I had the pleasure of capturing the following written interview with author Samantha Craft. Craft, who is autistic herself, is involved in several aspects of the autism community, making her mark and paving a path to success for others on the autism spectrum.
-Nick Venturella, Owner, AutismHR.com
AutismHR (AHR): Please provide a brief introduction to who you are and how you're active in the Autism community through your work.
Samantha Craft (SC): Samantha Craft (Marcelle), M.Ed. is the mother of three teenage boys, one who is on the autism spectrum. Samantha is the job recruiter for ULTRA Testing, an autism educator, the author of the blog and book Everyday Aspergers, Selection Committee Chair at the ANCA World Autism Festival and is active in autism groups locally and globally. She can be reached on Twitter at aspergersgirls and at email@example.com. A former schoolteacher and advocate for children with special needs, she appreciates the skills and talents of autistics.
AHR: When did you learn you were on the Autism Spectrum?
SC: 2012, when I was attending mental therapy as part of a requirement for a college program I was attending.
AHR: What did, or do you still, struggle with when it comes to working as an individual on the spectrum?
SC: This article explains some of my struggles: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/exceptional-company-creates-job-role-around-autistic-seekers-ciampi
Today, for the most part, I struggle with doing too much for my job. Putting in overtime and not taking breaks sometimes when needed. It's important for me to do a good job and to do it right. I have a hard time with self-care when I become over involved in a project. Also, because I give 110%, I sometimes have a hard time with constructive feedback, as I am going above and beyond continually. I still get nervous every time before I host a job interview or make an outreach call. I don't think that's something that will ever go away. I consider myself brave and courageous to keep moving forward in spite of the anxiety and apprehension. I also misinterpret communication at times, thinking one comment means more than it is intended to, or misreading or over-reading a statement. I have gotten better at mentioning to my supervisor when I have anxiety over the job, but typically I keep it to myself. I don't have a day on the job without some type of anxiety. That's just the way it is, but I have learned to excel regardless.
AHR: Do you have any tips or tricks you've discovered that help you adapt or overcome those struggles?
SC: Yes. Talking to peers on the autism spectrum who truly get where I am coming from. Sometimes all it takes is another listening ear. Also, I wait 24 hours if I am highly anxious before contacting my supervisor or the cofounder about a concern. I find that within a day most of my angst or worry about something has dissipated. I also am trying to speak up more for myself, to feel comfortable expressing when something doesn't seem right or fair. I am fortunate to have a leadership team at my job who truly cares about my well being and listens to my input and concerns. Writing also helps to turn my anxiety into something proactive, productive, and useful to others. If something 'triggers' me on the job or outside of my work, I try to harness that anxiety and turn it into something that will benefit the world in the long run--whether useful tips for those on the autism spectrum facing the job search or working on my second book about autism and the workplace.
AHR: What have you found to be a strength, or even multiple strengths, that contribute positively to your work because you're on the spectrum?
SC: One of my strengths is bottom up thinking that I talk about in this article: http://differentbrains.com/bottoms-up-the-innovative-thinking-style-of-the-aspergers-mind/. I am very good at taking in many specific facts about one area from a variety of sources and piecing them together into new information.
I am also gifted at organizing. Before I move into a house (I have moved over 20 times in my life), I can visualize where I will put everything I own, including the exact location of furniture, clothing items, and kitchen supplies. I can visualize my future home like a giant doll house and sit there, in my mind, rearranging and organizing until I find the perfect order.
I am also excellent at absorbing a topic of special interest. I talk about this in my book Everyday Aspergers. I generally take on a new area of interest--lately it's been autism in the workplace--and can intensely focus on the topic for months or years. In the case of autism and employment, I've been reading about the subject matter for over two years, and have accumulated 100s of resources and data.
AHR: I know you're currently a recruiter for ULTRA Testing. The more I learn about ULTRA Testing the more interested I am in this organization. Tell us a bit about ULTRA Testing and your role there.
SC: ULTRA Testing was started in 2012 by two MIT graduates. The cofounders were highly interested in creating a start up company that provided job opportunities for individuals on the autism spectrum. When I first started with ULTRA, over 2 years ago, we had about 5 testers, now we have over 35, 75% who consider themselves neurodivergent, primarily autistic and/or Aspergers. Our testers work from home across the United States. We implement special measures to ensure best workplace inclusive practices, like daily and weekly survey questions and yearly surveys that directly address employees' sense of well being and other workplace concerns. I work closely with the VP of Operations and one of the cofounders to address the needs of all workers, including those on the autism spectrum. One of the reasons I am writing my new book about autism and the workplace is to put in place one comprehensive overview for employers about the neurodiverse workforce.
AHR: If anyone reading this is interested in potentially working for ULTRA Testing is there a way for them to reach out to inquire further?
SC: Yes. They can see videos, articles, and other information at ultratesting.us
They can contact the recruitment department at firstname.lastname@example.org
AHR: We’ve mentioned that you’re an author. Tell us more about your book, Everyday Aspergers.
SC: I can best share by offering out two reviews by best selling authors, but basically my first book is based on 150 journal entries from my online Blog about my experience with being a person diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome. Here are a couple reviews:
“There has never been another book like Everyday Aspergers. In prose that is alternatingly playful, witty, brave, heartbreaking, and encouraging, Samantha Craft explores her experience of life on the spectrum in meticulous and comprehensive detail. Many parts of the book — including ‘116 Reasons I Know I Have Asperger’s Syndrome’ and her description of her journey to ‘Planet Aspie’ and return to Earth — are classic, stand-alone set pieces that rank with the very best writing from autistic self-advocates. This book is a gift for autistic people in general, for autistic women in specific, and for neurotypical readers who want to become more effective allies. By exploring her autism, Craft teaches us all how to be more compassionate and alive human beings.” ~ Steve Silberman, author of NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity
“Everyday Aspergers is an unusual and powerful exploration of one woman’s marvelously lived life. Reminiscent of the best of Anne Lamott, Everyday Aspergers jumps back and forth in time through a series of interlocking vignettes that give insight and context to her lived experience as an autistic woman. The humor and light touch is disarming, because underneath light observations and quirky moments are buried deep truths about the human experience and about her own work as an autistic woman discerning how to live her best life. From learning how to make eye contact to finding ways to communicate her needs to being a dyslexic cheerleader and a fraught mother of an also-autistic son, Samantha Craft gives us a marvelous spectrum of experiences. Highly recommended for everyone to read — especially those who love people who are just a little different.” ~ Ned Hayes, bestselling author of The Eagle Tree
NOTE FROM AHR: We wanted to tell you where you can pick up your own copy of the book online: Everyday Aspergers
AHR: You've also mentioned that you’re working on a new book specifically tailored to organizations’ HR departments that want a practical guide about how to hire and retain autistic workers. Tell us about that.
SC: I am super excited about this project. As I've said, I've been researching autism and the workplace as my special interest for almost two years. I first set out to find some practical guides for the leadership team at ULTRA, but soon found there was no comprehensive book out there for employers--a guide that explained the ins and out of autism and the workplace written by an autistic in the field of HR. I started by making a 25 page handbook for the company, but quickly realized there was so much more that needed to be said. So I set about to write it out. I am almost done with the book, it only took me a few months, because of my prior research, but I suspect the editing process will take some time. Some topics include:
I talk about the pros and cons of disclosing, specific terms such as neurodiversity, functioning labels, and special needs.
My hope is the book will be a one stop place for those interested in or currently implementing strategies to hire and retain individuals with brain variances, like autism. One thing I point out, that I think is vital, is to move away from trainings by non-autistics or trainings that don't include the autistic employee. This practice is not ideal on many levels which I explore in the book. In addition, I suggest moving away from titles and showcasing posters that read "Autism" in the workplace -- I explain that this is demeaning to many autistics and that we would not list "Blacks" or "Blackness" or "ADHD" in the workplace, so why autism? The book offers insights from other autistics as well and professionals, that I have either interviewed or surveyed.
AHR: Do you have a timeline of when you expect that new book to be completed and released?
SC: I hope to be finished by this summer. Release date will be dependent on a number of factors, such as looking for a publisher and editing.
AHR: You're also the VP of MySpectrumSuite.com, which is an organization of yours that celebrates neurodiversity through all forms of art and expression. Tell us more about this.
SC: I started Spectrum Suite to bring the spotlight to autistic authors and artists and to provide free and affordable services to the autistic community. Recently, we started hosting monthly women gatherings at my home. In the works is two workshops on employment and autism, a job fair, and a women's weekend retreat. The company is in start up stage, just beginning about a year ago. But we've already interviewed some artists and authors. I also provide resources on the page, like a list of autistic professionals you won't find anywhere else.
AHR: With everything you're involved in, what do you find most meaningful about the work you do?
SC: For myself, my work gives me a release for my brain energy and anxiety. For others, I find it brings us closer together as a community and that my words can sometimes offer closure and answers to some people on the autism spectrum. Overall, what I find most meaningful is being able to be authentic and share my story in hopes of touching others and encouraging others to share their story. I am also beginning to teach again, which is super exciting. I love teaching. I will be presenting a workshop on empowerment and Aspergers/Autism at the ANCA World Autism Festival.
AHR: Tell us a little about your progression over time leading up to engaging in work you find meaningful and fulfilling. In other words, how did you determine what work is most meaningful for you to engage in and how did you go about pursuing that work?
SC: I guess I stopped thinking and second-guessing, and just did it. I learned a few years back to let go of outcomes and expectations and to just be the best version of me I can be, to be resilient, kind, honest, open, and hardworking and to not feel guilty about reaping the benefits and joys of authentic living --- such as having a large support network of awesome folks and knowing many kind people. Authenticity inspires people.
AHR: What is your best piece of advice for other autistic individuals on their journey toward finding meaningful work?
SC: Know yourself. Be yourself. Know autism. And find out how autism fits with you. Empower yourself and believe in yourself. Surround yourself with others who get you and understand. You aren't alone.
Here is an article specifically for job seekers on the autism spectrum: http://www.myspectrumsuite.com/job-seeker-tips/
And another for employers: http://www.myspectrumsuite.com/events/8-proven-strategies-attract-retain-candidates-autism-spectrum/
Thanks for the great questions. I enjoyed the process!