Meet the Future Face of Technology - Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder in Technology FieldsMeet the Future Face of Technology - Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder in Technology Fields

Meet Minnesotans Who Are Successfully Employed

Visualization Skills, a Passion for Engineering

Larry Moody
When a compressor manufacturer realized that Moody was one of the few who could understand and back their new design, they created a full page ad in the "Oil and Gas Journal" featuring Moody with the headline "Larry Moody is no Nuclear Physicist." Actually he's one savvy innovator.

As a draftsman for the Georgia State Highway Department in the 1970's, Larry Moody,  diagnosed  on the autism spectrum over 35 years later, was placed in an elite group of engineers who were designing the Interstate Highway System. He was the only one hired "off the street," and later learned he was in that position due to the fact that his scores on the civil service exam were "off the charts." Moody realized that he could visualize three dimensional highway clover leaf designs from every angle in his head, and that trigonometry actually had a use. This did not seem unusual to him since he expected that others could do the same.

Moody  dropped out of college after his first year with a 2.01 GPA. The experience left him depressed and despondent. But, his job continued to challenge him as he worked alongside computer programmers and civil engineers.

After his next job, as a surveyor for the City of Gainesville, Florida, he tried college again, but a serious misunderstanding with a professor left him discouraged and he dropped out a second time. His attempts at college would last over 11 years, as he slowly realized that he was more successful when taking two or three classes at a time. Moody chose to repeat some of the engineering courses critical to his work to be sure he knew the material. With a degree in civil engineering, he was employed in the natural gas industry in pipeline design.

It was not until Moody was 53 that he was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. During a session in his third attempt at marriage counseling, he remembers the exact words of the counselor, "It is not that Larry doesn't care. There is something organically wrong with Larry." He took additional tests and, after studying Asperger's Syndrome, gained a new perspective. "I had no idea that I thought differently than everyone else," said Moody.

Moody proudly, but honestly, proclaims that every engineering project that he has taken on has been successful and that he's always found a solution. One of his many job challenges  was to design a foundation for a new larger, heavier compressor located in the delta muck of Louisiana. The existing compressor, built in 1952, was supported by 110-foot pilings driven into the bedrock and could not be replicated due to the cost. Moody drew upon his survey and drafting experience and other designs he had observed to create a new style of foundation. Prior to Moody's design, an international design team had been hired , but after a short time they returned the contract noting that they could not find a design that would work.

After Moody created a solution, a second design team was hired to evaluate his design and their report was presented at a well attended briefing. Realizing now that his behavior was completely inappropriate for the setting, partway through the briefing Moody interrupted the proceedings with laughter and pointed out the "SWAG method" reference in the report. When no one in the room was willing to give an explanation, Moody explained that it was an acronym meaning "Scientific Wild Ass Guess." The attending Director of Engineering asked the consultants if this was correct and when they reluctantly confirmed, he dismissed the consultants and Moody was given the project to complete. After three years the new platform had settled only 1/8 to 3/8 inches, a very acceptable settlement.

A vice president at that company became an unofficial mentor to Moody, without having the official title. One year he let Moody know of the company's need to fill an unexpected opening to attend a conference in legal negotiations. Moody was curious and agreed to attend the conference. The experience completely changed his manner of negotiating and presenting his point of view. Looking back at the company's delegation of seven company lawyers and one civil engineer, he guesses that the invitation was not really last minute, as he was told, but possibly planned all along.

That same vice president suggested that Moody take advantage of another unexpected opportunity. This one was with a psychologist who was in town to see a number of those in upper management. The vice president casually presented the situation as something that was already paid for and that he might learn something. This non-threatening, interesting offer encouraged Moody to accept. The discussion focused on how to effectively make eye contact. A few days later, the same opportunity came up when someone cancelled their appointment at the last minute. Moody was willing to attend again and the same topic was discussed further. Looking back, he doubts that the opportunities were simply happenstance, but more likely guided by his vice president.

Always looking for possible solutions to problems, Moody came across a new high speed compressor system that was radically different. It was so unusual the company had strong doubts that it would be a good investment. Moody obtained all the specifications to investigate further, but his company was still skeptical and would only agree to a lease-purchase contract that had a one to two year term with the manufacturer handling the maintenance. After one year, the performance of the compressors was so impressive that the company purchased the equipment and eventually bought three more units. These were the first significant sales of this new type of unit for the struggling company. When they realized that Moody was one of the few who could understand and back their new design, they created a full page ad in the "Oil and Gas Journal" featuring Moody with the headline "Larry Moody is no Nuclear Physicist. Actually he's one savvy innovator."

He now realizes that his  unsophisticated communication style he exhibited throughout his life was an example of his autism, but during that time he was unaware  that his manner of communicating was  inappropriate.

When he realized that he works better with fewer disruptions and less noise, each time the company made a new acquisition, Moody volunteered to redesign the workstation cubicles. With the redesign work he not only got credit for volunteering, but he also benefited by giving himself the workstation located away from the high traffic areas.

Being of smaller stature and not easily fitting into his peer group, Moody was often bullied as a young person. He recalls that this teasing and abuse continued until he was 23, a year after he started studying the martial arts. From his teachers, he found experience in the mastery of physical control was equally important to training on ethical choices. He continued with martial arts for 26 years, learning eight different styles. The training helped him gain a realization of the perspective of the other person. He began to see that people regularly told "white lies" to have smoother social connections on an everyday basis. He created a "mental Rolodex" of appropriate behaviors, such as the importance of eye contact and not talking too much.

Moody retired from corporate life in 2001 to care for his seriously ill wife and currently is involved with projects that teach a better understanding of autism spectrum disorders. He is on the board of directors of both the Autism Society of Minnesota and Autism Works, and is involved with several other community organizations.