A sedan loaded with passengers rolled violently against solid ground, came to an abrupt stop on its roof, and blocked oncoming traffic on the freeway. Staff Sgt. Shale Norwitz’s duty to protect and serve prevailed.
With military training and a unique diagnosis, Norwitz safely extracted occupants from the vehicle, removed casualties from the wreckage, and redirected the flow of traffic.
Norwitz, an aviator with the 5th Combat Communications Group, 688th Cyberspace Wing, attributed his heroic deeds to his military training and neurodiversity.
“I’m on the [autism] spectrum and that makes me good at being a strategic thinker and contributes to my innovation, ”said Norwitz. “That’s what makes us great, but it’s something we need strengthening on.”
Norwitz said his neurodiversity allows him to react objectively in situations. He said that due to his ability to remove emotions from a situation, he is able to see a clear series of goals, tasks, and creative solutions whenever a problem arises.
This ability led him to learn to accept his diagnosis.
According to US Air Force Medical Standards Directory, Autism spectrum disorders is not disqualifying for continued military service unless it is currently – or has a history of – compromising military duty or training.
Norwitz has seen improvements in his professional development and feels empowered to reduce the negative stigma surrounding autism.
“The last step is to accept [being autistic]”said Norwitz.” This is how we rise [from negative stereotypes]. If we can learn and educate ourselves, we can rise to a position of acceptance.
Norwitz said staying resilient while overcoming her neurodiversity in the workplace is no small feat.
“There have been a lot of things throughout my military career that I have struggled with,” Norwitz said. “I have a hard time creating intersocial bonds. I felt like a stranger and didn’t know why.
This can have an impact on mental health as these social connections are an integral part not only of your social career but also of your professional career, Norwitz added.
Norwitz believes he is not alone in his feelings, and said the unit’s cohesion and interaction with others with similar neurodiversity issues has helped reduce his sense of isolation throughout. throughout his 19-year military tenure.
“Knowing that I have a group of peers who not only share the same challenges as I do, but who are people I can connect with instantly, helps lessen the impact of the idea that I am struggling socially,” said said Norwitz. “I have come to realize that I am actually more inclined to be successful in social interactions with people who function at the same frequency as me.
Norwitz’s wife, Amanda, is one member of his support network that contributes to his optimism.
Norwitz and Amanda’s son has also been diagnosed with ASD.
Amanda has always been proactive about her son’s autism diagnosis and dedicates her time to educating herself about ASD and its effects on others. Through her research, Amanda learned to adapt better to her son and discovered ideas to help others coexist better with people on the spectrum.
“I don’t take things too personal… I look at the context,” Amanda said. “A lot of people with ASD don’t have the same social constructs. People with ASD tend to be pretty literal – remove the emotion and ask yourself if it is factual ”.
Norwitz said one goal he has been working to achieve is to raise awareness through advocacy for increasing support for service members struggling with ASD. Part of her initiative encourages education among cohorts, supervisors, peers and the general public on the complexities of the autism spectrum.
Norwitz believes that learning to better welcome, relay messages and adapt to the growing demographics of neurodiversity presence in the military can enable more effective cohesion and connectivity among all members and personnel of the military.
As part of this initiative, Norwitz has engaged with the Secretary of the Air Force Disabled People’s Action Team.
“The Commission for Equal Employment Opportunities requires all federal agencies to conduct a barrier analysis in accordance with the EEOC Management Directive 715Said Dr Rachel Castellon, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at the Command for Air Combat Command Headquarter. “The aim is to identify the root causes of equal opportunity disparities, and federal agencies are encouraged to carefully review and take action on policies, procedures and practices that may lead to these disparities.”
There are currently seven Department of the Air Force Barrier Analysis Working Groups, including: Black / African American Employment Strategy Team; the Disability Action Team; the Hispanic Empowerment and Action Team; the Indigenous Nations Equality Team; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer / Questioning Initiative team; the Pacific / Asian Islands Community Team and the Women’s Initiatives Team.
Castellon said the US Air Force is still looking for volunteers to join the various task forces.
“Contact the secretary of the air force Diversity and Inclusion Office workflow to join us and help us build a more inclusive air force, ”added Castellon.
Norwitz said he hopes the continued advocacy for neurodiversity in the military will continue.
“All of my efforts have met only with the support of the external community, supervisors, colleagues and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion,” said Norwitz. “It has been incredibly healing for me, but I have a responsibility to make sure that the same recognition and acceptance reaches everyone else in uniform.”