The OT version of Temple Gardin: Bill Wong : Unplugged

by let's OT

The OT version of Temple gardin, the human calculator, past student committee leader of the Association of Asian’s/Pacific OT’s in America, writer for the Episcorific, an avid music listener, and a student of Master’s of Occupational Therapy at University of Southern California, that’s Bill Wong. He was one of the first few people who liked the Let’s OT facebook page when I first created it. That’s when my friend Aditi, who’s Bill’s Classmate at USC told me “ Ravi you have an international watch, u better be good”  J……that’s when I was told that Bill was diagnosed with Asperger’s  Syndrome. I started reading Bill’s blog on OT connections about his experiences as occupational therapy student and an individual with Asperger’s . His blog gave a great perspective from both the consumer and the therapist’s point of view….that’s when I decided to have Bill as my first guest blogger…..Here’s what bill wanted to say….

Hi!  My name is Bill Wong.  I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) late last summer.  By the time you read this entry, I will be almost finished with the academic portion of my master’s degree in Occupational Therapy at University of Southern California (USC).  So, I am here today to share my story and explain what I have to offer to the OT community.  To make it easy for everyone, I will do the rest of the entry in a Q & A format.

Q: How did you find OT?

A: I graduated with my Statistics degree in undergrad in 2007.  After some struggles in finding work, my mom decided to help me by engaging in conversations with the school based OT working in her school, as she is working as a school community coordinator there.  Through the information that my mom got from the OT, she related them to me, as she thought it would be a great fit for me.  After all, I considered seminary for a while, too.  But because of the grim prospects, I eventually agreed with my mom that OT could be a good compromise.

Q: How did you know you have AS?

A: Prior to start of OT school, I always perceived myself as an introvert who was capable of having fun with friends.  Also, my friends who know me well perceived me to be a pretty friendly guy.  So, if you told me I have AS back then, I would have been shocked… because I sort of know that AS is related to autism and by no means I thought I presented some autistic traits, even though I can be quiet and isolated at times.

However, that changed after my level 1 fieldwork in OT school.  I took a critical look at my clinical instructor’s (CI) comments.  I then cross-referenced with my OT pediatrics textbooks and looked back upon my play and social behaviors when I was in elementary school.  When I found those behaviors were highly correlating to children with autism, I went a step further and took an online autism quotient test.  It turned out that I scored around the autistic range.  Because the quotient says that it could accurately predict whether an individual is autistic or not with 80% accuracy, I kept the information in the back of my mind… and eventually got tested last summer when I continued to receive the similar comments from my next few CI’s.  As things turned out, my hunches proved to be correct.

Q: What is the recovery process for you?

A: Unlike some fellow Aspies I have come to know, I only needed a week or two to get back on my feet.  Meanwhile, because I am pretty conscious about my mental health, I check up on myself daily to make sure I don’t regress.

Q: It sounds like you have a pretty successful recovery.  Why?

A: Since I am not writing an illness experience paper for one of my OT classes, I am going to go into detail here.  I wouldn’t pinpoint one single thing to my speedy recovery, as it was a combination of things.

1. Listening to Christian music- This is such a key occupation for me since sophomore year in my undergrad days.  I always am on the prowl for new music in case I need it for the daily grinds in life and school.  My purpose for that is like how some Christians remember their Bible verses so that they could use them to maintain faith in tough times.  During those two weeks, I was mainly listening to a song called The Story Song by Paige Armstrong.  I looked up the story behind the song as I felt intrigued by the lyrics.  When I learned that Paige was using her life experiences as a childhood cancer survivor as a gift to help others, I figured I could do the same.  After all, I felt that she went through a lot more things than I did, as I could imagine that she probably suffered a lot during her childhood days.  But, to see she is able to do what she does in spite of that actually suggested that I could do similar things.

2. Support from my classmates- At first, I actually was scared to tell my classmates about that because even though a good bit of them liked me, I didn’t know whether they could accept the news.  After all, while one of the highlighted items in AOTA’s Centennial is autism spectrum disorder, I figured some of my classmates might find it difficult to believe that someone among them is in the autism spectrum.  To my surprise, however, they have continued to treat me as a friend, classmate, and competent colleague.

3. Support from fellow consumers and caretakers in the Aspie community- I was skeptical about how I would be received in such a community.  On one hand, I know for sure I am a consumer.  On the other hand, how would they (particularly the consumers) accept an Aspie who is aspiring to go into a profession where there is virtually no consumers with autism studying or working in it?  However, that started to change when I came into the Aspie community with a willingness to learn while sharing what I learned in OT school to help others.  Aside from the therapeutic benefits of helping these individuals, some caregivers actually motivated me to succeed… even though they might not know much about how OT fieldwork works.

4. The outgoing and incoming Assembly of Student Delegates Steering Committee chairpersons- In this year’s AOTA presidential address, Dr. Clark talked about the importance of competing with fellow OT students and practitioners.  I consider myself a bulldog in competitions because I will give everything I have in these competitions.  I hate losing as much as Tiger Woods hates making bogeys or worse on the golf course!  So, you can say I already know how to compete in competitions.  However, because of my bulldog mentality and my aversion to losing, I have a hard time with the aspect of “competing with” people.  Fortunately, because I know I have a clean slate in OT leadership, so I made an effort to focus on this aspect!  Because of these efforts, I was able to find two of the greatest peer competitors in OT leadership- Jaclyn Tarloff and Emily Vaught, to compete with.

For Jaclyn, I actually ran against her for that position in the 2009-2010 school year.  Even though I was emotionally crushed by the loss, I decided to send a congratulatory message to her.  When she replied back to me a few days later, we had slowly developed a great friendship as well as a professional relationship.  During the AOTA/NBCOT Student Conclave last November, I was fortunate to have a couple moments together with her by ourselves. While we talked about a lot of things, I managed to tell her that I am formally diagnosed with AS.  After that comment, she told me that she respected me even more as a professional leader (as I was serving as the student committee chair for the Association of Asian Pacific Occupational Therapists in America at the time).  That meant to me a lot because I respected her a great deal myself.  So, on the rare moments I am feeling down, I could always recall what she said to me at that moment.

For Emily, I met her during the AOTA/NBCOT Student Conclave as well.  While we chatted a little bit during that event, our friendship grew during the time she was on the campaign trail with the other Assembly of Student Delegates election candidates.  Although I was doing my best to remain neutral throughout all this (per Jaclyn’s advice during our conversations), she was one of the candidates who gave me a pretty strong impression.  Shortly after she was elected, I was in the midst of drafting a presentation proposal for my state OT association.  I decided that she would be a good person for me to send my draft to.  After she read my draft, she was impressed by what I was trying to do to help OT better understand the Aspie community better.  Of course, Emily really respected my leadership talents as well, as evident by the fact that she put me in the same sentence with Jaclyn and Dr. Clark- two of my leadership heroes in OT, on one of her blog entries on OTConnections!

with Jaclyn

Q: you are planning to have a state OT association presentation proposal.  Could you tell me a little about that?

A: It actually is part of my grand scheme of things to revolutionize how the OT profession will be treating autism- in providing more client-centered and family-centered services.  Ever since my diagnosis from day one, I have been a proactive consumer.  Even though I have been commenting more than asking questions, I got to read a lot about different occupational problems with consumers, caregivers, or their families as units.  Moreover, I also read my fair share of complaints about existing services.  I found it very difficult to take sides of a lot of these issues at times.  On one hand, I felt the frustrations as a fellow consumer.  On the other hand, my observations about how OT practice sometimes made me go against what some caregivers and consumers were saying… because I know they probably have not too much idea about what the practice setting is like.

With Dr.Clark

Q: How do you see yourself 5 or 10 years from now?

A: There are several things.  One, I have become and continue to be an autism advocate for consumers and caregivers in OT.  My goal is that more consumers can know about what OT is and how it can help them.  Two, I am hoping to get into an OTD program.  Once I get in, I will be either doing research or teaching.  Knowing me, it will be no surprise that they both will be revolving around autism.  For research, this will depend on what needs might be emerging in the autism community.  For teaching, I basically want to educate more future OT’s about first person’s perspective on autism, as I believe that could be beneficial for them in practice!  Three, I am hoping to produce more innovative ideas to assist the Aspie community in OT.  Four, I will be writing a book about my experience.  This is another avenue I am hoping to use to educate OT students and practitioners.

Q: The last question is a two-part question.  First, would you have like to know your diagnosis earlier?  Second, if someone tells you that your AS could be gone in an instant, would you do it?

A: For the first question, I would definitely have like to known that a little earlier, as I believe that at least part of my OT school experiences would have been turned out for the better.  However, I wouldn’t have liked it too early, because I don’t think I would have been in the position to talk to you today.  For the second question, I am saying no because I actually achieved more now than I ever before.  After all, having a good grasp of my capabilities and limitations made a good bit of my life easier… even though it did came with a cost of not being able to celebrate in having my license around the same time as my classmates.  Also, because of my AS, I was able to realize that my views on individuals with disabilities had been flawed!  So, as much as it was an undesirable change, it was a good change for me both as a person and a future practitioner!

You can follow Bill’s blog ‘Conversations with Aspie’s’….