Updated: Aug 20
In honor of Autism Awareness Month this April, we'd like to highlight an artist who has been directly impacted by autism spectrum disorders. Michael Andolsek, a 29 year old fashion designer who studied at Parsons The New School For Design in Paris, France. At 21 years old, Andolsek returned from school in Paris to his hometown in Salt Lake City, Utah where he was then diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders at the University of Utah Neuropsychiatric Institute. Autism research studies, highlight the importance of early diagnosis between the ages of 0 and 5 years old as the most crucial ages for receiving intervention and optimizing the quality of life for these individuals. Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) is defined as a lifelong condition that is typically diagnosed in late infancy or early childhood, and is characterized by social and communication deficits that hinder optimal functioning. Despite widespread research and increased public awareness, ASD has an unknown cause and no known cure, making it often challenging to obtain an accurate and timely diagnoses (Elder et. al., 2017).
Nonetheless, receiving a late diagnosis was not a barrier for the Andolsek family, as Michael was fortunate to receive medical treatment for his diagnosis, and continues to excel in his dressmaking and designs as featured on andolsek.com. His ready-to-wear fashion line features "high-end women's clothing with sparkle and pizazz." Andolsek described the looks as "sophisticated," and remarks that "its fun to see a well dressed woman." Taking it a step further, his website currently features a variety of hand-made brooches manufactured by a group of employees with autism as is fitting for Andolsek's social initiative. He places emphasis on hiring individuals on the spectrum as current rates of unemployment for this population are at 80%! That's right... you read it correctly, 80% of adults with autism spectrum disorders are unemployed. Experts at the University of Utah say 80% of adults with autism don't have jobs. "They're not comfortable searching for jobs and employers are not comfortable recruiting them." Andolsek utilizes his social platform to push for the creative abilities of people with autism by hiring them as employees. He explains that it is easier for him to work this way as these individuals likely share the same sensory sensitivities in the workplace. Although an Andolsek employee doesn't have to have autism, it is ideal for working alongside the talented Mr. Andolsek who also says, "I don't like to talk to people; like at all." According to PBS Utah, The Andolsek Company hires interns and fosters a safe environment for individuals on the spectrum to work, explore, and learn about the fashion industry.
Michael Andolsek was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders at the age of 21, but received speech therapy in his early years. Speech & Language therapy along with Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) are common clinical therapies used in order to mitigate the impact of autism and behavioral disorders. As you can imagine, a disorder characterized by social and communication deficits may evoke the likelihood of an individual needing to engage in some nonverbal behaviors in order to achieve their goals. While Michael Andolsek does not like to speak, he certainly must communicate in some form to achieve his level of success. Although not cited as an interventionist Andolsek sought after, Behavior Analysts (BCBA) are clinical specialists who use the methods of applied behavior analysis to systematically improve the quality of life for individuals with autism.
ABA is a scientific method to understanding behavior. Based upon the principles of operant and respondent conditioning, as illustrated in our first blogpost here, BCBAs utilize experimental methods to enhance behaviors that are socially significant. Like finding a job at 18 years old, for example, a behavior analyst may support an individual with this task by identifying current barriers to progress and appropriate strategies towards achieving the goal. This might include decreasing instances of staying up all night watching TV in order to increase the likelihood of waking up on time to head out and apply for a job! Once the client has secured an interview a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) would follow a detailed intervention plan that outlines systematic methods for teaching appropriate conversation skills and appropriate social behavior for a pursuant professional. These are just some ways behavior science can serve its purpose in the fashion industry. By using systematic methods to intervene with social challenges that occur as a result of the diagnosis, a Behavior Analyst and his or her team of clinical support professionals (RBTs) can serve as liaisons to employers seeking the creativity of an individual with autism for their team.
Establishing employment connections isn't the only potential use for behavior science within the fashion industry. Behavior analytic tools can be applied to teaching a variety of skills including, dressing making, in a task analysis or a written sequence of a task broken down into smaller teaching steps. We took the liberty of creating a visual model of steps to making a dress, which we're sure isn't half as detailed as an Andolsek original, but reinforce our attention seeking behavior by looking and leaving a comment any ways!
For more blog posts related to fashion and applied behavior analysis + systematic ways to increase your self-confidence using stylish stimuli please stay tuned!
Written by: Sindy Victor, MS, BCBA, LBA