The Perfect Lifestyle

The Perfect Lifestyle
Devin Flagg, former TRIO/SSS student

Accounting graduate Devin Flagg crunches the right numbers

When Devin Flagg first enrolled at Dakota County Technical College, he decided to take a shot at architectural technology. He was interested in AutoCAD, a software application for computer-aided design and drafting. Devin swiftly found out that architecture also involved making technical drawings, or drafts, by hand.

“That was like trying to draw the Mona Lisa with a jackhammer,” Devin recalled with a faintly wry expression on his face.

Devin’s sense of humor, quite dry and engaging, is remarkable in a way because Devin has Asperger syndrome. Children with AS are frequently dubbed “little professors” due to the sophisticated vocabularies they build at at a very young age. On the flip side, children with AS are typically buffaloed by figurative language. They take words literally. Devin, 23, definitely champions the literal side of life, but thanks to his mom, he also understands that taking things literally is a form of humor.

When he describes the tactics people can use to best support him, Devin has this to say: “Avoid using language that includes metaphors, idioms, teasing, sarcasm and some humor as I do not understand it.” Devin does not use feeling words. He is a concrete, factual learner and a visual thinker. He relies heavily on logic and reasoning to solve every problem. He often resorts to analogies to express his experiences. He is, however, learning to use sarcasm.

A night owl who likes horror movies and video games, hot tubs and yoga, Devin switched his major to accounting and discovered a career path. He enjoys detecting and correcting errors, a bottom-line component of accounting. He also likes working with computers. “The numbers in accounting are in black and white,” he said. “Once we detect an error, we will not hesitate to correct it.”

What is Asperger Syndrome?*

Asperger syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) considered to be on the “high functioning” end of the spectrum. Affected children and adults have difficulty with social interactions and exhibit a restricted range of interests and/or repetitive behaviors. Motor development may be delayed, leading to clumsiness or uncoordinated motor movements. Compared with those affected by other forms of ASD, however, those with Asperger syndrome do not have significant delays or difficulties in language or cognitive development. Some even demonstrate precocious vocabulary—often in a highly specialized field of interest.

* Courtesy of Autism Speaks

Home-schooled for six years before attending classes at Apple Valley High School, Devin earned his Accounting Clerk diploma from DCTC in 2011. He is on track to earn his Accounting A.A.S. degree in spring 2013. He plans to continue his education by attending a four-year college in Minnesota.

In 2012, he landed an accounting internship at Shoemake Company CPA PA in Burnsville, Minn. His accounting instructor at DCTC, Nancy Shoemake, was deeply impressed by Devin’s character, work ethic and talent for accounting.

“Devin showed a tremendous ability to master tax software,” Shoemake said. “He takes a methodical approach and is very meticulous in preparing tax forms. He has the skills you need to be a superior accountant.”

Devin brought more than just technical skills to his internship at Shoemake Company. “Everyone in our office loves Devin,” Shoemake said. “He is exceptionally forthright and says exactly what he means. That is wonderfully refreshing and creates a natural camaraderie in the workplace. Devin also makes us all laugh. He can be hilarious. We are pleased beyond all expectations by Devin’s performance at our firm.”

One challenge for Devin—and Devin agrees—is to continue building on his interpersonal communications skills by interacting with clients. Shoemake makes sure client engagement is front and center in Devin’s job duties.

Devin’s mom, Deborah Gee-Tritschler, an autism resource consultant, learned that Devin had autism when he was only 3 years old. Doctors advised her to place Devin in a mental hospital, but she refused to give up on her son. Her love and dedication gave Devin the chance to shine and make a place for himself in a world that can be complex and difficult under the best of circumstances.

Not only has Devin prospered at home, in college and on the work front, he has also become a spokesperson for people with autism spectrum disorder, or ASD. In October 2012, he spoke at the Autism & Employment Forum at 3M Corporate Headquarters in St. Paul, Minn. He also gave a speech at a symposium called Advancing with Autism: A Blueprint to Success Beyond High School, which was hosted by DCTC last December.

Devin Flagg speaking at the Autism & Employment Forum 2012

Dora Schumacher, the director of TRiO Student Support Services and Upward Bound at DCTC, reported that the college serves more than a dozen students with Asperger syndrome. For more than a decade, DCTC has offered strong, specialized programs to support students with disabilities, including autism. SSS provides tutoring and study-skills refinement opportunities as well as accommodations for disabled students. Schumacher noted that the college doesn’t carry out this obligation alone, but forms enduring partnerships with organizations and agencies with comparable missions.

Gee-Tritschler echoed Schumacher’s emphasis on a collaborative approach. “The foundation of Devin’s success is forged in Dakota County Technical College’s commitment to integrate autism spectrum students into the college experience,” she said. “This is accomplished through extensive collaborations with established community transition services organizations that include Vocational Rehabilitation Services at Minnesota DEED, Fraser, Opportunity PartnersAutism Society of Minnesota, Lions Clubs International and key area business partners. These important partnerships all work effectively to fulfill the college’s mission: ‘Education for Employment.'”

“Whatever the student needs, we will find the resources,” added Schumacher, who smiled when asked about Devin Flagg. “Devin has grown a great deal since he began at DCTC,” she said. “He made a significant career change and adapted with admirable aplomb. I find him perfectly delightful.”

Devin has sharply defined long-range goals. He is leaning toward a career with the IRS or an auditing firm. “I would like the perfect lifestyle,” he said. “I will need employment that provides a perfect source of income and satisfies all my needs. Needs are more critical than wants. I will live in a simple apartment or house and maintain a low profile.”

Dora Schumacher is confident Devin will succeed. “In the workforce, many of the traits associated with Asperger syndrome and other types of high-functioning autism are what make people uncommonly productive employees,” she said.

High-functioning might seem like an understatement when referring to someone like Devin. Perhaps an analogy is the best way to explain his gift for life. Describing Devin Flagg as high-functioning is like calling Leonardo da Vinci a painter.

For more information about Accounting at DCTC, contact:
For more information about TRiO Student Support Services at DCTC, contact:
  • Dora Schumacher
    TRiO Director
  • Cori Robinson
    TRiO/Student Support Services Advisor
  • Xuong Tran
    TRiO/Student Support Services Advisor
  • Laura Gardner
    TRiO/Student Support Services Tutor