Apple-for-the-TeacherSteve Jobs serves as a reminder that, sometimes, passionately pursuing your dreams — not a formal degree — is the secret to success as an entrepreneur.

Likewise, a Wall Street Journal article questions the value of an MBA degree at startups — both the knowledge acquired and the cachet of the degree itself. The article introduces General Assembly and Starter School; both focus on action over excessive ideation — similar to educational innovators like Khan Academy, Team Treehouse, and Code Academy:

  • Offering courses in web development and user experience design, business fundamentals, data science, product management and digital marketing, General Assembly is as a “full-time immersive programs, long-form courses, and classes and workshops on the most relevant skills of the 21st century.”
  • Teaching people how to build software and start companies, Starter School focuses on learning by doing, emphasizing practical skills in three intense phases over 9 months.

Each program (and others similar to them) offer a simplified curriculum without the formality of a traditional degree. They’re designed to give attendees enough information to get an idea going without impeding their progress.

In a time when the median cost of a four-year degree at a public institution has risen to $16,000 per year, even people who aren’t business majors are finding themselves performing a cost/benefit analysis when it comes to higher education.

But, maybe these programs are irresponsibly encouraging acting on ideas without first thinking things through? Consider this Wired article warning that the ‘failure’ culture of startups is killing innovation. Despite  Jobs’ achievements with Apple, an MBA is still a tremendous value to individuals with entrepreneurial aspirations — present company included.

Receiving my
Receiving my “Outstanding MBA Scholarship” award at Woodbury University (May 7, 2005).

On this date in 2002, I took the first step towards earning my MBA at Woodbury University. I found tremendous value in my MBA program, learning a great deal about running a business and discovering a new career path into teaching.

In my experience with startups or businesses operating with that mindset, I’ve found that they don’t necessarily value an MBA. Most startups are focused on producing “results” even if those results are rushed and need to be reworked later.

Conversely, earning my MBA taught me the value of “measuring twice and cutting once” which results in a more methodological approach.  This doesn’t always fit with the startup way of work that often values quantity over quality, usually in an effort to impress investors.

That’s not say an advanced degree holds no value in a startup, but there is no guarantee that it will. But, in my opinion, education is always a worthwhile investment, as long as you are willing to invest the effort to maximize its return.

Last Wednesday, April 2, 2008 marked the first annual “World Autism Awareness Day.” The day was created by the General Assembly of the United Nations which voted in November 2007 to establish the annual event date as an opportunity for Member States to raise awareness about children with autism.  Various events and lectures were planned around the globe and CNN scheduled all-day coverage about autism. April is also National Autism Awareness Month.

Autism Awareness RibbonWhat is autism? According to the Autism Society of America, “Autism is a brain development disorder that impairs social interaction and communication, and causes restricted and repetitive behavior, all starting before a child is three years old. Both children and adults with autism typically show difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities.”

Autism is one of five disorders considered a Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD), a category of neurological disorders characterized by “severe and pervasive impairment in several areas of development.”

These disorders include: Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD), Rett’s Disorder, PDD-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). Each disorder has specific diagnostic criteria which been outlined in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR).

Diagnosed in an estimated 1 in 150 children, autism is the most common Pervasive Developmental Disorder, and the numbers are on the rise. It is estimated that as many as 1.5 million Americans have some form of autism.

Data from the U.S. Department of Education and other governmental agencies indicates that autism is growing at an alarming rate of 10-17 percent per year — and the Autism Society of America estimates that 4 million Americans could be diagnosed in the next decade.

Below are some additional facts about autism, courtesy of Autism Speaks, an advocacy group:

Basic Facts

  • 1 in 150 children is diagnosed with autism
  • 1 in 94 boys is on the autism spectrum
  • 67 children are diagnosed per day
  • A new case is diagnosed almost every 20 minutes
  • More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes & cancer combined
  • Autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S.
  • Autism costs the nation over $90 billion per year, a figure expected to double in the next decade
  • Autism receives less than 5% of the research funding of many less prevalent childhood diseases
  • Boys are four times more likely than girls to have autism
  • There is no medical detection or cure for autism

Incidence vs. Private Funding

  • Leukemia: Affects 1 in 25,000 / Funding: $310 million
  • Muscular Dystrophy: Affects 1 in 20,000 / Funding: $175 million
  • Pediatric AIDS: Affects 1 in 8,000 / Funding: $394 million
  • Juvenile Diabetes: Affects 1 in 500 / Funding: $130 million
  • Autism: Affects 1 in 150 / Funding: $15 million

National Institutes of Health Funds Allocation

  • Total 2005 NIH budget: $29 billion
  • $100 million goes towards autism research
  • This represents 0.3% of total NIH funding

Autism has clearly become the polio of our time and something must be done to reverse its progress. If we don’t act now and dedicate more research dollars to finding a cure and treatment, while also finding a way to convince the health insurance industry to cover the costs associated with treatment we run the risk of losing an expontentially increasing percentage of this generation’s children to autism.

The impact of autism on families is extensive. Emotionally, it can be draining. Mentally it can be consuming. Physically it can be exhausting. Financially, it can be devastating. In addition to the divorce rates of parents with autistic children being higher than the average, many families of children with autism struggle to avert bankruptcy.

It’s no wonder, the costs involved are daunting: from the early intervention and treatment services (which only a handful of states cover) to the lost income from one parent in a two-parent household who must stay home with the affected child while services are provided, autism affects an entire family, not just the individual overcoming it.

Raising a child is stressful enough — raising a child with autism is beyond compare. That is not to say that raising a child with autism is totally unlike raising a “neurotypical” child, it just puts things within a different framework.

I speak from personal experience: my older son, Jacob, who will turn five this September, was diagnosed with autism just before his third birthday.  We have come a long way since then, but still have far to go. He is now speaking contextually, exhibiting emotion and is full of boundless energy. Some days are full of joy while others are full of challenges parents of children without autism truly cannot comprehend.

Fortunately Jacob is on the higher functioning end of the spectrum and has many skills that a typical child near his age has (though developmentally he is not functioning at a level consistent with his chronological age). He is a sweet and smart little boy with a curiosity about the world and great potential to do wonderful things with his life.

We are grateful for the services he has received and credit them with a great deal of his progress so far. However, we have also had to aggressively advocate on his behalf to ensure he continues to receive the services to which he is entitled.

Jacob currently receives his applied behavior analysis (ABA) services through the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD) — a worldwide leader in the field founded by Dr. Doreen Granpeesheh. His Individualized Education Program (IEP) is coming up in a month and my wife and I are beginning to prepare for battle with the Saugus Union School District to ensure that he receives the most appropriate and beneficial services.

As a father, Jacob has taught me many lessons about life. but I know I have much more to learn. I now appreciate the small steps in life and applaud incremental improvement, however small, because it represents movement in the right direction. I admire his sweet and loving disposition and marvel at his unbridled joy and creativity. He is a wonderful little boy who has inspired me to become a better father and, frankly, a better person.

For additional information about autism, I encourage you to visit the following: