Tom: CPA, public speaker, motivator and man with #Autism

Tom Iland

Autism Unveiled Week 5

Tom Iland pic

Who am I?

I am a certified public accountant (CPA) and a young adult on the autism spectrum. I have always been motivated to make my way in the world, and have been lucky to have had a strong support network to help me achieve my goals. At this point in my life, I have a good understanding of what my condition is, how it affects me, and what I want and need to be happy. I am ready to share what I have learned, in the hope it can help others with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and the people who care about them.

How is autism a part of who I am or how does it shade my world?

From a young age, numbers and math have come naturally to me and it was logical to look for work that would utilize my ability in this area. The title ‘CPA’ had a great appeal for me, so I pursued the course to become one. This included taking community college and university classes, networking and preparing for the Uniform CPA Examination, rumored to be one of the most difficult exams there is.

To pass this exam, I had to be dedicated to my course of action and see the process through. In fact, my mentor for the CPA Exam told me that the exam is really a test of discipline (whether or not you can manage your time wisely) and determination (will you give up completely if you do not pass after so many attempts?). In short, you do not have to be a genius to be a CPA, but it helps to be very focused on the goal!

I was a bit concerned as I prepared for the exam, because at the time vocabulary was not one of my strongest suits. Even when I could do the math, sometimes I did not know the meaning of some words in a problem, and would get stuck. In a classroom environment, I could to ask the professor, “Remind me what this word means?” In the testing centers where the CPA Exam is administered, however, I would not be allowed to ask the proctor any questions about vocabulary during my exam.

After researching the matter further, I discovered that the California Board of Accountancy is required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and make appropriate accommodations in the testing environment. I asked a trusted board-certified psychologist to help me document my difficulty with vocabulary as it related to my ASD. He picked some tests that got to the heart of the matter.

I submitted the test results to the California Board of Accountancy and requested accommodations for the exam. As in college, I was granted my own exam room to minimize distractions, and extra time so that racing against the clock would not be an issue. I was surprised and happy when the Board granted me the accommodation of using a Franklin electronic dictionary to use for any vocabulary-related matters. This was really helpful during all four sections of the exam. I wish I had come up with the idea of this accommodation years earlier!

I passed the CPA Exam and have been an actively licensed CPA in California for the last four-and-a-half years. I could not have done it if I did not understand what autism was and how it affects me, taken action based on these findings and stayed the course to see things through. I am currently employed in the finance department at a multinational engineering firm in Pasadena, CA, but am seeking to share my story of both struggle and victory with those in the autism community. I hope that sharing my story can help others persevere and work for a satisfying and happy life.

NOTE: I am a strong proponent of person-first language ever since my high school days in the Yes I Can program for social inclusion, so it is my choice and preference to write this way.

Tom Iland, California, U.S.A.

Tom is part of the Autism Unveiled Project – 6 weeks of posts from people on the autism spectrum commencing on April 2, 2015, World Autism Awareness Day.

2 Comments

  • You have such a clear and practical way of explaining your path. I’ve always thought being a CPA would have been a fantastic career for me, and though it sounds very challenging, it sounds like you’ve really made it work. I think my son who, like me. is on the spectrum, would be a great CPA too…if he can change his main special interest from Pokemon 😉 He’s just 13…

  • TOM ILAND says:

    My apologies for the delayed reply.

    It’s never too early (or late) to start pursuing a course that could lead to (more) happiness and fulfillment. What matters is that the person pursuing the course of action is the one that wants it and, in addition, understands WHY this course of action is a good idea. I’m a big believer in the idea that we make our own destiny and that, especially by the time someone reaches college, life no longer comes to us…it’s up to us to come to life.

    It’s also all right to have those special interests as well. The only caveat I offer is that these special interests should not interfere with personal and professional relationships. In my case, I’m a big fan of Star Wars, but there are times to talk about Star Wars and times not to talk about Star Wars. Setting times, environments, boundaries, etc. on when it is (not) all right to engage in those special interests helped me a lot.

    There is the saying that goes “work first, play later.” Getting work completed first, whether it be job duties, homework from school, household chores, etc., and having the special interests available as a reward for a job well done will allow for both productivity and pride. Being a contributing member to society while, at the same time, knowing yourself, loving yourself and being yourself are what I wish for all people with and without autism.

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