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For All Abilities

Feb 10, 2020

For All Abilities – The Podcast Episode Seven - Rachel Hawkins- Variety is the Spice of Work - Working with Autism


In this episode, I interview Rachel Hawkins - Autism and Neurodiversity Advocate and Occupational Therapist. We discuss how Rachel uses her Neurodiversity in both her careers and her self identification of autism because of her work with other people with autism. 


To connect with Rachel, please follow her on LinkedIn (Rachel Hawkins) or email her at


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Full Transcription from


Betsy Furler  0:08  

Hi, everybody, welcome back to the for all abilities podcast. I'm so excited. You're here. This is Betsy Furler, your host, and today I have a special guest, Rachel Hawkins. Rachel is going to talk to us a little bit about her childhood, her diagnosis, how she went to college and grad school and became an occupational therapist and what she wants to do in the future.


Welcome to the podcast, Rachel.


Rachel Hawkins  0:37  

Thank you, Betsy. Good to be here.


Betsy Furler  0:39  

Yes, thank you so much. Why don't you give our audience a little bit of an introduction to yourself?


Rachel Hawkins  0:46  

Okay, so as you said, I am an occupational therapist. I'm also self diagnosed on the autism spectrum. And I most of my experiences then in PBX, x so I, I worked most recently, my past jobs have been at a specialty school for young adults. It's more severe autism and behavioral challenges. It really got me into getting into working with young adults with protocol disabilities


and helping them


transition to independence, which was the name of my program. I created a mask position. And I've recently gotten more interested in neuro diversity and hiring programs and consulting with companies to train them on how to work with those of us who think differently and also to work with the individuals that are in these dads. I'm thinking that my my background could help That as well.


Betsy Furler  2:03  

That is awesome. I love it when people use their strengths to help the rest of the world.


Rachel Hawkins  2:09  

Yeah, thank you.


Betsy Furler  2:11  

Tell us a little bit about what you were like as a little girl.


Rachel Hawkins  2:15  

Um, I would say I was


as a child growing up in the 80s and 90s. We were completely unaware of anything called the autism spectrum it was I was very more affected with sensory processing in terms of sensitivity to loud noises to certain fabrics of clothes and my mom tells me, I remember her having to cut out all the tags in my shirt. And socially I was very quiet and shy and


insecure by South


Music was a big part of my life and not as much now but I still like to do music. And I was started at three, three years old, Suzuki violin, all the way up to college. And I think that gave me a voice in a way to interact with people. Non verbally because in I was a jazz piano player. And when you're doing jazz improv, you don't verbally tell the people it's my turn to solo or it's your turn or things like that you have to pick up on the other people and what they're doing and so I think that may have been a helpful thing for me. Yeah.


Betsy Furler  3:53  

And also gave you a group to be in like a friend group.


Rachel Hawkins  3:56  

Right? Well, not not as much as said group, but there was a group And my parents were in are great. And they put me in all kinds of activities to see what would what would stick


girlscouts to i did i Kido


music cedar dance for


and then I went to a private high school which worked better for me because the public school was because my sensitivities to noise and was like too much. And so the social component, I was able to interact more with people in high school. Like I had a few friends, although it was a boarding school that was a little further from where I did. I didn't do so much outside of school, but that was a good experience for me.


Betsy Furler  4:55  

Yeah, it sounds like your parents really made a big effort to get you out there and like you Sam, find out what sticks


out of all those. Yeah,


Rachel Hawkins  5:02  

I thought, you know, and at that time there was nothing really done compared to what we know now. So, I, you know, I had speech therapy as a child, I had a couple sessions with an occupational therapist.


psychologist, psychiatry is


in school speech therapy, and then as a speech therapist, and outpatient with another young girl who I really related to because she would take us to a country where they did to me as a person that I really am


and she would take us to the mall and we would look at


what do we think the relationship is between these people I work with. Yeah, a little bit different. And, like worksheets on idioms and what do those mean? Because that's sometimes a challenge for people on the autism spectrum.


Betsy Furler  6:12  

Wow, what am I? That's amazing. Yeah, I bet you think back to her frequently during your work time, which


kind of leads us to set some.


I'm assuming you did okay academically because I know you're an occupational therapist now. So what was college like for you?


Rachel Hawkins  6:33  

Well college and graduate school.


I went to a small college I wanted to go to college and thousand Naira then, which I think at that time, had about 1200 students who saw maybe a little bit more. And I, I had friends there. graduate school, I remember having like a group of girlfriends which was a very different experience for me. And so I actually feel like in college, the size at the, at the beginning the size was really good because I do better I think in smaller groups or at that time I did better in smaller groups and then at the end it felt like, Oh, this is small and I know everyone and


you know, I did that ensemble in college




studied political science actually.


I really got interested in that. within different different clubs they are


if you like it, yeah,


Betsy Furler  7:42  

I went to a similar school. I went to Austin College in Sherman, Texas, and it had 1200 students at the time as the same and I'm super social extrovert, but I do think that those I think it's important for parents to hear about college experiences and understand that, you know, the differences between a small school and a big school, you know, in a small school, and you can be a bigger fish in a smaller pond, but in the same time, you'd have less of a variety of friends to choose from a variety of people, right?


Rachel Hawkins  8:22  

brands, activities.


Betsy Furler  8:25  

Right, right.


So there are limits as well. It's I think it's really important to, to talk through that with with your kids with neuro diversity and who are neurotypical for that matter.


Rachel Hawkins  8:37  

Right. And I know now that they have a lot more programs for students that are neurodiverse


on these big top campuses.


Yeah, but I think at the time and the person that I was back then it was it was a good experience for me. This in kind of a big town area, go off campus with people, we could walk to different places in the town, which is really great.


So it was I think it worked well for me.


Then in graduate school, I lived in Center City, Philadelphia. I went to temple for Occupational Therapy, and I did really well although some field work. were challenging because of my social interaction. So that and that has been a theme throughout my some of my work career as well. Interacting with my clients and the parents and other teachers.


Betsy Furler  9:45  

And do you do realize you were on the autism spectrum at the time during grad school?


Rachel Hawkins  9:51  

I think so. Because I think in I think it was college that I


went to different


high It says and my parents and I had been to different conferences, I forget how we got really connected to the whole autism community.


So I think we, we figured it out by then.


Like I was at a self advocacy group in Pennsylvania, where we had a representative, I think, from each county and we, we went to the 10 state autism conference one year, and I met Scott Robertson, who's a big name in these and he's an autistic adult in the Department of Labor. And I also presented to support staff about being on the spectrum and just about my life, and what works for me, and and I said, attend to different conferences and meetings. I'm involved now with the autism network group in DC.


See what they're creating around that?


Betsy Furler  11:04  

How do you think that your, your neuro diversity has helped you in the field of occupational therapy? And then we'll talk about the advocacy because that's that, you know, that's another piece


Rachel Hawkins  11:18  

of your life. Right? Well, I think it


definitely gives me a an understanding of


the people that I work with, although now and try to get into a little bit of a different project from the different angles that


I'm able to understand


what it's like for the individual and their family and their sibling, siblings.


I think


my temperament sometimes can be a strength in other in therapy roles that you might expect this to It seems like there's a lot of the like, high energy and cheerleader type. And I'm the opposite of that, which in some instances works really well. And by very creative and hardworking or perseverance, and I've heard it said that people with neuro diverse conditions


or any defense villi


you are perseverance because you're you don't fit into the, you know, typical way of doing things and you have to work sometimes harder to either fit in or to develop. So, those are some ways that it has played out to me.


Good memory. Another thing. Uh huh. What


Betsy Furler  12:54  

are you good at paperwork


Rachel Hawkins  12:58  





Betsy Furler  13:01  

like writing reports and being able to remember the details of what the child did during the assessment and


writing accurate reports.


Rachel Hawkins  13:16  

I think in some ways I actually


back in my end, at a summer camp when I was a teenager, I met a there was a counselor there voice, a voice teacher, and I took lessons with her because that was another thing, baby, you know, working on my intonation so that you can hear I'm not as expressive maybe in that way as other people. So she had two children, and one was dyslexic, and one they said was hyperelastic. And what hyperlexia mean, meant, was very good and right in and written words and not as good with So, verbal communication. So I,


I am a good writer and reader


was really,


you know, read a lot as a child and growing up


I think, yeah, I think I am a good writer and I but I developed my social ability as well throughout my life.


Betsy Furler  14:27  

Now, that's I think one of the things about being diagnosed or self diagnosing is when you get that insight into yourself. That helps tremendously, you know, for all of us, it's like once you start understanding how you tick and how you walk through the world, it's so much easier than to see how see the differences and the similarities. And also this, you know, the growth you had can have so much more growth if you undyed yourself. What obviously being an advocate for other people with neuro diversity. And obviously, you have a strength there because you I know what, what your life has been like. And you've also, you've also found a way to be a professional in the field, then is instrumental in helping a lot of people in our diversity. So do you want to talk a little bit about being an advocate and kind of what you want to do what you're looking to do next in your career?


Rachel Hawkins  15:35  

Sure. Interesting, because I, I did not come into this field because of this reason to reveal the but


yeah, it's been being in the field.


realized that


as someone that is on the autism spectrum, and that's how I'd like to I'd like to say it That I'm able to make an impact for others. And I think I'm the only one with autism so far that's been on here. So say that there's a quote, if you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism. So we're all very, very different.


Betsy Furler  16:19  



Rachel Hawkins  16:20  

like, there's, you know, and


to take input, what I'm saying.


So I got into the idea that, well, I went to the set, I went to the Penn State autism content years ago, and I met from parents who said that kind of the idea of like, me being an inspiration, and I know how some other people, you know, feel about that, that we shouldn't be seen as that. But I felt that I was able to be an example of like, what their child could be like.


As their child grows up, and so


last night, I went to the autism network symposium up in Philadelphia. My dad also went because he and I always mentioned this because he obviously is always there to support me. And he's also a season ticket holder of eagles and it was held at Eagle Stadium, Lincoln financial field. So we went and I met these people in different leadership roles and companies like SAP and other companies that are leading the front on autism network. And so I really got into, like wanting to educate people. You know, this whole field of diversity and inclusion Make a difference for people that are just think differently that have about to offer.


Betsy Furler  18:08  

Right, right. And I think if our if ever if we


all thought the same in this world, our world would not be very interesting or productive, right? I need everybody's different abilities and different views and different strengths to make the world, the place that we really want it to be. And I think the more we use people to their strengths, the better our world will be. And I think that's, that's one thing that including people with different abilities into into inclusion and diversity programs and in companies I think is so important because of that,


Rachel Hawkins  18:47  

right? Yeah. And I actually have a presentation I've worked develop, that I'm available to speak to different organizations presenting that variety is the spice of work. And I talked about that at the, you know, it covers a lot of different things. But one thing is, like you said, you know that it will make the company better if you have a people that think differently and different ideas and the people that came out with these breakthrough discoveries and stuff, were the people that thought outside the box, and we're not like everyone else. And I think we're moving in that direction of recognizing that, but you still have a long way to go.


Betsy Furler  19:36  

Yes, Yes, we do. But that sounds I made that presentation. Sounds great. I love the title. Yeah. Thank you. So if people want to get in touch with you either to have you present and in, you know, at their conference or their workplace or for consulting services, or they're just interested in your story, how should they connect with you?


Rachel Hawkins  19:59  

Well, a lot of LinkedIn, you can find me there. That might be a good place to start. And then I can I can give my email and email out there.


Betsy Furler  20:12  

Okay, yeah. And I can put that in my show notes. I'll put your email address and your LinkedIn. Link in my show notes. And I know people are going to really benefit from hearing you on the podcast and are going to want to connect with you. So thank you so much for being here today.


Rachel Hawkins  20:32  

Thank you, Betsy for having me.


Betsy Furler  20:34  

Yes, this has been great. So thank you and I will talk to you soon and listeners. Thanks so much for tuning into for all abilities the podcast. Please subscribe and review the podcast on Apple


or Stitcher, radio


or anywhere you listen to podcasts. Thanks for tuning in.


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