Sep 21, 2011 0 Share

The Dandelion Model


Close-up of dandelion seeds with water droplets.
iStockphoto

Danish entrepreneur Thorkil Sonne—father of an Aspie—has set up a firm, Specialisterne, so that Aspies can have better work opportunities. At Specialisterne, Aspies test software, build computer programs, enter data and do other things that take advantage of Aspies' typical strengths.

Sonne's Specialist People Foundation uses the "Dandelion Model" to show how Aspies—while admittedly different in ways that upset some people—deserve to be accepted. Sonne points out in this summer's Autism Advocate magazine that while some people consider the dandelion just a weed to be exterminated, those who like dandelions can use them for salad, beer, wine, coffee and natural medicine.

So why not—to borrow a bit from Mao Tse Tung—let a hundred dandelions bloom? The Specialist People Foundation itself gives a clue—its logo is a single dandelion seed. Dandelions spread their seeds willy-nilly.

We can decide for ourselves that dandelions are good. But when we grow them outside without our neighbors' consent, we're deciding that for the neighbors too. Something people tend to frown upon.

Similarly, Aspie traits—like other human traits—often affect others. For example, if you have difficulty multitasking that could mean others sometimes have to wait until you've completed one task before they can even talk to you about another. If you need a workplace free of distractions that may mean getting your own office space while others have to share—and which they may not even be able to walk near. If you have difficulty in framing your responses politely enough that can mean your employer always has to have someone else work with clients. It may also mean that your co-workers have to do all the emotional work of softening your expressions for you as they listen to you. . .and may still remain a less cohesive team because the easy, natural give-and-take is gone.

The Dandelion Model gives us a solution. The requirements include clearly discussing what is needed. That can extend to negotiating mutually acceptable solutions—not just catering to the Aspie. For example, an Aspie who has difficulty multitasking can agree to check her email at regular points throughout the day, and colleagues can email her their requests. Someone who needs a minimum of distraction may go to an out-of-the-way room a few times a day to work—preferably with his boss and co-workers knowing the phone number there so they can call him if needed. An Aspie who has difficulty speaking tactfully can study books and even take coaching in interpersonal skills, while his workmates may be briefed that his direct expressions are not necessarily meant negatively and asked to tolerate his bluntness up to a point (and praising any especially tactful expressions of his may help too).

If the Aspie's boss and co-workers know that she is doing her bit to lighten the load on everyone, that really helps. On the road to accommodation, everything goes faster when it's a two-way street.

Last but not least, one kind of accommodation is careful career selection. Everyone—including Aspies—needs to take a good, hard look at one's own strengths and weaknesses. No job is for everybody, and nobody can do every job. For example, Aspies (and many NTs) who like to control situations may initially be attracted to teaching; they need to realize that effective teachers have to make their students want to learn, and in fact have to deal with all sorts of individual needs and personalities. That means making a special effort to understand each student, and that goes far beyond taking in the facts that they say in so many words. Aspies can learn to do these things—but those who for whatever reason haven't got what it takes need to pick a different career.