D&I Series: Giraffe Story

Giraffe Story: Honoring Autism Awareness Month
By: Greg Jacobson

As part of our Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Initiative, members of ERPi write monthly blog posts exploring topics on diversity, inclusion, awareness, and education as it relates to our company, society, and the things that impact us personally. This month’s post reflects on Autism and Autism Awareness Month, which took place in April: what it is, signs and symptoms, available resources, and trends with Autism in the workplace. Our author, Greg Jacobson, serves as a Vice President for ERPi and shares a personal story and his experience from raising a son with Autism.

“As you fall asleep and think about your day you can’t believe how you went on a walk in a safari (trail by a creek in his nearby woods), jumped high enough to touch the sun (on his trampoline) and had Toodles fly above you (several toys pieces put together, held in the air to reenact scenes from Mickey Mouse), and out of nowhere you heard a tap on the window. It was Giraffe. He was excited to see you and you flung open the window, slid down Giraffe’s neck and went galloping down the street on your next adventure.” 

This start to one of our make-believe stories, by request, is how many of our evenings end. Just like any boy his age (5 years old) he loves animals with giraffes being at the top of the list. Also like most boys, he played hard all day and left it out in the field. Unlike 98.5% of other children, Owen is in the unique 1.5% that did so by fidgeting with his hands all day, running back and forth uncontrollably and only stopping, when prompted, to give you a smile that lights up the room and then keeps enjoying his sensory-focused world, comforted in knowing those he loves are nearby.

Owen is on the spectrum. He is highly functional and seeks out self-stimulation non-stop (also known as “stimming”).  I’m convinced, if he hadn’t stimmed throughout the day he would do so in his sleep (and maybe he does).  We’re blessed that we had our daughter, Olivia, before Owen as we were able to pick up on some of the early warning signs of things that were different. Not wrong, just different. His different, such as swatting his arm when he was a one year old and scratching someone’s eye, breaking a TV by throwing a toy at it just right, or constantly trying to bite when he was frustrated out of response of not knowing how to express what he was feeling.

Another blessing is raising a family in this area with the resources that are within our reach. No one knows how a child is born with autism. The top doctors here in this area believe that inflammation is a contributor. Some medical professionals who have made it their mission to not medicate rather treat, are making great advancements in this area through the use of supplements. It is noticeable as the use of seven or more twice a day has created space for Owen’s mind (and hands and feet) to slow down just enough to listen and learn. That’s where the incredible public school teachers who specialize in learning disabilities step in. They’re on the front lines with the parents taking on the scratches, slapping and biting in stride (different for every autistic child) to have that moment when they connect and can help a child unlock their gifts and advance in their development.

This is my family’s story about a boy who loves Giraffes and all the same things that every other five year cherishes, just with a little bit more of a sensory experience.  I have also seen firsthand the intense level of focus that can be achieved by autistic children of which I am confident will lead to Owen thriving and having a unique impact as an adult. We are seeing it in practice as businesses, such as Earnest & Young, Microsoft and Ford, are adapting and succeeding through employing adults with autism.  As a large business, I anticipate ERPi advancing in these areas as well.  Our culture of collaborating, serving others and achieving results creates these possibilities.

I appreciate ERPi’s D&I team creating this platform to share. Each autistic child’s story is unique.  For example, an employee shared with me recently about being a proud aunt of a wonderful 32-year old autistic nephew named Johnny.  Johnny is largely non-verbal, has difficulty with social interactions, reacts poorly to crowds, and hates loud noises.  While his autism presents many challenges, this employee has come to see the way that he approaches the world as so unique and positive.  He loves to read phone books, intrigued by the word sequences and numbers.  He has the biggest smile that can light up a room (just like Owen).  Johnny and Owen can help us better appreciate the differences that all of us bring to our daily lives and where we can contribute and have impact in our own unique and special ways.