SPRINGFIELD, Virginia – October is Disability Employment Awareness Month. One NGA employee shares his story.
Connor Theisen is a data engineer out of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s Data and Digital Innovation directorate who has been focusing on the Maven data integration process. He is well known among his colleagues for his work on various projects, but what many don’t know is that he has an invisible disability, or as Theisen likes to refer to it as — his invisible ability.
Theisen was diagnosed at an early age with Autism spectrum disorder. While this diagnosis has led to some struggles in Theisen’s life, he chooses to acknowledge the gifts it provides — he’s good at the numbers game, strong at logic building, and excels at recognizing patterns. It’s the perfect skill set for a data scientist.
Even though Theisen is considered to be high-functioning, he hopes his colleagues are just as aware of his struggles as they are his successes.
He has a favorite saying, “high-functioning Autism individuals are seen for their successes and not their struggles, while low-functioning Autism individuals are seen for their struggles and not their successes.”
While his ability to compile a variety of data sets and complete a comprehensive comparison analysis is a great asset, Theisen encounters perfectionist tendencies in small details that can delay the decision-making process.
In order to cope with this, Theisen has developed mechanisms like breathing techniques, taking a break for walks and exercising. Sometimes just fiddling with a gadget at his desk can help calm anxiety build ups. His family has also been a big support by helping to coach him through different challenges and assist with social development by pushing him out of his comfort zone.
At NGA, Theisen mentioned that he hasn’t yet felt the need to seek accommodations, but he knows there are plenty of resources within reach. “NGA has a diverse mindset,” said Theisen. “They help mission support by making sure people feel comfortable and are very inclusive.” Theisen also noted an appreciation for all the mental health resources NGA has to offer. “While there’s still room for improvement, NGA has shown true commitment in delivering resources,” he said.
In reference to accommodations for other employees with disabilities, Theisen recalled from a recent training at the NGA College that two American Sign Language translators helped interpret the lesson for a deaf student in the class. The two translators would switch out and take breaks and also served as assistance in clarifying each other if needed. Theisen also noted the patience of the course instructors and mentioned they would slow down or clarify when needed.