By Malcolm Wang
Three topics I’m interested in are creativity, solving problems, and careers for autistics. I think about these topics while I am working on art shows.
Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Samantha Craft, who is an expert on these topics. She is a creative person and likes to solve problems. On her website myspectrumsuite.com, she has many resources for autistics who are interested in starting a career. Here is our discussion.
On your Spectrum Suite website, you identify as an “autistic parent of autistic.” Could you tell me a little bit about how you first embraced autism?
My middle son (who is set to graduate this June with a degree in English and editing), was diagnosed by the UC Davis Mind Institute at age 5 with Asperger’s Syndrome. This was before much information about autism was available. I’d been searching for years for answers to my son’s struggles. Once I understood his neurology, I set out to learn as much as I could about the autism spectrum. I speak about the earlier years of raising my three sons in Spectrum Women: Walking to the Beat of Autism. I am a contributing author to the book amongst many other talented writers.
As a former school teacher, I used some of my know-how and experience to create an educationally nurturing home environment for all my sons. With my middle son, I set up art and learning stations and led him from one activity to another. For example, from modeling clay, to books on tape, to magnetic letters, to wooden blocks. I would guide him every five minutes to keep him focused and away from self-harm. Later, when I homeschooled him, I built a curriculum around understanding world cultures, diversity, and history. I embraced his need to seek out stimulation and knowledge, as best I could, and tried hard to provide a home that enhanced his strengths and didn’t focus on deficits. He is a brilliant young man.
As a child, at age 3, he questioned the existence of God, asking, “Who birthed God and how do you know?” Raising him was one of the most challenging and rewarding parts of my life, and I wouldn’t change a single thing, as his existence broadened my view of the world and myself, and he taught me to love unconditionally. I am very proud of the kind, empathetic, wise man he is today.
How has being autistic helped you in your work?
Because of my neurology, I am able to seek out vast amounts of information in a short amount of time, as explained in the article here at Different Brains. For example, at Ultranauts Inc. I am a manager of a recruitment team, and over this past weekend, I watched more than a dozen videos on effective managing. I took notes on key points and then went through my notes and found patterns in the information. From there, I came up with a team philosophy for our recruitment team. One of our recruiters shared recently that she showed the team philosophy to her husband, and said, “Can you believe a team like this actually exists?” She was happy!
I am good at creating new information in a short amount of time. Last weekend, I wrote a 16-page handbook for the team and enjoyed the creative process. Writing for me is like putting a universal jigsaw puzzle together into a visual creation. It feels like painting. I love words and the way they form meaning. I love sounds, too. In addition, my brain is wired to be fair, seek out justice, and give my best effort.
How has being autistic helped you in your everyday life?
While I have co-executive challenges for certain things, such as in making phone calls, writing bills, maneuvering websites, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and so forth, my neurology definitely grants me strengths. If there is a topic I am interested in, I can quickly become well studied in the topic. I explore this ability, and much more, in my well-received book Everyday Aspergers.
Being on the spectrum has granted me the means to think outside the box, to question traditional norms that don’t make sense, to be transparent and genuine, to create long lasting relationships, to easily self-analyze and admit fault, and to connect with other like-minded folks. Overall, how the fact of being on the spectrum has impacted me most, is an ability to love myself, love others, and embrace my uniqueness.
What kinds of topics do you like to research about autism?
For the last 5 years, since starting to work for the innovative technological company Ultranauts (formerly ULTRA Testing), my HUGE area of interest is neurodiversity in the workplace and what practices help and hinder job seekers and employees on the autism spectrum.
I have over 2,000 hours of study on the topic and wrote a manuscript on the subject. Instead of publishing it, the thought for now is to use the information in the presentations my business partner and I give to organizational leaders about neurodiversity in the workplace. When my son was younger, I researched mostly about what autism was and how to assist individuals on the spectrum. More recently, I’ve enjoyed discovering the overlaps of neurodiversity, such as how specific traits of dyslexia or giftedness overlap with being on the spectrum. To me, it’s all one swirling can of multi-color paint and all the colors blend to make new colors undetectable to the eye. I cannot tell where one type of neurology begins or ends.
What is the most exciting thing you learned about autism in your research?
That there are 100s of genetic markers that are related to autism and that we can’t readily pinpoint what it is. Indeed, it is impossible to do so. From my readings, I’ve also developed my own thoughts and theories. In particular that there is no such thing as normal as expressed in writing on this blog article Autism: Outside the Disorder Box, and that theory of mind goes both ways; for instance, if a non-autistic person doesn’t understand my mind and processing, then theoretically, I could say (if using a deficit-model, which I try to avoid) that they lack theory of mind.
I am a young adult looking for a job. Could you explain the type of services Spectrum Suite offers for people like me?
I am partnered with neuroguides.org. J. David Hall and I work together and travel the U.S. and Canada. David’s Neuroguides (a.k.a.: Lifeguides for Autism) is a not-for-profit that provides neurodiversity training and life coaching.
David provides one-on-one sessions to autistic adults around the country (U.S), through online and in person calls, and to some employees at companies with neurodiversity-hiring initiatives. He works with resumes, branding, mock interviews, and so forth. I am so impressed with his mission and compassion, that my own company, Spectrum Suite LLC, is collaborating to further build the curriculum for coaching adults on the spectrum and bring on additional coaches! It’s very much strength focused. You can learn more about our work at myspectrumsuite.com under ‘coaching.’
The Art of Autism has readers all over the world. What geographic area do Spectrum Suite and Neuroguides cover?
I often do video conferencing or presentations with people all over the world. Part of my outreach role with Ultranauts Inc is to connect with professionals who work in the field of autism, including autistic advocates, authors, business owners, educators, conference founders, mental health professionals, and vocational counselors. I am the senior recruiter for Ultranauts, and we have a neurodiversity-hiring initiative. 75% of our team members identify with being on the autism spectrum or a similar profile. 75% of our recruitment team is on the spectrum.
As part of my outreach, I speak to people in the UK, Canada, Australia, Ecuador, New Zealand, India, and more! David and I will travel anywhere to train, teach, or speak, as long as it’s a good fit for all involved. We have five out-of-state visits in the next three months! We have the capacity to provide job coaching or life coaching anywhere, as long as there is a functioning computer and internet available. Oh, and I almost forgot: We are hiring all over Canada and the USA for remote software tester positions, managers, engineers, and more. Feel free to reach out to me personally at email@example.com or on LinkedIn.
I really liked the “35 Interview Tips” on your Spectrum Suite website. What do you think is the most important thing your clients need to know?
Another great inquiry. Hmmmm. Be yourself, and if you lack confidence in being yourself, learn about yourself, whether that’s understanding your neurology, how you learn best, or building a support network. Don’t fake who you are, because once you secure the job, you don’t want to fake every day of work. Find a way to embrace your strengths and find support for your challenges. If you are on the spectrum, work to recognize that being autistic is not a deficit. Sure, you have co-existing conditions. I have 10! But that is not who you are. 24% of employees report having a disability at work. Many of us, from every walk of life, struggle with challenges. And no one, absolutely no one, is perfect or even normal. Be okay with who you are, and highlight your strengths. Don’t be afraid to sell yourself a bit. Be you!
How are you connected with Ultranauts? Can you explain what the company does?
I manage the recruiters at Ultranauts and have been with the company for over 5 years. I am also the outreach lead. The brick and mortar is located in New York, New York, but most every team member works from home, across the U.S. We’ve grown from 5 software testers to over 50, since I started working for the company. We provide wonderful support, such as free mental health and job coaching. We also have designed our recruitment process based on best practices for the autistic population. We have plans to hire 50 more testers this year!
Ultranauts hires autistics. What advantages does a neurodiverse team offer?
Many! What I’ve noted in readings and through direct experience, is those on the autism spectrum typically tend to be loyal, dedicated hard workers who put their best effort into a job, particularly when the workplace culture is one in which employees are understood, valued, and supported. At Ultranauts we are striving toward building a better and better workplace culture, with a keen focus in upcoming years on education, training, and career growth.
In addition, attributes I’ve noted with team members on the spectrum include a great sense of wit and the innate ability to find the small errors and details that make a big difference in the success of an end product. Looking for details is not just related to technology. For example, our recruitment team members make fine editors of written work. Furthermore, I’d say, autistic employees are the first to take responsibility for their actions, try their best to be fair and honest, and steer away from detrimental workplace tactics, such as bullying, manipulation, or stepping on someone else to move up the ladder. Most on the spectrum that is. There is always the exception.
I see on the Ultranauts website that most jobs can be done remotely. How do you train employees and develop neurodiverse teams when they are not in the same place?
We offer onboarding, shadowing, mentoring, support resources, such as suggested readings, reducing stress and anxiety workshops, and community meetings online. Managers have online meetings. Teams meet on Google Hangouts and text on Slack. It’s actually amazing how much connectivity can happen without ever meeting in person. I’d like to give a shout out to one of the recruiters I’ve worked with for 2.5 years now, Carrie. We’ve developed a great friendship through being coworkers online! She is an exemplary team member. She doesn’t happen to be on the spectrum, but one of her children is.
What is the best part about your work?
Honestly, working in bed in my pajamas! Now, intellectually speaking, it’s being able to create new procedures and processes that enable autistic job seekers to find jobs. In addition, I enjoy meeting new people and learning about their efforts. It is also fulfilling to see how much the company has grown and how many people are now employed who might not have been if Ultranauts didn’t exist.
What is the hardest part about your work?
Learning how to manage my time is the biggest challenge. I tend to far exceed my contracted hours. And as a salaried employee, there are no financial perks to working too much! However, I love to work, and Ultranauts senior leaders look for ways to compensate me for my efforts. The second hardest thing is being filled with ideas for improvement. I see all the great things we are doing, but part of my mind will always see how we can do things even better! It’s a good thing my boss understands my neurology!
Do you have any funny stories about your work? Can you tell me something that made you laugh?
Hmmm. My partner at work, Carrie, cracks me up all the time. We talk daily during our work week in Slack, and often in video conferences or through Facebook. We laughed today, because she was impressed that I could figure out her work needs; more specifically, that I could tell she didn’t like using a particular organizational application.
I had to reassure her I wasn’t psychic on that one, (even though I am about some things!) And, I responded that it was actually quite easy to determine her distaste for the application, because during our video calls, her face always scrunched up when she was trying to maneuver through it!
The Art of Autism is all about neurodiverse art and creativity. What is your favorite way to express your creativity?
Writing. Writing. Writing.
Next would be creating a comfy and pretty home. Third would be painting. I am currently seeking new creative endeavors, perhaps sewing or knitting. If I can find time with all my other works! Oh, I also love creating training workshops! Thank you for taking the time to interview me.
I appreciate having the forum to share and connect with you and others. Readers can find me on Twitter at aspergersgirls and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/samantha.craft.5. I am always open to meeting new people.
Thank you, Samantha for sharing your insights about employment and creativity!
Malcolm Wang is an artist in Michigan. His next exhibit is in April 2020 at the Novi Civic Center. The exhibit will have thirty new photos from his nature hikes. Malcolm was diagnosed with autism at age three.