Assignment: Education- Autism Awareness Month
This Holmen High School senior has an after-school job he loves.
"The atmosphere here. It's nice and calm," said Mike Ratekin, Holmen High School senior. "It's good to relax after a stressful day at school."
Mike was hired at Duratech in La Crosse almost one year ago.
"We're a screen print company," said Danielle Hanson, inspection department team leader at Duratech. "We do anything from bumper stickers to automotive."
Part of Mike's job in the Final Inspections Department at Duratech is to pick out decals.
"Picking is like you get ... they're adhesive items and you literally pick the insides out of the... mainly like zeros, r's, o's, letters like that and small e's," said Mike.
Mike's hope is to some day work as a mechanical engineer. And he says his schooling along with working at Duratech is a way to get his foot in the door.
"You usually don't start at the top positions," said Mike. "You start at the bottom and you work your way up the ladder."
But Mike's climb has been a little more challenging than others.
"I have Asperger's Syndrome," said Mike. "It pretty much is a brain... what I found out is my brain is wired differently than the average person's is."
Mike was diagnosed with Caperers, which is a form of autism, in 6th grade, after his parents tried for years to pin-point a diagnosis.
"The social aspect of his life has been the biggest challenge," said Angie Ratekin, Mike's mom. "Academically he's very bright, but then... so sometimes it's assumed that he's not because of the social difficulties."
So, in school as part of Mike's education, his teachers knew it was important for Mike to learn how to be comfortable in social settings.
"Mike... working specifically with social skills the last couple years... having a job and understanding what it takes to maintain relationships, have responsibility and these types of things was definitely a priority," said Jennifer Slusser, Holmen High School special education teacher.
"We worked through the school to get a job at Duratech, and it has just been outstanding," said Angie. "Because it's become his social outlet. He doesn't make friends easily and school isn't always a good social outlet for him. And Duratech has been really fantastic in that aspect."
"The atmosphere at work... they just like you to be yourself," said Mike. "They don't want to change you at all. Some of the people here at school... they want everyone to be the same... which is really impossible."
"Mike is like any other employee that I would hire," said Hanson. "He fits in very well with the team, and we don't see a lot of the challenges his disability brings at all."
So while, as you can tell, Mike has learned a lot from his job, the community can learn a lot from him, too.
"I'm just hoping that people will have a better understand of the huge; the wide variety of characteristics that play into the autism spectrum," said Angie. "And when you come across somebody with... you think something's just a little different... that they'll just take a minute and think about it and realize how much more there is to that person.