When Finland gets to the park, he wanders, and like with most anything else the tall, skinny young man does, there is a degree of mystery surrounding his every thought and move. Finland has autism, a neural development disorder that constricts its subjects in non-uniform ways.
He says he gets to Nats Park early to watch the home and visiting teams take batting practice, but he’s often there well before that takes place. He also points out he’s not that into baseball anyway. He swings his arms as if he was a batter at the plate whenever he gets excited.
Then Finland, in his perpetually matter-of-fact way, says he likes to familiarize himself with the ballpark, and this points to his latest dilemma. In his fourth summer working for the Nationals, Finland is a ticket taker, but he aspires to be more. He wants to be an usher, like he was when he started out with the organization in 2009. He wants to one day be in a supervisor role so that he can carry around a walkie-talkie.
“I would like one,” Finland says, referring to a walkie-talkie such as the one his bosses carry on the job. “Just having something that, I don’t know, one of those devices. . . . I’m just pretty much always next to a person with one, and I always hear it going off. Man, I want one of those. It’s probably never gonna happen.”
No longer satisfying
Finland is a bit of an unusual case. A little less than 35 percent of young adults with autism have no paid job experience, nor have they spent any time in college or a technical school in the seven years following high school graduation, according to a study published last month in the journal Pediatrics.
Finland spent two years at College Living Experience in Florida and has held several part-time jobs, including the one at Nationals Park. The Nationals hired him after his mother, Glen, wrote a story in the Washington Post Magazine about how she hoped teaching her autistic son to ride the Metro alone might enable him to secure a job, and perhaps other semblances of a typical adult life.
He has a driver’s license and is an avid long-distance runner, but Finland is unimpressed by all of that. He has reached the point where pats on the back for overcoming his crossed neurological wiring no longer are fulfilling, and so he disassociates himself from his disorder’s byproducts.
“I know people with autism kind of like to be left alone. They like being ignored and everything,” Finland said. “I don’t really understand that crowd, the people with disabilities that just want to be left alone. If you want to be all paranoid, go ahead. I just don’t really understand that.”