Specialisterne Midwest, a local chapter of a global non-profit that trains and secures jobs for people on the autism spectrum, is re-branding to Mind Shift.
“We’ve had a number of businesses tell us it’s difficult to say, and it’s hard to find,” Jensen said. “We decided it’s time to do something about it.”
The Specialisterne name stems from the organizations Danish roots, and means “the specialists” in Danish. It works well in their other chapters overseas; they currently have offices in Scotland, England, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Switzerland and are headquartered in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Here in the U.S., however, the name was difficult to grasp.
“Our relationship with Specialisterne is staying exactly the same,” Jensen said. “We’re choosing to go with a more Americanized brand, with something that better speaks to what we do.”
Shifting the Paradigm
What they do, however, is often difficult for people to grasp as well. They are called Mind Shift for a reason, Jensen said; they are aiming to shift the mindset employers have towards autistic individuals, as well as shift how those on the autism spectrum view themselves.
“At the center place of what we do is shifting the paradigm, and the mindset of people who are employers and shifting the thoughts process of how they see value,” she said. “Our goal is to get the unique talents of people with autism into the job market.”
For instance, those with autism often have a unique ability to focus on high detail projects, she said. What Mind Shift does is zero in on those skills, strengthening them through a training that involves LEGO projects and a series of interviews. Individuals in their program are then paired with a partnership company as an employee. Mind Shift serves as the go-between, should any concerns arise.
Tony Thomann, executive director for Mind Shift, has worked to partner with companies both here in Fargo and in Minneapolis. Since launching in December 2014, they have grown to employ 17 people both on and off the autism spectrum, and partner with the Anne Carlsen Center, Appareo, Eide Bailly, Myriad Mobile, SkyBlue Technology, DogIDs, and Botlink. Many of their employees do work such as Quality Assurance, or large digitization projects that require meticulously inputting data into a system.
However, the process for shifting business’ mindset towards those in the autism spectrum has been slow-moving, Jensen said.
“The biggest roadblock we’re running into is changing the on-boarding process, getting businesses to be willing to think outside the resume,” she said.
Businesses often hire someone who can answer quickly, make witty remarks, and have great social tact, she said. For those on the autism spectrum, this is often extremely difficult; but it has no reflection on their ability to work quickly on detailed work.
“It’s getting a company to understand that a position with high-detail focus, is someone who will look very different in the interview,” she said.
One example she gave comes from their recent partnership with Eide Bailly. They hired a young man from Mind Shift to do 20 hours a week, doing a high-detail project. Turns out, the young man was able to do the work in 12 hours a week.
“Now they’re asking, can we clone this guy?” Jensen said. “Getting that one person in is often the only thing we need.”
As part of autism awareness month, Eide Bailly and Appareo are hosting a lunch and learn for Mind Shift on April 25, 2016.
This is a big step forward for the Mind Shift team; that two big companies are willing to publicly back their mission is definitely “a big vote of confidence,” Jensen said.
They hope to use the publicity to bring not just awareness, but positive conversation around their mission and towards those on the autism spectrum, Jensen said.
“There’s not a lot of conversation about the benefits of autism,” she said. “It gives us the opportunity have that positive conversation about value.”
Feature photo: Alex Lee works at Appareo Systems. Courtesy of Mind Shift.