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Businessman with autism aims to clip the odds

Published on

Cathy Dobson

The sign posted on the outer door of Kyle Wagner-Dixon’s dog grooming business is an eye-opener.

Not every shop owner introduces himself to new customers by explaining his disability before they walk in.

“I feel it necessary to mention that I have a form of autism called Asperger’s Syndrome which impairs my ability to function socially, without affecting any other part of my abilities,” the sign reads.

“As such, I am often unable to carry on conversations and sometimes come off as shy, lacking confidence, abrupt and/or unfriendly. I apologize for this…”

Such challenges prevent many people with Asperger’s Syndrome – even high functioning young adults like Wagner-Dixon – from working full-time, let alone operating their own business.

In fact, a study published by Autism Ontario surveyed 480 youth and adults living with autism and found only 13.9% of participants 20 years and older had full-time employment.

Sarnia’s Wagner-Dixon is out to beat the odds.

“I’m used to being around a business environment,” says the 22-year-old, whose family owned Hindmarch Landscaping for many years. “And I’m always up for intellectual challenges.”

He acknowledged the strong support of family is making his venture possible.

After earning a biology degree at Nipissing University in North Bay, Wagner-Dixon took an online course in dog grooming through the Animal Behavior College.

He had just adopted Colleen, his own Australian Shepherd pup, and wanted to learn more about her care.

“I decided I didn’t want to pay other people to groom her,” he explained. “I thought the best way to do that was to take courses that could teach me how.”

An internship was required for the grooming course and Wagner-Dixon’s placement was at Dog Gone Devine, a grooming spa at 782 Rosedale Ave.

That was in late June. Three months later, Wagner-Dixon owned the business.

“It fell into my lap. They wanted to sell and I had been thinking of having my own business since taking the course.

“Asperger’s presents so differently from person to person,” he said. “For me, I wouldn’t work well with a boss. My own business works better.”

He credits his autism for making him an exceptional problem-solver. He’s good at figuring out more efficient business practices like a better way to dry the dogs so they don’t have to be under a high-velocity dryer as long.

And interacting with dogs comes naturally for Wagner-Dixon.

“I can get along better with dogs than humans,” he explained. “Dogs are more simplistic, less complicated than humans.”

The previous owner at Dog Gone Devine helped Wagner-Dixon with the transition and introduced him to the shop’s existing customer base.

As he expected, some remain customers while others moved on.

“Many of my clients seem to know a lot about autism,” he said. “There’s a lot of awareness these days.”

In fact, one in 94 children is diagnosed with a form of autism.

But Wagner-Dixon is aware he’s got to build the business if he’s going to survive.

The sign on the shop’s outer door asks for patience and emphasizes Wagner-Dixon’s desire to succeed.

“I hope we can work together to ensure that you are totally satisfied with your experiences here at the salon,” it reads.

Dog Gone Devine can be reached by calling 519-336-7211. Appointments are preferred.

Got an interesting business story? Contact Cathy Dobson at [email protected] or 226-932-0985.


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