Communication is challenging for Ryan Lowry, but a handwritten letter he penned to his “future employer” has reached millions. The note makes a simple request: “take a chance on me.”
The 20-year-old job seeker who lives in Leesburg, Virginia, is autistic, and both speaking and writing can be laborious for him. But Lowry had his eye on his professional pursuits, so he decided to write a letter to prospective employers with the goal of finding a mentor and ultimately landing a job in the animation industry.
After several rounds of revisions, he wrote the final draft neatly on a single sheet of lined paper, then snapped a picture of it. With encouragement from his family, he shared it on LinkedIn on Feb. 27.
Now, about three weeks later, the letter has been viewed more than 7 million times, and thousands of comments have poured in. People say they were drawn to the bravery of the author and the clarity of his message, which was unfettered by corporate speak.
“Dear Future Employer,” the letter starts. “I have autism, I also have a unique sense of humor, am gifted at math, really good with technology, and a really quick learner.”
“I am interested in a job in animation, or in IT. I realize that someone like you will have to take a chance on me, I don’t learn like typical people do,” the letter continues. “I promise that if you hire and teach me, you’ll be glad you did.”
Lowry’s father, Rob Lowry, originally encouraged his son to set up a LinkedIn profile last month, but it was his son’s idea to write a letter to potential employers, he said.
“I helped him set up his LinkedIn profile about three weeks ago, just thinking it would be a good way for him to learn about business and relationships,” said Rob Lowry, 57. “If he made a few connections, I was going to be overjoyed.”
The outcome, he said, far exceeded his initial goal.
Ryan Lowry was diagnosed with autism when he was 18 months old, after his family noticed he wasn’t making eye contact or reaching the appropriate speech milestones as an infant.
Rob Lowry described his son as “very gifted intellectually” with an affinity for math and music, and overall, “a really cool guy.”
“His deficits are social and communicative,” he said. “But once you pierce through that fog, he is the brightest person I’ve ever met.”
Ryan’s mother, Tracy Lowry, 55, agreed.
“He is a beautiful young adult who wants to be independent someday,” she said of her son.
Despite their son’s potential, though, his parents recognize the challenges that lie ahead for him as he enters the workforce, they said.
In 2017, autistic adults faced an 83% unemployment rate in the United States, a reality that probably has been exacerbated by the pandemic.
“Tracy and I are going to die someday, and he needs to be able to work independently and live his own life,” Rob Lowry said.
“We’ve got to set him up for success,” echoed Tracy Lowry. “That’s the bottom line.”
Ryan Lowry is a student in the Loudoun (Virginia) County Public Schools system, and through an Individualized Education Program, he will be able to continue his studies until he’s 22. He is enrolled in the Community and Schools Together program, which fosters workplace readiness and independent living skills.
Although he works part time at a local coffee shop that exclusively employs people with special needs, he has a long-held dream of eventually working in the animation industry, he said in a phone interview with The Washington Post, which was facilitated by his father.
“I love cartoons and animated movies,” Ryan Lowry said. “My favorite is ‘Coco.'”
For Rob Lowry, who works in the insurance business in the Washington, D.C., area, helping his son create a LinkedIn profile seemed like a solid first step in his career-planning process, he said. It never occurred to the Lowrys that the letter might go viral. They were floored when their son’s profile was temporarily unavailable after the unexpected deluge of comments started coming in.
When there is sudden and overwhelming engagement, LinkedIn occasionally reviews profiles to protect a member’s security, a LinkedIn representative explained.
Ryan Lowry’s reaction to his temporarily suspended account: “It’s cool. I broke the internet!” he said.
“We’re thrilled to see the response from the LinkedIn community and the thousands of offers to help and connect Ryan to opportunities,” said Catherine Fisher, a career expert at LinkedIn.
Countless comments from strangers — as well as messages from companies with neurodiverse recruitment programs, including Amazon, Dell and Microsoft — promptly came in.
“I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the amount of support we have gotten,” Tracy Lowry said. “I’m so emotional about the whole thing.”
Beyond prospective employers reaching out, she said, a number of neurodiverse people and parents with children who are autistic expressed praise, gratitude and support.
“I too have Autism, and I know how hard this can be. If you’d like, I would be happy to help coach, teach and mentor you and help you follow your dreams,” one user wrote.
“Your autism is a super power. The way your mind works is not a handicap, it is an amazing strength,” wrote another user, who said his son is on the spectrum. “As an executive who hires a lot of people, I love this letter.”
The replies to Ryan’s letter spontaneously became a hub for advice- and story-sharing in the autism community, which Tracy Lowry called “a beautiful thing.”
“I think there is something wonderful that’s going to come out of it for Ryan, but I do believe we can also help a lot of people that are in the same boat,” she said. “If it opened the eyes of companies about how they can help the neurodiverse population, that would be very satisfying.”
The best result of the post, Rob agreed, “is how many people have been able to piggyback on it.”
For instance, one user commented: “I also have autism and am trying to get a desktop support job but can’t get to the interview stage so I’m working on my associate degree and hopefully that will help me get my dream job in it.”
A number of people responded offering recommendations and advice.
The Lowrys want to use the opportunity “to advance the cause for others,” they said. They are planning to compile the information and guidance on the post into a document to share with the autism community and are in the process of filtering through the comments and responding to potential job and mentorship opportunities.
In the meantime, Ryan Lowry has started one-on-one sessions with a local animator at A Place To Be, a Middleburg, Virginia, nonprofit that specializes in music therapy for people with special needs.
He has been part of the organization for 11 years, but a professional animator only recently started to assist with virtual productions during the pandemic. Since posting the letter and expressing his interest in animation, Ryan Lowry has begun regular software lessons.
With the support of staff at A Place To Be, he wrote a song and produced a “thank you” video to show his appreciation for the outpouring of love:
Thank you for reading, so I can keep dreaming,
Thank you for seeing me for who I am.
I only hope that people like me, can have opportunities, too.
Take a chance on people like me, people you don’t see, in high places typically.
Take a chance, you’ll see all we can achieve, when people choose to believe.