You can see the larger world. You can stick your hands through the links. You can kind of feel it. You can smell it, taste and all that. But if you try to climb that fence, you find there’s barbed wire at the top. And that’s what it feels like.”
Smart But Jobless
Due to the stigmas associated with autism Kyle initially came to the Plano Center four years ago. At that time he was jobless, even though he had graduated with honors from the UTD with a degree in psychology. Kyle then saw the need to help other people in similar situations to himself.
Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism spectrum disorder, the technical name for those on the scale, have some serious issues as a community. The fact that only 14% of them held regular jobs in 2014, that situation has only gotten worse over the past few years. To Kyle’s mind, those levels of unemployment for autistic people is “abhorrent,” and needs to be changed…
Daniel Faso, director of program engagement at Plano, confirmed that the organization is strictly non-discriminatory, “We try to not distinguish when we’re talking about someone. Whether they’re on the spectrum or not is not the primary piece of who they are,” he said.
As is often the case with autistic people; they are extremely smart but possess little if no social skills. Kyle’s mother Jill brimmed about her boy, saying, “Kyle has a lot to offer. If he could just get a chance,” she said, adding, “He’s very brilliant. I say that as a mother, but he is very smart.”
Kyle joins countless others whose parents had no idea their kids were on autistic scale. In Kyle’s case, he was only diagnosed when he reached college. Nevertheless, his mom saw the signs early. As Kyle was home-schooled though, it was hard for Jill to see how he would interact with other kids his own age.
For Kyle, when it came to going for job interviews, the anxiety that his condition caused was something that he described at the time as a “physical pain inside.” Jill recalls, “I knew it was tough for him, but I did not realize it was that much of a hardship.”
Being a big movie lover, Kyle decided he would design his very own movie theater but with one catch; it’s all on his computer screen and exists only in the virtual world. The program emulates social situations and puts autistic people in situations virtually, such as ordering a drink at a bar or having a job interview.
Tandra Allen who heads up the virtual training programs at BrainHealth, explained that while the program is virtual, the content is very real, “Nothing is scripted or artificial, but it’s real people having real conversations as a practice in this game-like setting,” she said…
Small Group Tests
Before the program can be rolled out properly, tests need to be carried out to make sure they get it just right. That’s why the university is testing the program, which is already a decade in the making, on a small group of students so they can tweak and perfect the systems.
Probably the biggest issue autistic people face is meeting new people and then being able to read social cues properly. As Allen explained, these people struggle with things like common courtesies and empathy, among other issues…
The test phase of the program to date has been effective and already thrown up some positive results. The participants are able to improve their emotional recognition of sensitive things and understand other people’s intentions better. According to Allen, the program also promotes confidence among the people who took part so far.
Never Too Late
According to Kyle, if only this type of program would have been available years ago, middle school would have been, “a heck of a lot easier.” However, even Kyle agrees that it’s never too late; in his own words, “I wanted to give people hope, show them that, ‘Hey, they can make it,’” he said. “A lot of people come here dejected. They just feel like they don’t have any place to go.”