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Portfolios Can Open Job and College Opportunities

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Autism Asperger’s Digest | May/June 2013


With today’s smartphones, it is really easy for the individual with ASD, parents, and teachers to carry a portfolio.

Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) need to get creative and find ways to discover employment or educational opportunities without going through the traditional front-door route of interviews or entrance exams. I never sold a single design job in my cattle equipment design business by doing an interview; I sold jobs by showing a portfolio of my work to the managers of packing plants and feedlots. I learned early in my career that if I showed drawings and photos of my work to the right person, I could get a job.

When I was first starting out, everybody thought I was a weird nerd, but I got respect when I showed off my drawings. I got into the Swift & Company meat plant in the early 1970s because I met a lady who liked the shirt I had embroidered by hand. She turned out to be the wife of the plant’s insurance agent. I was wearing my portfolio and I did not realize it! You never know where you may meet the person who can open the door for you.

Put Your Portfolio on Your Phone

With today’s smartphones, it is really easy for the individual with ASD, parents, and teachers to carry a portfolio. The portfolio can contain pictures of art, drawings, computer programming, samples of creative writing, mathematics, and many other things.

In many situations, there is a backdoor but many people fail to see it. One secret is networking with the right person. That person could be a retired engineer, a lady in the choir, or the man in line at the supermarket checkout aisle. This is why your portfolio must always be with you. Countless times I have had young people on the spectrum tell me that they have been turned away at the “front door.” I have talked to many talented individuals, but most of them failed to have their portfolio with them, or their portfolio was messy with poor work mixed in with their good work.

Technology Is a Backdoor

The secret is to show either your own work or your child’s work to the right person. Today’s social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn make it even easier to find the person who can open the backdoor and circumvent the front-door interview or admissions process. Wikipedia has a list of social networking websites. Use the keywords social networking websites to locate appropriate sites.

Access Higher Education

Kristine Barnett, a mother of a young boy with autism, found that her son was going nowhere in a special education classroom. He was bored and exhibited challenging behaviors. She started taking him to a local observatory where he could look through a telescope and listen to fascinating lectures. She bought him advanced books on astronomy, and he learned algebra in elementary school. Kristine recognized the need to keep Jake in a regular elementary school class so he could learn social skills. To prevent boredom, he was allowed to read his higher-level math books when the other children were doing arithmetic. When Jake was eight, Kristine called an astronomy professor at the local university and asked if Jake could sit in on a lecture. Jake impressed the professor with his knowledge, and other professors became interested in him. Jake quickly advanced through college math and physics classes. Jake’s story is an excellent example of getting in the backdoor.

Make It Easy for Others to Help

Every week I receive numerous inquiries from people on the spectrum, parents, and teachers who are begging for help. The problem is that many of them make it difficult for me to reach them. I get letters where the only contact information is on the envelope, and I cannot read it. I get emails that do not have phone numbers and postal addresses. You must include complete information if you want to get through to a busy person. You need to make it easy to contact you. Correspondence is often answered on weekends by busy people so give your cell phone number. Due to viruses, many people will not open a strange email attachment, so you need to establish contact via the phone or email first.

After seeing a person’s strong portfolio, a top professor in math, art, physics, or creative writing who believes in that student will find a way to get him into the university even though that student may have failed in other academic areas. Individuals have been accepted into good college programs because they showed their portfolio to the right professor.


Temple Grandin, PhD, is an internationally respected specialist in designing livestock handling systems. She is the most noted high-functioning person with autism in the world today. To learn more, visit www.templegrandin.com.


Barnett, Kristine. 2013. The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius. New York: Random House.


Copyright © Autism Asperger’s Digest. 2013. All Rights Reserved. Distribution via print is prohibited without written permission of publisher.

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