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First Published on AE Monday, 22 December 2008

By T.J. GREANEY of the Tribune’s staff. Published Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sixteen-year-old Collin Driscoll sets up his grandmother Kay McCarthy’s new laptop computer Wednesday in her home. Collin, who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, has started his own computer consulting and repair business, HireTheBrain.com.

Sitting in front of a computer in his grandmother’s office this week, Collin Driscoll heard a cacophony of noise.

The whir of the computer fan, the sound of chattering voices in the next room, the buzz of electricity – each attracted his attention. Several years ago, it would have made it impossible for the 16-year-old with Asperger’s syndrome to work, but now he can ignore it.

“What I’ve learned to do is kind of dissect sounds throughout the room, and I can say, ‘OK, that sound is the fan. I can ignore it. That’s my father, that’s my mother. I don’t need to be listening to that right now,’ ” Collin said. “That has helped me a lot.”

Collin, whose condition is on the autism spectrum, has made huge strides. Recently, he and his father started a computer consulting and repair business called HireTheBrain.com.

Collin’s parents say it has been a long road for their son to get to where he is today. They began to notice he was different in the fourth grade. Collin needed literal, concrete instructions from teachers and got in trouble for not paying attention. It was a tell-tale sign of Asperger’s, they say.

“If you tell a kid with Asperger’s to go empty the trash, you need to specify,” Collin’s mother Jeani Dricoll said. ” ‘Go outside, you need to empty the garbage can and then bring back the lid.’ “

Things got worse for Collin when he went to a middle school with an unusual setup. His classroom didn’t have full partition walls, and he could hear everything going on in adjoining classes. “They were basically really large cubicles,” Collin said. “Combined with the tile floors, the hanging ceiling everything just echoed.”

Things got so overwhelming that he stopped going to school and retreated into his own world. He spent most of his day in front of the computer – Colin is a computer prodigy who published his first computer program at age 11 – but he felt it was impossible to interact socially with others. His mother bought him special earplugs and took him to the grocery store for short periods of time just to be around people.

Eventually, Collin said, he started taking classes at the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders at MU. He learned how to overcome his sensitivity to sound and how to read social signs such as body language and facial expressions.

“Before, I wouldn’t even necessarily know if someone was upset with me until they said, ‘I’m upset with you’ or ‘You need to go to your room,’ ” he said.

Janine Stichter, associate director of the Thompson Center, said Collin is one of the highest functioning children on the autism spectrum, and with a slight regulation of his behavior he can learn to do anything.

“Their capacity to do things is unlimited,” she said. “For decades and centuries, mainstream society has had people with this very mild form” of autism “holding good jobs and maybe even as leaders.”

Stichter said the center provides classes that encourage children to emphasize their strengths, which often include focus and memory. “They might not make a good sales representative, but they might make a great computer programmer,” she said.

And that is precisely what Collin plans to do. Several months ago, his mother convinced him to take a trip by himself to his aunt’s home in Kansas and to help her trucking company fix its computer system. It was a big step for Collin, but he enjoyed it, and at his aunt’s encouragement decided he wanted to start the business with his father, Steve, an IT programmer who formerly worked for large companies but was forced into semi-retirement after suffering a stroke.

“I’ve gone from being the geek to being his driver,” joked Steve Driscoll, who marvels at his son’s ability with computers.

Collin hopes to grow the company and, through it, improve his social abilities. He hopes someday he can be an inspiration to others with the same condition.

“Hopefully, it will help bring an awareness in the public eye to get more resources for helping other kids like me,” he said.

Source:   http://www.columbiatribune.com/2008/Dec/20081220News007.asp

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