Ellen Vallentin Christiansen

My colleague calls me Rainwoman

Wednesday 13 Jun 18
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AUTISM

By Tom Nervil
DTU Avisen, no. 4, 2018

By virtue of her graphic competences and a focused work ethic, Ellen Vallentin Christiansen achieves excellent results in her 15-hour working week. The reason her working week is limited to 15 hours is due to the fact that Ellen is autistic and in a flexi job. Despite enjoying social interaction with her colleagues, Ellen spends most of her time interpreting what is going on around her. This also explains why spending time with other members of the team, department colleagues, or people in the canteen sometimes leaves her feeling drained.
“So I prefer to focus on my work while I’m here,” she says.

Ellen took up employment with DTU Nanotech ten years ago after completing an education as a teacher—working in that capacity for two years.

“After two years in full-time employment I was completely burned out, the house was a mess and the accumulation of many years’ challenges culminated in a state of chaos. Following several interviews and psychiatric tests, I was diagnosed with autism,” Ellen explains.

“I was given the choice of taking early retirement—which my caseworker recommended—or try a part-time flexi job.”

The recruitment consultants discovered that Ellen has a special interest in creative solutions combined with the ability to discern patterns and learn computer programs. This led to a three-month internship where she worked with illustrations and graphic layout. It proved a useful combination.

“After feeling out of sorts and in the wrong pigeonhole for many years, I was suddenly very moved by the warm reception I received at DTU Nanotech. While I worked on my new self-perception and my challenges on the home front, I received on-the-job graphic design training from my colleague Jesper able at a speed I could manage.

”Many people associate autism with being ‘a human calculator’, the ability to make sense of complex data, remembering the position of playing cards and the like. Such unique abilities are known as savant syndrome, but probably only about ten per cent of all autists have these abilities,

“I’m not very good at counting matchsticks, for example,” says Ellen. Many autistic people without savant syndrome nonetheless possess abilities in methodology, pattern recognition or pattern error, and a fundamental sense for detail.

“My colleague Jesper Scheel bears much of the credit for making me feel like an accepted and valuable member of staff at DTU Nanotech. He has often said—we’re all equals here—and with a twinkle in his eye, he called me ‘Rainwoman’. A nickname I adopted and which I use in my blogs and talks, where I try to increase awareness of autism.”

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