Author: Dr. Monica Y. Jackson, Ph.D. | February 2015
Kenneth James “Jim” Hoerricks is a lifetime learner who works hard to overcome what others consider normal. Loud noises, strong smells, bright lights and communicating with others are just a few things that make his life difficult and challenging, daily. During this interview, Jim had not slept for several days (due to the demands of his job) and sat on the floor in the dark as he responded to each question, because “my mind does not stop,” he said. This is just one way he learned to cope with being an adult with high-functioning autism. Unfortunately, Jim did not receive his diagnosis until he became an adult. It finally explained why he excelled academically, graduating near the top of his high school class, but received the lowest marks in citizenship. However, Jim is determined and will not allow this condition to prevent him from being productive, purposeful and passionate about being the best at whatever he does.
His above-average intelligence allowed him to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Leadership and a Master of Arts in the same discipline, only 11 months later. Today, you will find Jim working on his dissertation in pursuit of a Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Leadership. He decided to earn his doctoral degree online, where he can control his working environment and reduce the stresses. “If I want to do my homework with the lights out, I can. I cannot do this in a classroom,” he said. The online learning modality helps to level the playing field and make higher education accessible for students who may not be able to attend a face-to-face class.
I was told that I failed the hearing test.
I actually heard more than the test
allowed for, and confused the proctor
Through this interview, Life Skills Enterprise aims to help individuals, generations and society increase their awareness, sensitivity and tolerance of individuals who are living with disabilities. Additionally, the goal is to provide input to the higher education system to improve the system and better meet the needs of all students.
Jim finds solace in the workplace with a coworker who has the same diagnosis. Both understand when they need to be alone, when the environment has become too stressful and overwhelming and when they are “one meltdown from being fired,” says Jim. When asked the following questions, Jim responded as follows:
Tell our audience about you – personally, professionally and academically.
I am married. My wife and I have five children. Our daughter is autistic. We homeschool our children. I teach them math and science. I work for the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) as a Senior Forensic Multimedia Analyst, where I process surveillance videos for the media and serve as an expert witness. I travel the world, teaching officers and civilians to do what I do. In 2001, I established the LAPD’s first multimedia lab. I am an occasional adjunct professor at my Alma Mater, in the School of Business. I operate a consulting firm, specializing in forensic audio, video and imaging.
You have had some challenges during your life’s journey, but you are also a pillar of strength and determination. Tell our audience about them.
My parents divorced when I was very young. My aunt and uncle adopted me when I was 4-1/2-years-old and raised me in a biracial family. School was excruciatingly boring. I would complete my work quickly, in minutes, while it took my peers much longer. My boredom contributed to my behavior problems. I have always loved sports.
In fact, I was offered a Navy ROTC scholarship that I lost because I failed the hearing test. During the test, I was given earphones and a button to push when I heard sounds. I pushed the button anytime I heard the sound. The technician told me to stop joking around, because I was pushing the button when there was not supposed to be any sound. I was hearing the “lead up tones.” My hearing senses are heightened. Therefore, I can hear what others may not hear. I actually heard more than the test allowed for, and confused the proctor.
When I graduated from high school, I graduated towards the top of my high school class, 25 out of 489; yet, I was not prepared, academically, to attend college
When I graduated from high school, I graduated towards the top of my high school class, 25 out of 489; yet, I was not prepared, academically, to attend college. I did not take foreign language classes. Because of this, I could not attend UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles). I also received five football scholarship offers, which I had to decline for the same reason. I had to go with my third option, which was to attend a community college.
There is nothing wrong with attending a community college.
However, it is when you have the aptitude to attend a
top university, but cannot because you were not properly advised
Dr. Jackson: This is where the system failed Jim. He went through high school only meeting the high school graduation requirements. High school counselors did not advise him on the classes that he needed to enroll in college, nor did they take an interest in or guide him to prepare for life after high school. As a result, he enrolled at Long Beach City College. There is nothing wrong with attending a community college. However, it is when you have the aptitude to attend a top university, but cannot because you were not properly advised. That’s not something that someone at the top of the class should have to experience. The system needs reexamine its practices.
As a higher education administrator, I find this treatment extremely alarming and unacceptable. The system failed Jim. Often children’s only way out of poverty is to rely on the educational system for guidance. Personally, if it was not for a high school math teacher and college-prep advisor telling me, “you will go to college” and making sure I met all requirements, it would not have happened. I was the first person in my family to graduate from college and would have never considered or known about college without my high school teachers and staff who took a personal interest in me and recognized my potential.
Furthermore, I grew up in an area once referred to as South Central Los Angeles. I did not know anyone in my neighborhood or church who attended college. This was in the early 1980s. Jim is nearly 10 years younger than I am. Yet, the education system failed him greatly and limited his opportunities. When I teach at a college or university, or mentor doctoral students, I see many underprepared students, not because they do not have what it takes to succeed, but because they do not have the knowledge to succeed. Lack of knowledge increases attrition rates and oppresses the underserved. This is one reason educational institutions must reexamine its practices.
I see many underprepared students, not because they do not have what
it takes to succeed, but because they do not have the knowledge to succeed.
Share how you overcame and/or are overcoming your challenges?
People cannot see my disability and don’t realize that it exists unless I declare it. If they cannot see it, then it is nonexistent. Language and communication was a barrier. It was uncomfortable for me to stand in front of people. I had difficulty communicating. Environments were difficult. I am sensitive to bright lights, touch, smells and noises. People are not used to high functioning autistics. They are used to those who sit in a corner and rock back and forth. The only example that some people have of an individual with autism is the Rain Man character [played by Dustin Hoffman]. To concentrate in this interview, I am sitting on the floor in a dark room.
What are the misconceptions that you believe society has about people with disabilities and how do you personally respond to them?
Society has stereotyped us. Autism is a spectrum and you cannot put people in the same category. People are different. It’s not fair to hold everyone to the same standards. I try to make people aware of our needs.
What are your viewpoints about how people with disabilities are labeled and treated?
People with disabilities are generally treated poorly. There is no awareness about people with autism. Society thinks that we do not have worth and tells us to sit in a corner. In the K- 12 system, there is support for students with disabilities – IEP (Individualize education plan). However, there is nothing available to us after graduating from high school. On college and university campuses, there are all sorts of student organizations, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender), African American, Hispanic and others, but you will rarely, if ever, find a group for individuals with autism. There is no mandated structural support for us after high school.
Other countries accept people with disabilities to serve in the military; America does not. We can still do things. Let go of control. It will get done. Help us. Get out of our way. Eliminate the warrior mentality – all or nothing. We can serve our country too.
Don’t be afraid. Get out of your own way. Be proud of
what you can do, even if it is only one thing
What would you say to others who have a disability to encourage them in their personal, professional and academic lives?
Don’t be afraid. Get out of your own way. Be proud of what you can do, even if it is only one thing. Don’t compare yourself to others. When I was told that I could not attend a university, it was because I had not met the foreign language requirement. Since then, I have learned three different languages.
What do you see as the greatest need, in education, for individuals with disabilities?
Get away from the one size fits all mentality. Teach culture, facts and the truth. Give students space to grow. I did a study on learning and found that students learn for 10 to 12 minutes then goof off. So you can homeschool for two hours, get the work done and then do what you enjoy doing for the rest of the day. This is especially important to individuals with autism. Just teach kids. Just love kids. Professors need to care about students more.
You are currently working on your dissertation. Tell us about it and why you selected this topic? What do you want to see changed as a result of your dissertation?
My dissertation is solving a business problem. The goal is to help things go right for individuals pursuing higher education and who have been diagnosed with autism. Individuals in higher education leadership need to understand what causes individuals with autism to either withdraw from their institution and transfer elsewhere or leave school completely. Maslow’s Hierarchy is essential in this understanding. We need to feel safe in environments. If were are claustrophobic or being overwhelmed with sensory input, then our safety needs are not being met in a classroom setting. Awareness and meeting the needs are desired results.
Our motto is “Learn It, Build It, Inspire It, Model It, Promote It, Love It … LIFE.” What are your thoughts and how does your life align with this motto?
It means to always learn something new. If it’s not there, build it. Show that I can do it. Model it to others. I am modeling it to my kids. I’m promoting it on Instagram. Sometimes I love life and sometimes I don’t.
By giving the underserved a voice and increasing awareness, Life Skills Enterprise aims to put an end to individuals who are being failed by the system and feeling like they are one meltdown from being fired.♦