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Neurodiversity in Cybersecurity - Doug Blecher
Episode 75th January 2021 • NeuroSec • Nathan Chung
00:00:00 00:24:39

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Neurodiversity is often associated with children, but adults with the same condition are often left out and ignored. Nathan Chung interviews Doug Blecher, founder of the Autism Personal Coach. We discuss difficult issues facing Neurodiverse people today and explore how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted people. Doug also shares tips to help cope and weather this storm. If you work in IT or Cybersecurity, listen and be inspired.



Hi, welcome to the NeuroSec podcast, where we unite people and organizations to support and advance Neurodiverse people in cybersecurity and beyond. My name is Nathan Chung. And today my special guest is Doug Blecher, founder of Autism Personal Coach. Welcome, Doug.


Thanks. Thanks so much for having me, Nathan.


First, I want to thank you. Neurodiverse conditions such as Autism are often associated with children while older adults such as myself are often ignored. What led you to create a service to help teens and adults and what services do you offer?


Well, about 20 years ago, I started working with kids in their home and in the community. And I did that for about seven or eight years. And I loved working with the kids and supporting them and in the best way I could. And then I started to think well, what happens when these kids become 15 20 25 years of age, and so on. So right around that time I was living in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the Autism Society of Greater Cincinnati contacted me and said, hey, Doug, how would you like to run our adult support group for those on the spectrum, and I thought, oh, perfect timing, I was just thinking about this. So I, I ran the group for about three years, and I loved every minute of it, learning from those in the group, but it just acted as a support group, in the sense that people would come to the group, they would be talking about employment. They'd be talking about wanting to develop friendships I'm dating, my parents are annoying me, I want to move out of my house. You know, like things that you think about when you become an adult. And so I would give some feedback to them and the other Autistic group members would and I felt like they would leave the group and they, you know, they were going to make move forward in their life. And then, but what I realized they come back to the group two weeks later, and a lot of times, they'd be in a very similar place. And I thought, Oh, these adults need support, just like children do, just in different ways, you know, different different things. So that's kind of where the idea to start Autism personal coach, where we provide coaching to teens and adults to kind of help them with their daily overwhelm and get the things that they want and need need in their lives. So when we started out eight years ago, it was strictly in person coaching. Over time, it's moved to more Zoom coaching, oftentimes with the video sometimes with not, sometimes people don't like using the video. So now while we're providing services locally here in person in Ohio, we've now been able to reach out beyond Ohio, through providing people support throughout the United States and and beyond.


That is amazing. Thank you. Thank you for all that. And add to this COVID. The COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest health crisis in our current world history during this point in history. Can you share how people with Autism have been affected by the pandemic and also any basic tips for people who are suffering?


at to be here in the start of:


Yep, totally agree. The other destructive aspect of the pandemic is how much the COVID-19 pandemic has destroyed marriages, leading to a spike in divorces globally. I, myself and recently separated. For Autistic people that struggle with social relationships, I can imagine the devastation, the divorces, the broken homes and hardships. What advice do you have for Autistic people who are suffering?


It's a great question. It's a it's a tough question to answer. I guess what I would say maybe starting out, is figuring out what you need. And if you're maybe not sure, like, well, Doug, I don't know what I need. You know, especially with dealing with the, with the pandemic. You know, reaching out to your support network, and trying to have those communications and when I say communication, it doesn't necessarily have to be verbal, most of communication is not verbal. So having those communications with your support network, and talking about, like, what you need, because if you're not going to be right, like your relationship with your partner, with your friends, with your family members, maybe you have to now move back in with your, with your parents, or siblings. Those relationships are going to be challenged if you can't figure out what you need. And in this time period, you know, all of our routines have been, you know, dramatically affected. And figuring out, you know, developing that new routine that works for you, doesn't matter if they if you know, it has to work for you first and thinking about self care in that routine. And self care can be a lot of different things. It's not just making sure you brush your teeth, or make your bed. I don't think I make my bed very often. Sometimes it could be just be like, look, you know, if it's enjoyable to you just to be looking up at the clouds and watching the clouds or playing with your with your pet. Or going for a hike. You know, so making sure you know routine self care, I think those are really important. And once you kind of maybe figure those things out, finding a way to communicate those things with your partner, and maybe talking about communication patterns that you currently are having that might not be working so well and how you can kind of improve that for for both of you.


That's great advice. Another thing that affects workers even today is burnout. I myself, I work in Cybersecurity and workers in Cybersecurity and tech fields often work long hours and they will get exhausted and just burnout. In my experience, this is even harder on workers who who have Neurodiverse conditions such as Autism. What tips do you have to address burnout?


Well, I recently heard someone maybe it was like six months, nine months ago, I don't remember when but they talked about that how every Autistic person is going to experience burnout or most Autistic people at some point in their lives. So like thinking about Cybersecurity, and hearing the long work hours about that, hearing that there's burnout in some form does not seem shocking at all. In fact, it's very predictable that that would that would happen.


Yep, it's hard.


Yeah. So I would say you know, kind of going back to Spoon Theory and doing things that can replenish you and trying to be proactive in in those things. And, you know, plan try to plan to be proactive, but you know, I know those things can be really difficult because there can be executive functioning challenges that kind of get in the way, but definitely do things that replenish you and really try to think about your eating and your hydration and your sleeping habits and how those things are going to affect you. You know, even doing all those things, you you still may, you know, burn out with those long hours. And you might need to like kind of look at, you know, the work culture and say, hey, is this a good fit for for me or not? Is this the right workplace for me? You know, is traditional employment the right thing for me? I'm an entrepreneur. You know, it's, it's, it's a, it's a hard road to go. But for me, it's, I can't imagine doing traditional employee employment and dealing with a boss or supervisor while that boss or supervisor might be great. I'm sure there's some things I would disagree with it. And I might have a difficult time accepting those things, though. So yeah, I think just thinking about all those things, it's a complicated answer. But I think some of those, those are some of those things to kind of consider.


Yep, totally agree. And you brought up a very good point, because I, like I talked about the traditional workplaces, it will, it will not work, it will not work for everyone. Because one example and another area where Autistic people often struggle is with social events. Because usually at the traditional workplaces, before COVID, especially teams would go out and celebrate at happy hours or sporting events. An autistic person would often struggle at such events, experiencing sensory overload, communication difficulties, or outright meltdowns. I've experienced those myself. Problem is the social interactions at such events, especially at a traditional organization, they are the keys to advance and get promoted. What would you recommend in that case?


I'd say happy hours are the worst. Are people really ever happy at these events? I mean, other than the alcohol that people are consuming, like does, do people really want to go to these things? I don't know. But I guess I would say is if you have to go to the this thing, and you do want to keep your current job, where you're at, and this is is a key component to the workplace culture, thinking about kind of going back to the planning piece, what can you do to not be overwhelmed or crease your overwhelm? Or when you get overwhelmed, like, figuring out like, what's your exit strategy or plan to take breaks? Can you bring some fidgets with you? Can you bring some noise cancelling, you know, like earbuds, you know, things to put in your ears, you know, things that, you know, I've known some people that will, like, bring, like certain scents that kind of decrease their overwhelm kind of like the aroma therapy type of thing. Are there things you can kind of do like, right before you walk into the, these happy hours? Definitely coming up with scripts to maybe have to, you know, to talk with people to decrease your anxiety. Scripts to kind of get the heck out of there with like, you know, there's nothing more I could do. I'm about to be completely overwhelmed. I mean, definitely the bathroom breaks. Even if you don't have to use the bathroom, right? It's okay to say, I'll be right back, I gotta use the bathroom, if that can kind of decrease your overwhelm. I also think maybe like, if you're never been to a new displace, that's going to be at this happy hour, check out their website. Check out the location before going to this happy hour, and maybe finding spaces that will be a little bit less overwhelming there. I also think that, you know, disclosure is a tricky thing. You know, in some places, you know, it's like, well, maybe I'm not going to be able to do it. But are there are some opportunities for disclosure that can that you could have with supervisors or your boss that maybe could make these situations a little bit less, less stressful.


Those are amazing tips Doug, and it's the first time I heard of those. I think tips like that are very important to get out to get out there. Now, besides the Autism, Autism Personal Coach, you also host two other podcasts, Autism Stories and the Info Dump Files. From your podcast, do you have any success stories to share?


Well, and actually I'm I am so crazy starting a third podcast tomorrow called intersections on the Spectrum. So, yeah, so, three, three podcasts. Why would anyone do three podcasts?




Well, well, kind of getting back to your questions. I think there's a lot of important important stories about people on the spectrum that are essential to share. So I always think every person that I get to interview every Autistic person that comes on my podcast, every Autistic person that I coach, every Autistic person out there is successful, I think. And I say that because we're living in an ableist world, that does not support the unique talents and needs and skills of Autistic and Neurodivergent folks. So I think just kind of living in that space and kind of surviving, and hopefully thriving, is is a is a success story. But I guess what, I guess, two people that I guess I would highlight from my original podcast, Autism Stories where we have little over, I guess, the 105th episode launched today.


Oh my.


Yeah, it's hard to believe it goes by quick. But the two people that I've interviewed on multiple times on there that have become my co hosts on my other two podcasts. Definitely, I definitely would say they are tremendous success stories. The first is Becca, Laurie Hector, who teaches a self defined living course for Autistic people, a path to a quality Autistic life.




Yeah, she is awesome. You should reach out to Becca, you could find her on LinkedIn and I could connect you with her. She she would be a great person to talk to on your podcast. I think, you know, providing, you know, courses like that, you know, the coaching that we provide things that she does, I think they're, you know, so essential to Autistic and Neurodivergent folks that saying success is not necessarily determined by Neurotypical people and what the Neurotypical and American Dream is supposedly look like. You know, I think that success is determined on you as an Autistic as a Neurodivergent person. What you feel is most important, and I think Becca's course really helps with that. I guess the other person that my other co host, starting with this intersections on the spectrum podcast, Kelly Bron Johnson, who is the founder of Completely Inclusive, which works with businesses to be more inclusive, for those with disabilities as those with different cultural backgrounds. So, you know, she's taken the route of not traditional employment, and so fortunate to know the both of them. And I don't know why they agreed to co host podcast with me, but I'm very fortunate that they have done so.


That's amazing. And I think their work is totally important. Because the unfortunate part is people with Neurodiverse conditions such as Autism and ADHD, there are often seen negatively without any consideration of their strengths, and amazing talents. This is just a negative stigma. I like to use that kind of X-Men analogy. People think you're different. It's bad. Like, that is so crazy. And it's almost like people are being oppressed because they cannot go out and be themselves. What can be done to reverse this negative stigma so that people who are Neurodiverse can be free to be themselves without fear?


So I always have such a simple answer to start out with this, but for some reason, our society just has not caught on yet. And that is it's a very simple thing you could do. It something that's free of, of, you know, there's no cost involved, and it's just listening to Autistic and Neurodivergent people and say, well, I don't know any Autistic or Neurodivergent people. Well, yes, you do. You know those people in your lives. And if you're not, and if you're not sure that you know those people, well, there's this thing called the Internet. And you either pay for Wi-Fi, or maybe you could go somewhere like a library that has Wi Fi and you can easily go online and find social media accounts. You there's so many podcasts, you can listen to the NeuroSec podcast, you know, you could listen to you know, my podcast, Autism Stories, or you can just, you know, just, you know, go on Instagram or go on LinkedIn and type in the hashtag, actually autistic. And you can find, find those people and just listen to what they have to say. And if you're not wanting to spend much time on social media, then invite them to a conference that you're hosting, whether it's an Autism or Neurodiverse conference. Invite them to your business to speak, invite them to your school, to speak with your teachers, your therapist, your students. Invite them to your religious institution, or invite them anywhere and everywhere that you exist. And I also think another important piece of this was probably in the last year, I was watching a film called Disclosure, which is basically talking about the the analysis of Hollywood's impact on the transgender community. And many of the trans actors were talking about how important seeing someone like you, on screen, portrayed in a positive light, because for so long, there's been so many negative portrayals of, of trans people. So but when you see those positive portrayals of yourself, it is so impactful, and empowering. And we're starting to see more of those portrayals of Autistic people in media. So I'd like to see, continue to see more of those positive portrayals and see those portrayals specifically from Autistic and Neurodivergent actors, they're out there, they're very good. They just need opportunities, and they are going to be the ones to portray, I think these characters in the best possible minds, mindset and light and I think, showing, you know, Autistic children, Autistic teens and Neuro, Neurotypical people, these characters, on on film, I think, is, is really important to reducing this negative stigma in our society.


Hmm, I totally agree that it really is very important. And also the big question that some people might, might have for you is. The big question, of course, why? Because when you think about it. In our society, when people think like Autism, ADHD, they think disabled, and people would rather go out and have fun so that that'd be the question for you. Like, why help people when you can go out and have fun what, what drives your passion to help?


Well, I mean, my passion to help is kind of like, I mean, it's it's way way back for me, I don't know, it's kind of always been my passion in life is, you know, I'm a, and I don't know why this I, I've never really understood like why I've always felt this way. But I've always even back to when I was a little kid, maybe seven or eight years old, thought that I and I didn't really like intellectualize it back then. But I've always known that I have had that I have had privilege and opportunities that other people have had. And when I say privilege, I think of privilege for myself is that I'm a white sis male. And there is that privilege there that a lot of people do not have. And it really bothers me that people do not get the same opportunities that I have, just because you know, of those privileges that I have. So I think that's what drives me to make sure that people with disabilities, people of color, people from the LGBT community are getting the same opportunities that you know that I have.


Yep. And thank you for all your help, because they're just, there's just so many people out there who are not getting the help they need so amazing. It's really amazing what you do. Thank you,


Nathan, thanks so much. I really appreciate you thinking of me and inviting me on your show today.


Yeah. Thank you. Thank you Doug. Have a great day.