When he was a fourth grader in Jefferson City, Mo., Chad Winkler, CerE’08, was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism. The assumption was that he would have difficulty fitting in to “normal” society. That might be why Winkler says he’s always been bothered by assumptions.
Now 25, Winkler is a development engineer for vitrified bonded products at Radiac Abrasives in Salem, Ill. “Basically, I do various projects, from trying cost-effective fire cycles for our kilns to dealing with raw material issues to running lab profiles for products or even trying new grain and bond combinations,” he says. “It’s a job where I have to don many different hats to improve our products all around.”
Asperger’s Syndrome is on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum, but Winkler had a tough time learning verbal and non-verbal communication skills as a kid. “One thing to keep in mind,” he says, “is that every case of autism should be considered on a case-by-case basis.”
In Winkler’s case, he experienced delays in the development of motor skills in addition to communication skills. Some kinds of physical activity have been very difficult for him — riding a bike, for example. His mother, Becky Winkler, helped him deal with these issues and also worked with him to overcome certain mannerisms that might have seemed odd to some.
“He’s an amazing young man,” his mother told the Jefferson City News-Tribune. “He has had to overcome so much in his life, and he’s successful. I always knew he would be.”
Though he’s definitely come a long way, Winkler explains that not all of the side-effects of Asperger’s Syndrome are obstacles. He can memorize facts, places and events in almost perfect detail. He can still tell you exactly where he was and what he was doing when he lost a specific tooth on a vacation to Florida, for example.
Winkler graduated from Missouri S&T in four years with a bachelor’s degree in ceramic engineering with minors in chemistry and history. During his college career, he was inducted into Keramos, a professional fraternity for ceramic engineering students, and Alpha Chi Sigma, a professional fraternity for chemistry students.
“I had Chad in a couple of classes,” says Richard Brow, Curators’ Professor of ceramic engineering. “He was a good student and he struck me as possessing the stereotypical, somewhat introverted engineering personality. I hired him as a research assistant and watched him grow to become a valuable member of our research team. I am delighted — but not surprised — by his success at Radiac Abrasives.”