A Key to Success: Self Advocacy

When autistic people hear the term “self awareness” it’s often in being reprimanded for not mirroring neurotypical behavior. In Autism Advantage, we emphasize the actual meaning of the term: understanding who you are and how you operate in this world. If the X-Men has taught us anything, it is that unique traits are needed and necessary. Accepting and understanding who you are as an autistic person allows you to find ways to leverage your autistic traits as an advantage throughout your career.

Understanding who you are as an autistic person also equips you to confidently operate as a self advocate. If you aren’t familiar with the term, self advocacy means that all humans hold the right to speak, and make decisions, for themselves.  Organizations like the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and The Autistic Women’s Network, and publications like NOS Magazine and The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism offer connections to great resources in which you can learn more about self advoacy.

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This week, our Autism Advantage data analytics class welcomed Jessie Wusthoff who helped our participants understand the term more deeply. As a leading thinker in Silicon Valley on workforce planning, organizational development, and disability advocacy, Wusthoff was able to share best practices on how to effectively utilize self advocacy in the workplace.

During her time with our Autism Advantage class, Wusthoff detailed how self advocacy could be applied to secure workplace accommodations that would allow the employee and their employer to succeed. Asking for workplace accommodations can often be difficult for individuals, as the uncertainty of how their request will impact their position in the workplace can produce anxiety. Wusthoff shared that such requests can be anxious for managers as well due to knowledge gaps or inexperience with accommodation requests. By showing our students how accommodations help all parties, and how accommodation requests can be effectively framed, Wusthoff helped prepared our students to be the best employees that can be.

When it comes to accommodations, the truth is that all humans utilize them. It’s just that our society has gotten pretty good at providing them for certain groups of people and not others. Those our society does not consider disabled often don’t realize how society accommodates them over others in their everyday lives. Providing them accommodations (even if unknown) is great. All humans should have the accommodations they need to succeed.  If society has failed to build accommodations for you, it is your right to speak up. We can’t expect others to speak for us. We must speak for ourselves. Be self aware of who you are, including your talents and accommodation needs. Then advocate for them. Self advocacy will only help you and your employer succeed.

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Hey! Our friend Kenneth is riding his bike this July for 100 miles from Washington, DC to the Atlantic Ocean. He decided to do this on his own to raise awareness and funds to train autistic adults through Autism Advantage. We think that’s awesome and hope you do to. You can support his effort by clicking here. Check it out!

CA Technologies Enables Autistic Students to ‘Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before’

My second favorite part about taking our Autism Advantage data analyst class to CA Technologies yesterday was the resume review. However, my absolute favorite part was the Klingons.

This is the second time that CA Technologies has partnered in teaching a class in one of our six-week cohorts. For the better part of the day, our students spent time at CA’s offices in Santa Clara learning about the rapidly changing tech workplace landscape from a human resources perspective.

“It used to be that you could stick an engineer alone in front of a computer for 10 hours a day for years and they would excel,” said Sinead Borgersen, Senior Principal People Partner at CA while leading our students in a session. “That’s not the case anymore. The emphasis on agile software development and increased customer expectations now requires collaboration.”

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We enjoy working with Borgersen because of her industry knowledge and incredible humor (“I never expected to change my name when I got married, but – as a Star Trek fan – when I met my husband I suddenly realized that I get to be a Borg if I did!” she told our class, referencing the fictional alien group as well as the first part of her last name.). However, what we love about Borgersen is that she interacts and instructs our students as the adults that they are. For many autistic adults, this treatment is not always the case.

Over several hours, Borgersen and CA Technologies shared tips on navigating the hiring process in Silicon Valley – including understanding how positions are filled, how to match skills to fill talent gaps, how pressures on company recruiters impact reviews of an applicant’s resume, what the emerging new practices of hiring managers in the interview process now are, and how networking can be leveraged effectively (“I expect all of you to connect with me on LinkedIn immediately after this class,” Bogersen told our visiting group).

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One of the most enjoyable parts was with Borgersen presented a fictionally altered version of her own resume so that she could teach our Autism Advantage students how to critically examine it as hiring manager. As students began to point out subtle red flags  in her resume that would keep them from hiring Borgersen, she used those moments to pivot our class to consider how they could think like a hiring manager as they worked on their own resumes as applicants in order to find success.

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After peaking the interest of the class, CA Technologies Senior Principal People Partner Sinead Borgesen brought our Autism Advantage participants up to her office to check out her ‘Star Trek’ memorabilia which she has collected (with some great bonus items from ‘Lord of the Rings’ and various comic universes).

Learning how to think like a hiring manager in order succeed as an applicant is an innovative use of user experience most never consider. That’s a valuable lesson – and that may have been the highlight of the day had Borgesen not mentioned her substantial Star Trek collection. Clearly peaking the interest of the group, Borgeson invited the class up to her office at the end of the day to view and discuss her collection of Star Trek memorabilia. It might seem corny to say that our Autism Advantage class is “boldly going where no man has gone before” but, in reality, that is true. It’s people like Sinead Borgersen and the people at CA Technologies who are helping move our participants and their careers light speed ahead.


We could certainly appreciate CA Technologies’ promotion of a robust and healthy Worf/Life balance.


Hey! Our friend Kenneth is riding his bike this July for 100 miles from Washington, DC to the Atlantic Ocean. He decided to do this on his own to raise awareness and funds to train autistic adults through Autism Advantage. We think that’s awesome and hope you do to. You can support his effort by clicking here. Check it out!

Symantec Coaches Autism Advantage Class

One of the great things about our Autism Advantage program is the coaching and feedback provided to our students by leading companies across Silicon Valley.  This afternoon, Shu Zhang, Director of Database Engineering for Symantec, joined our current data analyst cohort to discuss the work of Symantec, provide coaching on technical skills, and tips on workplace navigation.


This was Zhang’s second time participating in an Autism Advantage class. In May, Zhang came in to coach the members of our spring training program. Apart from her deep experience in database engineering and within the tech world, Zhang is also the mother of an autistic child.

This spring, Symantec provided Expandability (BuzzHero’s non-profit partner in Autism Advantage) with a $50,000 grant that enabled Expandability to create its first ever cohort focused on data science and data analysis. This contribution is yet another example of Symantec’s industry-leading commitment to developing a more innovative and inclusive workforce.

More information on the Autism Advantage program can be found here.





Four Things to Know Before Looking for Work

In Autism Advantage, our six-week training acts as a deep dive into developing the talents of autistic individuals from the autistic frame. We go over many things, but at the core of our trainings are four key components we’ve realized are applicable to anyone looking for work. We recently shared these things with the website WrongPlanet.net, the largest online community of autistic adults. Check them out.

Giving Them HOPE

You may have seen the news this week of three teenagers arrested for selling water along the National Mall in Washington, DC. It shocked locals who had noted that the entrepreneurial approach of the teens should be encouraged, not punished. It also motivated one man to do something about it. Within an hour of the news of the arrest, Ray Bell, founder of the HOPE Project was on social media searching for the three. Within the week, Bell had recruited them into a program to train young people from disadvantaged communities in the skills needed to land well-paying IT jobs.

Thanks to Accenture, members of our Autism Advantage staff spent last Monday with Bell in the Anacostia neighborhood of DC studying the best practices of the HOPE Project. There were many things we were impressed with. The one thing that stuck with us the most is how Bell has built a sense of community around the program rather than simply an in-and-out training model. The excellence of the program has swarmed what Bell calls “the Harvard of the Hood” with support from the local community. Alumni actively engage new students long after their own graduation (“Students may graduate, but they never finish,” Bell told our team). The HOPE Project is one of the many successful programs we are adopting best practices from as we scale Autism Advantage. Young people in Washington are fortunate to work with a visionary like Ray Bell. So are we.


Hey! Our friend Kenneth is riding his bike this July for 100 miles from Washington, DC to the Atlantic Ocean. He decided to do this on his own to raise awareness and funds to train autistic adults through Autism Advantage. We think that’s awesome and hope you do to. You can support his effort by clicking here. Check it out!