This is a guest post from Bill Wong, OTD, OTR/L. He is an occupational therapist with autism in California. He received his masters and clinical doctorate (OTD) degrees in occupational therapy at University of Southern California in 2011 and 2013, respectively. His OTD capstone project was on the lived experiences of members in the autism community. He has presented at eight state, national, and international occupational therapy conferences combined, with majority of which on autism. He current serves as a member in the Rose Parade Float Committee for Occupational Therapy Professional Association of California, where he moderates the Facebook fan page for that committee. He indirectly supports Family Success by Design. In this guest post, he writes about his experience with autism and employment in the field of occupational therapy. Follow him on Twitter.
Autism and Employment: Being A Leader In Occupational Therapy As An Autistic Individual
Occupational therapy is a socially demanding profession. Not surprisingly, many of the people who are in the field are social butterflies, including its local, national, and international leaders. I, on the other hand, am an autistic individual. I usually am on the introverted side compared to my OT peers. Yet, I have been able to establish myself as a rising star in the OT profession, particularly in leadership. I am also connected with over 1,100 OT students and practitioners across the globe. So, how did I do it?
- Stepping outside my comfort zone– OT was my second chance at a career. I wanted to make the most of it (especially since my parents paid over $150,000 for my OT education). So, I put my hat in the ring for a prestigious leadership position for the 2009-2010 school year, as I was competing against a girl from Washington University in St. Louis (another perennial top OT program in the United States) in an election. I did not win. However, I was able to use that experience and my subsequent accomplishments to earn respect from my contemporaries, including the girl who beat me in that election. In fact, that girl and I had become great friends as we had a lot of mutual respect for each other despite being from different states.
- Knowing the “right” people– In my OT adventures, I got to know a few former and present local, national, and even international OT association presidents and others who are high up in leadership in these OT associations. This is evident by the fact that most of such people follow me on Twitter and/or Facebook. What this has done is to send a message to the OT community that I am not afraid to be in the company of its big boys and girls.
- Social skills– Since I started OT school, I worked very hard on my social skills, especially when I met people whom I just know on social media or as complete strangers at OT conferences. I knew that I must make these meeting count, because good impressions can lead to opportunities down the road or enhance rapport that I had created on social media.
- Social media use– I am not perfect at this. However, I have become better at this with time. In my early OT days, I was immature. I made many posts that I either should not have posted or should have discussed with the poster privately instead of putting on that person’s profile. As time went on, such social errors became almost non-existent. Even though I did not start great with social media use, the impression I have sent to the peers who know me recently (as well as those who seen me grow) is that I am working hard on my professional development, which is important for my reputation as I have a long time to go for my career.
- Accomplishments– I have presented eight times as OT conferences locally, nationally, and internationally. Because I have accomplished quite a bit, I have become a role model for some OT students. Meanwhile, because I have done many OT presentations, I have shown to the OT community that I want to contribute to the profession.
- Role models– I want to be as complete a leader as possible. So, I decided to have several role models- one or a few for different traits that they each are particularly good at. It is a bit of an unconventional approach. But, I got to understand how they make their styles work before creating my own style.
- Sportsmanship– In spite of being increasingly well-known in the OT community, I dealt with losses in the leadership arena again and again. As a competitor, I hate to lose, especially in things I believe I am good at. However, I also knew that I am young in my OT career, which means I have many opportunities. Therefore, it is to my best interest to act as a good sport so that I can send a message that I have a heart of a champion while being a graceful loser.
- Being aware of how I portray myself– If I am serving a leadership position, I know I am not only representing myself, but also the group/committee/organization that I am a part of. Professionalism is imperative here!
- Being a team player- OT leadership is usually a team affair. So, I must know how to work with other members in a committee or organization. I also must be aware of what I can or can not do. Otherwise, I will be wearing out the committee or organization’s income very quickly.
OT is not an easy profession for autistic individuals to enter. Aside from the education, they also must demonstrate traits to be effective clinicians in practice, which can be difficult for autistic individuals in many ways. However, aside from being a competent clinician, I have shown that autistic individuals CAN belong in OT leadership.
I think it will be great for autistic individuals to be involved in professional leadership, particularly in professions that can make differences for autistic people. These autistic individuals will have inside knowledge on how to make a difference in these professions. The thing is, they also must be aware that one professionalism slip up not only hurt them, but also the organizations they represent.
What are your thoughts about Bill’s success in the occupational therapy field? What questions would you like to ask him?