“To be successful in the workplace individuals with autism need to find ways to create a demand for their skills and develop a portfolio that shows their talents.”
Ron Sandison interviews Nathaniel Reed Geyer, Phd
1. At what age were you diagnosed with autism?
I was born in 1983, in Philadelphia, PA, and was put off for adoption, so I have no contact with my birth parents. My adopted mother was a former school teacher and my adoptive father a dentist. They were very supportive of me and taught me the importance of hard work and not quitting. It was when I was 9 years old that formally diagnosed with an ASD. Years later I was diagnosed with procto-colitis, after finding an index card of my maternal birth grandmother having colon cancer.
- What was your greatest challenges having autism, and how did you overcome the challenges?
Fighting stereotypes and being seen as an individual and not an object. I overcome the challenges, through hard work and not quitting.
- What were some social activities you did as a child?
Unlike most people on the spectrum I had a very socially diverse childhood. When I was diagnosed in 1990, it was the same year as the signing of the American’s with Disability Act. Until third grade I was in a special education setting, but was too smart for the teachers so, in second grade I was moved into a regular classroom where I excelled in music and math classes. By the time I was in third grade, I was in a mainstream classroom and succeeding in academics, where I stayed until high school, when in my senior year I went half day high school and local community college. Over the year I was in boy scouts (highest rank star scout), choir, band, gymnastics, youth group, outdoor club, Key Club, yearbook staff, academic bowl, summer camp, national honor society, and others to many to count. I thrived in a normal setting and disliked being labeled as an autistic.
- Who were some people who encouraged you to succeed in academics?
I was fortunate to have a very a diverse number of professionals who saw the potential in me and not the limitations. In second grade, my teacher stated, “You are smart you deserve to be in a mainstream classroom and not isolated.” My third grade teacher, who is now a superintendent was willing to tutor me during the summer. In middle school, my teachers surprised me at my birthday celebration. My high school organic chemistry teacher stated “Do not stop asking questions.” My undergraduate advisor saw the potential of me getting my doctorate, 10 years before I earned it. My first Master’s degree program hired me for my current job. My online professor and program director helped me finish my doctorate after changing my major after struggling with three committees during my dissertation.
- How did these people help you with school?
These people taught me the importance of not quitting. They also gave me confidence that just because you have difficulties in spelling, grammar, and writing does not mean that you can’t contribute to society.
- What subjects in school were your strengths?
I was strong in sciences and weak in spelling, grammar, and writing.
- What advice would you give to young adults with autism who struggle with education?
I am a firm believer that education does not end until death. Those who struggle with education and quit are more likely to have a poor quality of life as adults, and not living to their potentials. The first step to overcome struggles is to change what you can control. For example, a minor shift in vocabulary from “I can’t” to “I can, but” made me reframe my struggles into inconveniences, which could be overcome through hard work and persistence.
- How did you choose what college to attend?
When I was in High School, I was enrolled in challenging courses that kept me away from people who used to bully me. So as a result, I graduated in my top 7% of my high school class, and got accepted to several colleges, with scholarships to several schools, in June 2001.
When choosing an undergraduate school, I did not want to move to a dorm, nor want to be treated as an object. So I had a talk with my parents, that for one semester, I would commute from home, since my driver’s license was earned in 1997 at age 16. The plan was to avoid the dorm drama and commute 30 minutes to home, until I felt comfortable moving, which limited my choices to Lebanon Valley College in Annville, PA and another college. When my family called the disability coordinator at both colleges, the only person who was supported my needs was at Lebanon Valley College, who had an alumni who started but did not finish. Four years later, I graduated with a 3.25 GPA with a B.S. in Biology. Two years later I enrolled in M.S. in Health Evaluation Sciences at Penn State and later a Doctor of Public Health degree at Walden University. I am now taking advanced coursework in geographical information systems (GIS) and web mapping.
- What advice would you give to college students who are struggling socially?
In fall 2001, when I started Lebanon Valley College, the September 11th attack occurred during my first semester at college. I was a commuter and did not know anybody at the time. I first heard about the attack by some students who were late and like other people brushed it off, it was not until the second attack that it was starting to be a struggle for me to process. I was in a dilemma should I struggle in private or find a support group to help me cope with the tragedy.
Fortunately, I found a support group who were also struggling with the attack, and formed a bond with another commuter who is one of my closest friends today. Ironically, he was one of the few friends who does not know about my disability, yet is a friend for life. This taught me that in order to find a friend you have to be a friend.
- What are some benefits of online courses for those with autism?
In my almost 20 year post-high school life, I have taken courses in both brick-and-mortar and online environments. In an online environment, learning is asynchronous, so a student needs to develop time-management and writing skills. You are expected to respond in a way that stimulates discussion and thinking. For an autistic, who often thinks outside the box, I found the environment to be stimulating and life-changing. For example, when I graduated with my Doctor of Public Health (Dr PH) degree, I met a student who used my critical feedback to incorporate GIS mapping to finish his dissertation.
- What is your doctorate degree in?
My doctorate is in public health with additional coursework in epidemiology.
- What is your current job? And what are some of your responsibilities at work?
Officially, a Research Support Technologist III, at Penn State College of Medicine, Department of Public Health Science.
This position is responsible for assisting Penn State Faculty in three areas of geospatial mapping, data management, and statistical analysis, primarily for the Department of Public Health Sciences, secondarily for Penn State Health and University Park, and occasionally the Pennsylvania Department of Health. The purpose of this position includes: data collection, screening, verification, analysis, evaluation, interpretation, implementation of research projects (i.e., HIV, obesity, hypertension, cancer, genetic ancestry, epilepsy, and spatial epidemiology), co-instruction of Introduction to Epidemiology during the 12 week summer session, mapping of public health information, and providing timely feedback to faculty and staff on methodological and contextual concerns.
- How do you handle conflict in the workplace?
In my job, I have developed a reputation of being passionate, yet willing to speak my mind when provoked. For example, when I was an intern, I was often bullied by other employees for my differences. Instead of retaliating, I talked with my supervisor about the problem, and he told me in confidentiality that that employee has a history of antagonism against him and told me to continue to do what I do well at my job and stay out of office politics.
- What are some of your career goals?
- Active participation in Public Health Science Support Groups
- Assistance with course development of Introduction to Epidemiology.
- Attend at least two professional development sessions.
- Publication of at least four peer-reviewed materials, in the form of manuscripts, conference proceedings, and/or grant announcement.
- Complete additional coursework in Geographical Information Systems.
- Earn a tenured track faculty position.
- What are some ways you have advocated for autism?
Speaking at schools for autism; participating in Adults for Autism Support Group.
Nathaniel Reed Geyer was diagnosed as a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. He currently has ten years’ experience in public health research in the areas of cancer, obesity, HIV, epilepsy, public health workforce, and Vitamin D ancestry. He has advanced knowledge of statistical, software, and analyses procedures; holds a Doctor of Public Health, a Masters in epidemiology, and a Bachelors in Biology with a concentration in ecology.
He is an experienced scholar practitioner with a broad background in bio-statistics, epidemiology, and geographical information systems (GIS). He has submitted abstracts to conferences and in the process of publishing key manuscripts in the literature, especially in the areas of HIV epidemiology, obesity, cancer, and epilepsy. Geyer earned a doctorate in public health from Walden University and works performing data analysis for Penn State College of Medicine.
Videos & Links sharing Dr. Geyer’s journey with autism:
Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of American. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom published by Charisma House and Thought, Choice, Action. He has memorized over 10,000 Scriptures including 22 complete books of the New Testament and over 5,000 quotes.
He frequently guest speaks at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a baby daughter, Makayla Marie born on March 20, 2016. You can contact Ron at his website http://www.spectruminclusion.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org