Autism Career Pathways, with Maisie Soetantyo, M.Ed. | EDB 212


Maisie Soetantyo, M.Ed. discusses her work helping people on the autism spectrum find careers.

(29 minutes) Maisie is the founder of Autism Career Pathways, a 501c3 organization with a mission to provide a platform for businesses and communities to access resources and learning content for better recruitment, retention and reward opportunities for neurodiverse hires. She is also the founder of CATCH Clinic, which provides parent training to families across the US and internationally. Maisie is a professional in the field of autism for close to thirty years, and is certified in the Relationship Development Intervention® program.

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Introducing Maisie Soetantyo, M.Ed. 

DR HACKIE REITMAN (HR): Hi, I’m Dr. Hackie Reitman, welcome to another episode of exploring different brains and today, we’re so lucky to have with us; “The great, The Fabulous Maisie” Who’s going to tell us all about what she does and how she’s helping so many people, Maisie thanks for being on with us today.

MAISIE SOETANTYO (MS): My pleasure, my pleasure.

HR: Macy introduce yourself properly.

MS: My name is Maisie Soetantyo, I am the founder of a new nonprofit in San Francisco Bay area called Autism Career Pathways. And this new nonprofit our goal is to figure out autism and neurodiverse employability, How do we…how can we support businesses to be able to open their doors more to neurodiversity hiring. So, I am actually a long-time autism professional. I’ve been working with families raising kids with ASD, As well as other diagnosis, for about thirty-years now. So I started as an undergraduate at UCLA, I was trained to do behavioral therapy so I was one of those people you call a “behaviorist” and I did that for a long time and then I realize there’s so many things that cannot be taught, Sitting at a table behind closed doors. I also realized that even my most successful clients if they do manage to function in the classroom independently or with minimal support, when they come home, they just go straight to their bedroom and just stay just they’re not even taking part in being part of the family. So I just couldn’t figure out, How do I help my clients to generalize their skills, To use their skills spontaneously and also to just want to explore other people’s interests, You know have the back and forth conversations and You know, so I just didn’t know how to do that.

So I learn about this other program called relationship development intervention and it’s very, very different, It’s a family base parent driven interventions so I got certified in that about 20 years ago now and I never looked back because you know as a parent coach, you just go straight to the heart of it. The whole experience of working with parents at home, it humbles you as a professional. So what I was doing to behavioral therapy, I was working at a clinic, Everything was clinic based, And then as a parent coach, You I only work with parents at home and I realized quickly that all this homework that I used to give to parents, You know I always point fingers to parents, “Well, It didn’t work, None of the behaviors changed because you didn’t do this, You were not being consistent and things, you know, All of that.” I was one of those cocky like clinician like telling people what to do…

HR: How dare you! (Laughs.)

MS: (Laughs.) You know, I was young, I was…You know, I didn’t know any better and then I learned about this other got certified in this program, Became a parent coach and it was a whole different experience, I loved it and of course, I became a mom, I’m a parent to a neurodiverse kid at home and then you know my clients grew up because in a relationship based intervention, We part.. we’re partners, I watch them grow up, some of them have college degrees, some of them finished, you know, Graduate and very few of them managed to get a job. So I’m thinking; “Wow, It’s almost as if the world is not ready for neurodiverse people and if…I as a professional, I’ve been my best and I partnered up with the best parents, We’ve gone through this journey together, For so many years and yet, It doesn’t really go anywhere in the real world as far as career Pathways we’ve got a big problem. So that’s why last year I started the nonprofit autism career Pathways and our goal is to figure out how can we better educate and support neurodiverse…You know screening, hiring.

My passion is to help the folks who are minimally to moderately verbal because this population people who need more support, their actually…they have talents, They have great work ethics and…their untapped potentials and I do believe that people want to help our community, small-business owners they do want to help. In California, we get tax breaks if we do hire…if we have neurodiverse initiative and yeah, it’s very, very tough still because, people don’t know what they don’t know, you know. So, the autism career pathway goal is to create a robust online video training series to help small businesses to just be more open, whether they can provide internships or part-time work, that’s the goal to be able to see; “Oh, this is how you possibly train somebody on autistic adult to work at the library”. A library why not…I just don’t understand why libraries Across America uh you know, come out and say “We’re hiring neurodiverse people.” because it’s a quiet environment. The types of jobs they have at the library, It’s actually perfect, It’s very systematic. You know so, that’s the goal is to create this online short video series to show different types of workplaces; “How do you assess, Integrate, and support neurodiverse people?” So, there you go.

Showing businesses the value of neurodiverse labor

HR: Well, what has been your biggest challenge so far?

MS: The biggest challenge is to empower small medium businesses to put their name to our database. There is very minimal database and I’m at the point now where I’m connected with Stanford Neurodiversity program with a saint you know I think there’s so many bigger companies bigger size companies, as well as, Stanford with Dr. Lawrence Fung, they’re doing such a great job trying to figure out or create a protocol for training support for neurodiverse young adults but we don’t have the database of willing businesses, then the rate is going to be slow.

HR: If we can show more businesses: you’ll make more money and it’ll be easier for you if you hire this neurodiverse individual who’s going to be loyal, focused…we have but somebody has to help them and hold their hand through it too.

MS: That’s right, That’s right. And, last year, I took a year off from work to just learn and come back and learn from neurodiverse young adults and I was just so…Well I was excited because I know the trend is shifting. Like this is the this is the exciting, having a neurodiversity initiative that’s very exciting, all companies want to do it. And I learned so much from autistic adults, Autistic advocates, and I even changed my mindset in terms of like teaching parents to do certain things; How to guide the neurodiverse, you know young family members, you know. I just realized that we don’t have a common language, you know what’s that middle…what’s…what’s there’s a…we need a bridge between a more neurotypical social norms and the neurodiverse people, right?

HR: And can you in communication norms?

MS: That’s right, That’s right. And right now, we have a short video clips here and there, we have a ton of reading materials, downloadables. There’s really no structure though, in terms of like what might work in your flower shop company. What…what people don’t talk about is the importance of relationship, Right? What what does that look like and I’m a parent myself, I’m a neurodiverse myself and I when I coached parents, I say that as parents, we have to provide the safest place for all of our kids diagnosis or no diagnosis. But more so, when you have a kid who has challenges just sensory challenges, being bullied at school, they’re being made fun of because of their differences. So, I would say people ask me, what is the first step of intervention? I would say; It’s…it’s the parents mindset you know and that relationship connect…if you have a child who is autistic that natural connection just doesn’t happen because the brain is atypical. You know so parents learned very quickly to overcompensate so that’s why we fall back to giving instructions, we actually outsource very quickly unfortunately because the moment you have a diagnosis of ASD, You have a report with a checklist while get speech therapy, Occupational therapy, Behavioral therapy, This, This and this. And I have nothing against those recommendations, but nobody tells the parents look, as a parent, you have so much you can do to make neural differences, to change the brain because your child’s brain is plastic.

The importance of relationships

HR: What I’m hearing from you that’s so resounding and encouraging to me is; Hey, Let’s start with relationships because, let’s face it, in these families of special needs individuals, With divorce rates about a million percent and there’s a lot of denial going on and then there’s a lot of committed issues and there’s a whole bunch of stuff. And what amazes me, here at different brains, and I’m by the way, I make fun of myself cause I’m a parent and Rebecca often says to me, Dad, Sometimes good intentions are not enough. But it amazes me when a parent will tell me about their child who might be 40 years old, doesn’t matter about age. But…and they tell me all about, And I meet the individual, there’s no resemblance to what the parent was talking about…

MS: That’s right. 

HR: You know, And um How do you get around that…sometimes, It’s a roadblock instead of a willing relationship in a way.

MS: Well, It is roadblock, I think it’s very scary to get a diagnosis. You love baseball, can’t wait to take my kids watches first baseball game and so on, you know all parents have dreams. Then you have this baby and the baby is not developing as expected and you get a diagnosis and it doesn’t have to be autism, it could be anything, Right? It’s heartbreaking. It reminded me of when my mom got it, you know we learned that she got a diagnosis of cancer, it was very scary. You know, It’s very traumatic experience. So I think as human beings is very understandable we go through that crisis, you do have to go through that crisis of…just grieving, feeling angry and eventually hopefully you get to come out to the other end of just being accepting and being empowered you know. I wish that there’s better parent education provided for free for parents to really help them understand if you’re dealing with autism, this is what it is. And actually with social media today, with Instagram Facebook learning from autistic adults, it’s so empowering because if you’re a parent of a two-year-old, you can look ahead of you and ask any questions on social media and they’ll answer you any questions, they’re very open. The autistic adults, you know the advocacy they’re doing a tremendous.

So, I would say my advice for parents, don’t be afraid. You have questions about your child’s diagnosis, you go straight to the source, learn from the adult versions of your kid so that you can know that okay, my child is different but there is a special place for this kid. You know and once you know that I think as a parent you feel more hopeful and once you learn how to…well, Here’s a question, If you outsource for therapies and your child is with other…people most of the time right? So as a mom, your role is not so much as a mom, but you’re the driver, you drive your kids to this therapy, that therapy, you’re a schedule manager because therapist ‘A’ can’t show up or…just, just… you’re just very quickly, you strip of your confidence as an intuitive mom as well as dad’s right? And you outsource to professionals because you feel like how do I make my child talk? How do I make my child stop doing that? Running all over the place, how do I…then your focus is really to put out fires. You know it becomes problems and I think parents forget life shouldn’t be just fixing the autism, the ADHD but you know that condition also affects me as a person and affects my neuro-typical, my other children you know it affects family.

The Autism Career Pathways Assessment

HR: And let’s work into that as little bit of a Segway to what you call the three phases. Can you elaborate on that? 

MS: Oh, you’re talking about the autism career pathway assessment? 

HR: Yeah.

MS: Ok, So the career screening tool I design last year, the purpose of that is to show businesses and to show candidates and their families, a better picture of the persons’ strength, interest, attitude, as well as the areas of weaknesses. So, what comes out of this career screening tool is a short video portfolio, it’s about 10-15 minutes, snapshots of what this is the person that a company might be hiring. So, the first phase is to look at the person’s ability to self-regulate, it’s actually really simple, it’s just a box of fidgets, All of them love it and sometimes I have to check before they will put them in their pocket…(Laughs). 

HR: (Laughs.)

MS: So, That’s a…I wouldn’t show work accommodations, It’s actually simple things that can also be good for a neurotypicals. You know a quiet room, aquarium, not bright lightings, maybe curtains. It’s like Google has a setup like this, they have nap-pods, Facebook has the Roof Garden where people can just stick a break and it’s just simple things, It’s not scary things not expensive. So that’s the first phase so they’re allowed to bring your own fidgets from home or they can use of the box of fidgets that’s made available to them, during the interview, during the screening tool. And then, they’re also told to just bring something that you can show, something that you’re really good at, that you can show. So, some of the them bring their guitar if they’re musicians, They would Play a song or they can bring a stack of things that they can put together just to show if they’re really good at packaging and assembling they’ll bring that and put it together. And the feedback I got, it’s very clearly…they all say that he’s just knowing I can start a professional interview by showing you what I’m really good at that reduces the anxiety.

HR: That’s great.

MS: So, Phase 2 looks at the executive functioning skills so this is…this is the…the heart of the assessment where we want to show the potentials to problem-solve to transition, To organize materials, You know and to also just deal with challenges. So, for this phase…phase 2, One of the activities was the building a marshmallow structure using Marshmallow with sticks, Toothpicks. And this was that activity that’s commonly used by A.S.A.P.I.N and couple of big companies, That’s what spark the idea to me because I saw a news coverage that during one of their summons and that’s the activity and I thought, Well, Why not just develop a whole assess screening tool. So, I just add more activities and develop a scoring protocol. And the last phase is to look at candidates ability to use social communication part, So can they take what they’ve learned in phase 2 and partner up with Somebody and explain the process, Can they ask for help? Can they show or model for someone else, Across the fourth phase 3 started the hardest. So, in the video portfolio, I want to show businesses you know, what are the type of scaffolding that we might work accommodations. So, for most people is additional visual, Maybe photos or written instructions, for example. It’s just certain kinds of materials, Organizing Materials better for them. So, It’s not that difficult uh so I’m hoping with these video resumes, It can also be given inside to businesses as well as parents If they’re all still living with parents, They can really see, Wow, You know these are all activities that my son or daughter have never done before but look at that, They’re doing it, You know. So that what the screening tool is all about.

The COVID-19 Affect

HR: You know, With our 18 + year old neurodivergent interns you know we have a mentorship training program for unpaid and we train and mentor and then they go on to bigger and better things, We’re finding a paradoxical kind of ironic twist to the coronavirus times…

MS: Yes.

HR: We’ve actually expanded our program virtually and we’re finding everybody with different neurodiversities a lot more relaxed these days, More social. What is your been finding? 

MS: That is very interesting, I think it’s great for the families we work with because everybody’s home…(Laughs). So now they’re actually having to figure out a way where they can go through their days and there’s no escaping it (Laughs). You can’t really drop your kid off at a therapy somewhere you can’t have people come to your home and mom and dads have to work together as a team like you, you take this kid or I have a meeting, you have to communicate better. So I think for parents as well as for me and my husband, we have to communicate more and we have time to do that and before, it’s always just rushing…

HR: Ships passing in the night.

MS: Right, right. See it wasn’t good, it wasn’t good. So, I think for more parents, Hopefully there are definitely Silver Linings you know, during COVID-19 and after COVID. Now for neuro-diverse kids, I think that some of them do well because you’re removing the stress of going to school just…just the peer pressure you know I think for.. I think for ADHD students, This is good because you remove the noise, You know the distractions and it’s just simpler for some people, neurodiverse people but not so much…I’ve got 2 kids, my daughter, my fifteen year old as she’s very independent, she’s…she’s doing great, We don’t have to worry about her. Now, we have my 11 year old who’s neurodiverse, You take away that school structure, It was tough. It took us 3 weeks of just trying to establish a routine like getting up, It’s really hard. So it could go both ways…Yeah so that’s covid-19 but I think…I really believe there’s always a silver lining.

HR: How do people learn more about you and your programs? 

MS: In terms of the autism career Pathways, We have a website so that’s where I put basically our progress, We’re going to hopefully apply for Grants and be able to actually built this online video libraries. I am doing consulting to businesses and also parents, I love working with parents, I love working with families because I want parents to know, Look, They can do at home to built field career readiness, You can’t just drop your kid off somewhere and tell that person, Can you teach my kid to be work job ready? It doesn’t work like that, it starts, we build the foundations at home, So, if you want to call it family career-readiness curriculum, Be it. I’ll package it that way. But it’s…I want to empower parents and I love doing consulting if parents want to figure out and partner up with me, that’s where they can find me through a website. On Instagram I do @Maisiesoetantyo That’s my parent coaching side where I actually post videos of me working with young adults, Parents working with young kids to just show what can we do at home and the other the other one at ASD career pathways that’s for this project. So, I love talking, I…love talking to parents, just talking to organizations like yours to see if we can support each other. 

Advice for parents 

HR: What is the single biggest piece of advice you would have for a parent on regrading employment in the future for their young one?

MS: The first advice is to fall in love with your family members differences and quirkiness, because we have to see the purpose, we have to help them expand it, we have to be able to add variation. Second advice would be to nurture relationships with your community. So your local dry cleaners, flowers shops, bakeries, you know, your…you places in your neighborhoods and you bring your neurodiverse young adult out, You know. So, it introduce our neurodiverse family member to the world so the world can see them. I think that’s important, Everything’s back to relationships, Investments with other people. So…so have an open mind set, Have an open mindset instead of fixed mindset, That’s the first step because when…when you talk to another business owner and you have your neurodiverse family member standing next to you, you have to include your family member. You have to have that, you have to communicate with other people. This is my son, He loves coming here because of this and you got to communicate with other people who don’t know anything about autism, You know so I think people can feel that energy And see how much you love this this young adult and I think that will eventually open up I think over the years when you have a young adult and then that place already know, That business already know you, your family. They’re more likely to maybe do give you a couple of hours of internships or you know. I have so many stories like that when I interview young adults, you know, working at the restaurants or food trucks. That’s how it started because it’s the community, you know, So that’s my recommendation. 

HR: Maisie, thank you so much for being with us today I learned a lot and keep getting all those people jobs for those of us with different brains. Thank you so much for being with us.

MS: Well, thank you so much for the opportunity, this was fun, So much to talk about, So much work to be done. But it’s a good start.