Other People's Words

AWN interview w/ Aspiritech co-founder Brenda Weitzberg and employee Katie Levin

Posted in Uncategorized by Tera on October 28, 2010

This is a transcript of Autism Women’s Network’s interview with Aspiritech co-founder Brenda Weitzberg and employee Katie Levin.

[Music]

Sharon daVanport: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AWN Radio. We are the Autism Woemn’s Network on Blogtalk. We’re streaming to you live over the Internet from the beautiful Midwest, USA. I am your host, Sharon daVanport. Joining me today on Saturday, October 9, 2010 is co-host Tricia Kenney. Hello, Tricia.

Tricia Kenney: Hi, Sharon. How are you?

Sharon daVanport: I’m well. Doing well today. I actually have the grandbabes this weekend [Chuckles], so it’s been quite an active weekend so far for me.

Tricia Kenney: Same here. Well, except not grandchildren. Just children. [Chuckles]

Sharon daVanport: My grandchildren, yeah, as well. It’s a whole different realm, but it’s a good one. So it kind of brings everything full circle. I’m just real excited about the show today, Tricia, oh, my goodness. I just wish there would’ve been an Aspiritech around about 20 years ago, when I was first finding out a lot about stuff on the spectrum myself. This is a pretty big situation.

Tricia Kenney: It is, because the adult population, autistic adults, that’s becoming a pretty popular topic. People are starting to realize the issues that a lot of adults are facing and trying to figure out how to deal with that.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Tricia Kenney: So it’s really great that Aspiritech even exists, so I’m really excited about today’s show, too.

Sharon daVanport: I know; right. And before we bring on the founder of Aspiritech, Brenda Weitzberg and Katie [unknown] with Aspiritech. We just have a couple quick announcements. Tricia, did you want to tell everybody about how they can enter for the LifePROTEKT contest?

Tricia Kenney: Oh, yes. If you would like to receive a GPS device for a loved one who may have a problem with wandering, running off, all you have to do is write to us at info AT autismwomensnetwork DOT org and we will enter your name for the drawing. We are drawing one name per month. At the end of the month, on our last show of the month, we do a drawing and you can win a GPS device from LifePROTEKT.

Sharon daVanport: Awesome. And lastly, we want to let our listeners and our supporters know that by a miracle—and I mean a complete miracle—AWN made it back into the Pepsi grant contest for October. There’s 1200 contestants, and you have to finish in the top 100 to even qualify, to automatically be carried over. We did it again for a third month, and we’re really hoping this third month is a charm because we’re kind of getting worn out.

[Laughter]

The Pepsi contest is so unique, and it’s an awesome contest. But we have to also realize that if we really do not have the daily votes needed…Pepsi is unique in the fact that they say to us: “We go by your daily votes. Your supporters have to vote for you every day.” And it’s not always possible for everybody to get over there and vote every day, and it also means, too, we’re going up against some pretty huge organizations that have been around for 20, 25 years. Maybe the Pepsi contest is something we might want to consider next year if we don’t do it this month. We’re seriously considering, even if we qualify in the top 100, maybe thinking about just waiting a few more months before we re-enter. But we are really hoping to win this month, everyone, so please [unknown].

Tricia Kenney: Yep. We’re still hoping.

Sharon daVanport: That’s right. We’re going to do this, just like it was one thing to do and our focus for the month, and see where it goes. Please go over to the website. It’s at www.refresheverything.com/awn, and you can cast your vote. The nice thing about that if you go to the Pepsi page, is that if you’re on Facebook, you just click “Sign in with Facebook” and voila! You’re already signed in and you can go over to the “Click” button and vote. Or you can text your vote in by texting: 101500 to Pepsi at 73774. And that’s the quickest, easiest way. Most people are texting their votes.

So I think that’s it. And at the end of the show, make sure, Tricia, that you tell them about your project, too. I don’t want to forget about that, okay?

Tricia Kenney: [Unknown]

Sharon daVanport: Right. But I want to make sure that we let everybody know that now we’re going to bring on Brenda and Katie with Aspiritech, and if you have any questions, the call-in number to our switchboard today is [gives it out]. So if you have any questions for Brenda or Katie, feel free to call in. I see that we do have a lot of listeners over on the switchboard. So if you are actually wanting to call in, you will have to hit the option…isn’t it option one that tells somebody that they’re waiting [to speak to the host?]

Tricia Kenney: Yeah.

Sharon daVanport: So make sure you hit optin one if you actually want to be speaking to the guests today. Otherwise, we will juat assume that you’ve called in to listen to the show on the switchboard. We’re happy that Blogtalk offers that, as well—not just on the Internet, but you can call in to that number as well nd listen to it. So without any further ado, I suppose…Did we get through everything in the beginning? We’re ready to go, Trish?

Tricia Kenney: I think we’re ready to go.

Sharon daVanport: Okay. Well, welcome, Brenda. Welcome, Katie.

Katie Levin: Thank you.

Brenda Weitzberg: Thank you so much for inviting us.

Sharon daVanport: Well, thank you for being here. This is Shsron; I’m going to go ahead and make sure that I say my name. I know, Katie, with you being on the spectrum, you’re a lot like Tricia and I. Because we’re on the spectrum, and hearing a lot of voices at once or even voice recognition can sometimes be a challenge for us, too. It’s been probably our biggest challenge hosting a radio show. [Chuckles] So we definitely understand—

Tricia Kenney: Yes.

Sharon daVanport: —how that’s going to go. So we’re going to try not to stumble over each other’s voices and words today, and be a little bit more aware of that. Brenda, I’d love to start with you, and I’d love for you to tell our listeners what Aspiritech is in a nutshell. I love the way your website is set up. But I’m going to go ahead and give the name and location of the website for people right now. That’s www.aspiritech.org. I was telling you before the show, I like the way that your website is set up to where you talk about the beginnings of it, and then how you guys just ended up coming along. So I would like for you to start there, and just tell our listeners how Aspiritech came about.

Brenda Weitzberg: Sure, thank you. Well, first of all, in general, we are a 501c3 not-for-profit organization. We were formally founded in 2008 with a mission to solve the employment challenge of people with Asperger’s and other forms of high-functioning autism. We do this by aligning their abilities with the needs of the business community, and I’ll tell you a little bit more specifically about that afterwards.

But it all started at the end of 2007 when my son who was then 27 was fired once again from a job bagging groceries. He had a four-year college degree. My husband and I could see that he was very bright in many areas, yet struggled in other areas. It seemed like the vocational rehabilitation services that were available in our state, in our community, did not meet his needs. Whereas you could get short-term, up to 90 days pf support, he would initially learn any job very quickly. But after three months, the job coach is gone, not available, and issues arose a year down the road, six months down the road with maybe not understanding the social implications of what you were doing or the severity of what your manager was saying. There was no one there to provide support.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Brenda Weitzberg: So I thought: “There’s got to be some other way to utilize his skills.” And also, the jobs that they usually set people up with who have challenges and disabilities in our area often are bagging groceries, pushing carts, which are not a good fit with our son’s abilities. He’s more comfortable in front of a computer and doing analytical and thinking-type tasks. He’s a great writer, but his gross motor skills and his motor planning are not fabulous.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Brenda Weitzberg: In late October 2007, I thought: “I’ve got to think of a business that maybe my husband could do in our basement.” I thought of some website idea, and I wrote to every professor at the Kellogg School of Management, asking: “Would there be a group of students interested in doing a pre-startup business study?” And I have to say, all those professors wrote me back. All of them.

Sharon daVanport: Wow.

Brenda Weitzberg: Yeah. Come Christmastime, one Professor Woodward called me and said: “We’re taking you on.” They started researching my loony idea for a business. They basically saw that it was not a great idea. But as they were doing the research, I learned about the Danish company, Specialesterne. [I] learned that there was a company in Denmark that was harnessing the strengths of autism, like attention to detail, persistence, focus, strong logical skills. Katie can speak much more to that. And they were using it to train and employ people on the spectrum in software testing. I thought: “If they can do it in Denmark, we can do it here.”

Tricia Kenney: Right.

Brenda Weitzberg: So that was the beginning of Aspiritech.

Sharon daVanport: Right. Wonderful.

Brenda Weitzberg: It took all of 2008 to form a board and get our not-for-profit status. When we got it, the economy tanked, so the timing was not great.

Tricia Kenney: Oh, yeah.

Brenda Weitzberg: Yeah. I naïvely thought we could get our seed funding in 2009 and get going.

Sharon daVanport: [Unknown] Yeah.

[Laughter]

I know. That’s why we’re still trying to form our non-profit, because we literally went online, thinking: “We’re just going to offer some resources and have an online forum where women can get together.” Before we knew it, it just took off like we could not understand, and then here we are. We’re like: “We’ve got to form a non-profit now.” We thought we had time. We did not know it would take off, so we totally understand that. You get to a place to where you know you need to do it, and then, oh my goodness, how do you do that? [Laughter]

Tricia Kenney: Right.

Brenda Weitzberg: We basically paid out of our pocket to get the lawyer fees, legal fees.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Brenda Weitzberg: I hope you can get some pro bono services. But even then, there’s no guarantee, because there’s so many not-for-profits that are struggling now, that a lot of foundations really don’t want to take a risk on a startup entity. So it is challenging, and we got going starting with a pilot last August 2009 in our basement to opening up our first office on January first.

Tricia Kenney: How many did you have in that first group?

Brenda Weitzberg: Okay. First of all, my husband, Moshe Weitzberg, conducts all the training, does everything as a full-time volunteer. Our first group of people who finished his training program that he developed were six individuals who got their first paycheck April 15.

Tricia Kenney: Nice.

Brenda Weitzberg: Since then, four more people, I believe, are currently in training. Katie’s just about finished.

Katie Levin: Well, I am finished.

[Laughter]

Brenda Weitzberg: And another gentleman and two more just started. So in total, there are ten people. The most challenging thing now is to try to keep enough business coming in—contractural work—to keep our testers employed.

Tricia Kenney: Now, how are you approaching these companies to employ your, I guess, pupils, or [Chuckles] trainees?

Brenda Weitzberg: Our testers.

Tricia Kenney: Testers, okay. [Chuckles]k

Brenda Weitzberg: Well, we were excited to see…and I’m not the technical person, to be honest. My husband is, Moshe. We were excited to see that our testers performed in the same way that the people out in Denmark did. And in fact, there’s research that shows that people with high-functioning autism and on the spectrum can be up to 50 percent better at software testing. They are exceptional.

Our testers find bugs that other people don’t even think to look for. They really are terrific. They could focus for an extraordinary length of time. So once we with our first client company saw these amazing results, it’s easier to go to other companies and say: “These people are fantastic. We can provide a wonderful service.” It still doesn’t make it easy.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Tricia Kenney: Right.

Brenda Weitzberg: A lot of people are concerned about working with a not-for-profit, working with a not-for-profit that employs people with a disability. But we focus on amazing strengths that our staff have.

Tricia Kenney: Right.

Sharon daVanport: Right. Now, Katie, you said that you have finished your training. Can you tell us what is it that you do with Aspiritech?

Katie Levin: Well, so far all I’ve done is training. Right now I’m in an in-between phase. My training is finished, and now I am waiting to start doing the testing with the other employee testers. But right now it’s kind of in an in-between phase, because they’re in the process of obtaining some clients. So I’m waiting to be…

Sharon daVanport: You’re on hold, then. [Laughter]

Katie Levin: I’m on hold right now.

Tricia Kenney: Well, how was the training, Katie?

Katie Levin: The training wasn’t bad. The hardest issue I had had nothing to do with the training itself. It had to do with just getting motivated. Sometimes I would work at home, and working at home always proves to be challenging for me. I live in a studio apartment, and it’s extremely difficult not to get distracted if I do any work in my apartment.

But basically, the training consisted of using a cell phone and testing it in a specified way. You use this spreadsheet, I guess. None of it’s even making calls. It’s all using e-mail. You set up e-mail addresses and then you send e-mails back and forth to yourself, using a cell phone.

Tricia Kenney: Okay.

Katie Levin: You do various different exercises. There’s over 200 of them.

Sharon daVanport: Okay.

Katie Levin: You try the different things, and sometimes things when they’re supposed to do something specific, do not work.

Sharon daVanport: Katie, this is Sharon. I have a question about what you just said.

Katie Levin: Okay.

Sharon daVanport: You’re talking about the different kinds of training that you went through. Now this is just so people will understand who are just hearing about Aspiritech for the first time, you’re going through this training so that you can become employable for a client, right, that they are going to be in contact with? Is that right? Is that correct?

Katie Levin: You’re in the training so that you can start to test software for them and get paid for it.

Brenda Weitzberg: At Aspiritech.

Sharon daVanport: Oh, at Aspiritech. Okay.

Katie Levin: Aspiritech, yes. Most of the other people who work there, they’ve gone through all that already. They did that months ago.

Sharon daVanport: This is Sharon again. This is where I would get a little confused myself. So it’s actually Aspiritech who is employing you guys, and Aspiritech, if this is correct, Brenda, you guys get the contract work for other companies and you’re bringing people on like Katie and training them how to do this work that you have, and utilizing and tapping into their talents. Is that correct?

Brenda Weitzberg: Correct. Correct.

Sharon daVanport: Okay. All right. That’s what I wanted to make sure I was understanding.

Brenda Weitzberg: And that way, Katie, as she just said, she’s one of the newer group. That initial group of six testers, one of whom is a student and lives far away, and he does a lot of his training and work with his mom, who’s on the advisory board. So there’s really five people who are based out of our office.

We’re just in our startup year, so we had a lot of work in March, April and May and a very slow summer. In the summer, we had really one job that a student intern, which was a wonderful experience. He had just graduated high school, had the summer off beforeg going off to college, that young gentleman with Asperger’s. He was paid through a county grant, and he did a job for us this summer. Just now, jobs are coming in again, and Katie will soon be working.

Katie Levin: [Chuckles]

Sharon daVanport: Nice.

Tricia Kenney: The testers that you’re training, they don’t actually go into the corporation where you get the contracts from and clock in from 9 to 5 and go through the five day work week, in that respect?

Brenda Weitzberg: No.

Katie Levin: Not exactly; not exactly. When you’re training, you don’t get paid when you’re training. So you set your own hours when you’re training. I had to set my own schedule, and that was where I started running into some issues with that. But I got through it, and I’m very happy I got through it.

Sharon daVanport: Very good.

Katie Levin: I wouldn’t know what to do, as far as a job goes, because I have a difficult situation with school. I’m directionless right now, as far as jobs, so I was really hoping that Aspiritech, I’d be able to start with them and see if I could get anywhere with that. That’s what I’m doing now.

Sharon daVanport: Isn’t that nice, Katie? This is Sharon again; I wanted to say, I bet it feels just so comforting and so nice to know that here Brenda is a parent to someone on the spectrum. Their whole goal was to make sure that they provide accommodations that are unique to each person on the spectrum. Did that help you find a comfort level when you said you were struggling with getting things done in your apartment, just getting motivated on some days? Did you feel that you had that extra layer of consideration and understanding, being that you were going through Aspiritech with Brenda?

Katie Levin: Well, actually, I’ve only met with Brenda a couple of times. I actually deal with Moshe most of the time, because he is the one that’s in the office. He basically does everything except for the actual testing. He does everything else. He’s the one that brings in the clients; he’s the one that does the hiring; he’s the one that supervises all the training.

Sharon daVanport: How did you feel about that, then, Katie? Did you feel hat you were afforded that ability to have that understanding from Moshe that maybe you wouldn’t have from another employer? That extra level of insulation, maybe?

Katie Levin: I think so; I think so. He had mentioned about being very flexible and I don’t have to feel uncomfortable about discussing certain things, like I get benefits and I have to keep an eye on my income, because of this and that, and things like that.

Sharon daVanport: Sure.

Katie Levin: He understands that kind of stuff. I don’t have to feel like I’m the only one, and a “What’s wrong with you?” kind of thing.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Tricia Kenney: So there are benefits?

Katie Levin: No. I mean, benefits I get through the state because I’m on the spectrum and because I have disabilities. I only was diagnosed about five years ago.

Tricia Kenney: Okay.

Katie Levin: So before then, I’ve had been diagnosed with everything. I’ve been diagnosed with more things than I can count.

Sharon daVanport: Brenda, did you want to say something?

Brenda Weitzberg: This is Brenda. Yeah, I wanted to clarify, because I’m sure to your listeners, it may be very confusing. We basically made a decision as a board to start up Aspiritech, open up an office with maybe $25-30,000 we were able to raise. I continued to work full time at my job running a not-for-profit in the area, because that supports our family and supports Aspiritech. [Laughter]

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Brenda Weitzberg: So I work as an executive director only on evenings, mornings, weekends, basically writing grants, working with the board, trying to get more supports, getting out there and explaining what we’re doing, what we’re trying to do. We wouldn’t have an Aspiritech if Moshe wasn’t able to devote himself full time as a volunteer. But the only people being paid right now are the first six testers.

Katie Levin: Yeah. The only people that are being paid are the testers. Brenda and Moshe don’t get any of the profits from the testing.

Brenda Weitzberg: There’s no profits yet. [Laughter]

Sharon daVanport: Right; right.

Brenda Weitzberg: But what Katie explained is very good, because in a way, the training program that Moshe developed is also a screening. Some people try it and it’s not for them. Katie got through it. She persisted. And we have learned from our testers. We have one young man who served as a manager while we were out of town presenting. He finished ITT. It’s like the MIT of Chicago. He has a degree in computer science, and his inability to go for an interview, his difficulty with social skills, anxiety, depression, prevent him at this point from getting the job out there that he’d like to get.

Sharon daVanport: That he’s qualified to get, as well. Yeah.

Brenda Weitzberg: Very, very qualified. But he said to us that he could work for ten hours straight, and he has, in our office. He could work four hours straight in the local library, and only two hours in his house. So really having an office, having the structure is very critical.

Katie Levin: Oh, yeah.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Katie Levin: Yeah, it really is.

Brenda Weitzberg: It helps people focus. What we saw in the initial first group was pretty amazing. Within a short time…First of all, we see only the strengths of the people. We see amazing results. Each one of us, including Moshe and I, we’re all quirky people. We don’t look at what people cannot do or are challenged with, because the type of work that they’re doing with us, they’re really good at. We have learned that training is ongoing, and Katie has participated in some of that. It’s not enough just to do your pre-service training.

Katie Levin: You have to train for every project. [Chuckles]

Brenda Weitzberg: Every project.

Katie Levin: Because they’re all different.

Brenda Weitzberg: Continuing training. It’s very intensive. Every project is different. And we’re also learning that probably five jobs in the pipeline, sometimes it’s hard to predict when the software developers will be ready to go with the testing. So we’re learning the business, too. We have great board members.

Katie Levin: Oh, I was just going to say that sometimes the unpredictability has been one of the things I’ve been struggling with a little bit. My hope is that once they get enough work that I’ll be able to go in [doing?] some more predictable hours.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Katie Levin: Over the sumemr, especially now, there’s a lot of unpredictability, so it’s a little unnerving for me. [Chuckles]

Sharon daVanport: It can be, and I tell you, that’s how it is in a developing organization. I can say that that’s probably the number one biggest challenge we have over at AWN, Katie, is that we’re spread so thin, because there’s so few of us. But yet we’ve got so much all the sudden going on in different areas. But yet we need a little bit more cohesive stuff going on, and we’re so new at this. And I think that that’s where Brenda and them are coming from—they’re trying to get all this stuff for you guys. It’a almost like they’ve got a lot that they need to get done, but then they’ve got only so many people right now to do it.

Tricia Kenney: Right.

Sharon daVanport: It really does; it’s a challenge, can’t it be, Brenda? It really can be. [Chuckles]

Brenda Weitzberg: Yes. And our goal in the next six months is to have enough work coming in. We’re doing a solicitation letter now to get a little more funding.

Sharon daVanport: Oh, okay.

Brenda Weitzberg: There’s a couple of grants out, just to be able to bring everyone in from this hour to that hour and have some more predictability and regularity. The Danish company just opened up its first franchise in Scotland, and I was green with envy, because they started with $750,000 Euros—a million dollars—from the government.

Sharon daVanport: Oh, yeah. Tricia and I know one of their employees. We know one of the [unknown] works there, yeah.

Brenda Weitzberg: We’re doing it very on the cheap, and we’re so thankful that peole like Katie have joined the cause. But I just wanted to say, those first six guys, we saw amazing results that had nothing to do with software testing within a very short time. I have to share them with your listeners.

Sharon daVanport: Sure; sure.

Brenda Weitzberg: One of them, for example, our own son has zero initiative. He really has been trained from a very young age to respond to teachers and to cues. He doesn’t have a lot of initiative in his life. At a certain point when work was slow, Moshe did a training about Mechanical Turks, which is an online through Amazon. All of your listeners can hear this.

There are things you can log in and do online from your home computer and earn a little money. We were hoping that would be a filler. People from all over the world, companies, post tasks on Mechanical Turk; things that a computer can’t do. And so people from al over the world might go in and pass a test and then do the little job. Some of it is similar to software testing. It requires a lot of attention to detail, some of it. Our son, on his very own, after the training, we find out he had signed up; he had taken tests; he had set up a bank account.

Sharon daVanport: Wow.

Tricia Kenney: Wow.

Brenda Weitzberg: It was amazing. Other parents are reporting it; some of our testers, they’re seeing decreased rates of depression. I think we don’t talk enough about the high levels of anxiety and depression amongst adults with Asperger’s and high-functioning autism.

Sharon daVanport: Absolutely.

Brenda Weitzberg: And I think we’re learning about it because, like our son, they don’t show it often on their face, but they suffer internally. So both parents and the testers are telling us that they were having much fewer bouts with depression and anxiety. One of the guys told Moshe from the beginning: “You can communicate with me by e-mail or by phone, but I will always only communicate back by e-mail.” Guess what? He calls Moshe all the time.

Sharon daVanport: Aw.

Tricia Kenney: Aw.

Brenda Weitzberg: His mother almost fainted when Moshe said this.

[Laughter]

So there’s a power. Even though we have all these challenges, we know our business model works. If we had a little bit of seed funding, these things could be worked out: a few more contracts. Over time, they will be. We’ve made a lot of progress this year, but we know the model works.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Brenda Weitzberg: If you set up an environment where people are appreciated and respected for whom they are and acknowledged, and you tap into their strengths rather than always focusing on the things that are difficult or challenging, it works. It works, and it’s a shame that our government…There should be an Aspiritech in every community that has some seed funding.

Sharon daVanport: I agree. Yeah.

Brenda Weitzberg: Because in Denmark, the government pays for six months of training. And Katie…Our trainees do it on their own time. So if someone’s working, they have to do it on the side.

Sharon daVanport: And Katie, this is Sharon again. You just finished your degree. You just graduated this past spring, correct?

Katie Levin: Yeah. I was going to explain that. They were talking about [Brenda’s son’s] situation, and although mine is a little bit different, it was completely affected by being on the spectrum. I was going to a four-year university in Chicago and my major was elementary education. I was getting through it pretty well, because I had the knowledge. I was taking the state tests and I was passing them the first time. I was getting through all my classes with As and Bs.

But then they put me to do clinical experiences, which is what you do before student teaching. Beyond sitting in the classroom and observing, where I actually had to start doing some things in the classroom with the students, and that’s where I started to have the problem. I couldn’t handle the multitasking. I couldn’t work with one or two students while there were 20 other students in the room talking and walking around and doing things.

I was running into those and other issues, similar issues. I have problems with auditory processing, so if the teacher would give me a whole series of directions, I might only be able to remember the first couple. But when she asked me to do things like enter grades into the computer, well, I could do that just fine. So I was thinking to myself: “If I can’t handle this in clinicals, there’s no way I’m going to be able to do the student teaching.” I had to withdraw from the program. However, I’d accumulated so many credits in going there and going other places, community college, etc., that I was able to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. So, basically, I now have a degree, a very general degree, but it is a four-year degree, but nothing to do with it. [Chuckles]

Tricia Kenney: Hm.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Katie Levin: So the first thing I thought of was: “Well, I’m going to see if Aspiritech has any openings.” They had actually done a presentation at one of the Meetup groups that I had started, and I had seen them. Initially, when they were starting up and the other testers were being hired, I was still going to school, so I didn’t apply at that time. So it wasn’t until I had to drop my classes for the semester and everything just happened very suddenly and changed very quickly that I considered looking into seeing if I could do this kind of work.

Sharon daVanport: I’m sorry, Katie. I want to ask Brenda really quick, because you brought up a really good point, Katie, that I think that Brenda can speak to for Aspiritech. Now, Katie is bringing up some wonderful points that [are] kinda how you saw your son. There he was, doing something that he wasn’t qualified for. But do you see this a lot, too, in people who are applying for your program? Like Katie, here she was going for her degree and she’s going just fine until she gets to one part of something that she struggles with. It has to do with her being on the spectrum, maybe some social things going on. Do you find that having the environment at Aspiritech, you’re trying to make that really conducive environmentally, to where people don’t feel that social anxiety? What do you do to tap into that?

Brenda Weitzberg: You know what? It’s such a good question. When we envisioned the company, we thought of so many environmental supports we would need, and writing, and what have you. We’re learning as we go along, [but] we haven’t had to make as many adaptations as we expected.

Sharon daVanport: Right. Probably [unknown] though you might eventually make more [unknown].

Brenda Weitzberg: Right; right. And [my husband’s] an educator; he has a degree also. He’s a Ph.D chemist with a teaching degree and happens to tutor also, but what we did see was, for instance, sometimes [through?] the testing, the computer screen changes and one of the testers couldn’t tolerate it in the beginning. The other guys were mentioning to Moshe that he’s just frozen, and Moshe said: “Let him be.” It took him three days and then he was able to do it.

Sharon daVanport: Wow.

Brenda Weitzberg: No one put pressure on, and no one made him feel like he couldn’t do it or wouldn’t be able to do it or something was wrong with him. And then he was able to do the testing on a moving screen.

Tricia Kenney: Wow.

Brenda Weitzberg: I think…different than education. And I’ve seen other people in Katie’s position that have gone into education and then when it comes to the field work, the practicum, it’s just very difficult. After many years of training, as opposed to education, where I see so many people—because that’s my field—coming out of colleges now and they have no jobs, and these are neurotypical people. What’s great about software testing is it’s a growing field.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Brenda Weitzberg: Testing is, one, more critical, because virtually every business in the United States now depends on software for everything.

Tricia Kenney: Um-hm.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Brenda Weitzberg: Including the government. So it’s actually a growing field, so it’s a wonderful field for people on the spectrum to get involved in. Just like AWN needs, we need more backing from the community, from the government, to understand that this is the way to begin to solve the growing crisis. 500,000 children and youth on the spectrum are turning into adults, I’ve heard, in the next two decades. And with an 85 percent unemployment rate—

Sharon daVanport: And that’s not including the adults now. [Chuckles]

Brenda Weitzberg: Yeah.

Katie Levin: Every person on the spectrum who is born is going to turn into adults within the next 20 years if they’re not adults already. [Laughter]

Brenda Weitzberg: Right. Exactly.

Sharon daVanport: Hey, Tricia, can you check your IM messages over on the chat real quick? I had a quick question for you, too, Katie. Brenda is bringing up the situation about not really having to make too many accommodations, which, with a handful of people at this time and testers, I can see that. Do you see, though, as someone on the spectrum, different accommodations that you can see eventually being something where if you knew you were going to be at Aspiritech for eight hours out of the day, that it would be something…

I know certain things in my mind that are easier. I cannot stand flourescent lights; it really bothers me. I know that that’s not just a spectrum thing. A lot of people have that. Or people have migraines or seizures and stuff. But do you forsee, just knowing yourself and knowing other people on the spectrum, some different things that you can foresee having to be accommodated? That would make it easier?

Katie Levin: Is this for me or for Brenda?

Brenda Weitzberg: Oh, Katie.

Sharon daVanport: I was actually asking you, Katie.

Katie Levin: Oh, okay! I’m sorry. [Unknown] One thing I was able to [unknown] office is it’s very small. When I was doing my testing and I started going in on a regular basis, there is one sectioned off room in the office. The office is pretty much just one room, but there’s a sectioned-off room. When I would go in, I had to go in that room to work, because anything else that’s going on—anyeone else talking, any other kind of noises or what have you prevented me from working. I just got distracted too easily. So being able to work in a room by myself without other people in there was definitely very helpful for me.

Sharon daVanport: Good.

Brenda Weitzberg: [Unknown] keep the lights off.

Katie Levin: I do, actually. I do.

Brenda Weitzberg: Yeah. And also, one thing I neglected: we put a lot in writing. There’s dry erase boards. A lot is written down, so that was always an issue for our son. When things are clearly delineated in writing, they’re much better for our testers.

Katie Levin: Oh, yeah. It needs to be, because it’s a way to reinforce what’s said.

Tricia Kenney: Right.

Katie Levin: They use things like, for example, Google Documents. They love using that.

Tricia Kenney: [Laughter]

Katie Levin: They put everything—the meeting notes, notes from any phone calls regarding possible new clients, our training information, all that stuff is on a shared Google document. So if I was working on it, and I wasn’t at the office, I would notify Moshe that: “Okay, I’m working on this now,” and he would log in and he could monitor my work, even if I was working from home.

Tricia Kenney: Very good; very good.

Katie Levin: That’s one system, as well as we all have our own Aspiritech e-mail account. They like to use technology. And I was able to show Moshe how to do a few things. I set up a Facebook page for Aspiritech. I’m still showing Moshe how to use it a little bit.

Brenda Weitzberg: And me.

Tricia Kenney: [Laughter]

Katie Levin: And you, yes.

Brenda Weitzberg: [Laughter]

Katie Levin: But I’ve kind of been an online addict a little bit, and I told them: “Well, this Facebook thing, it’s free marketing.”

Tricia Kenney: It is.

Katie Levin: Everybody uses it. We did a similar thing to what you’re doing with Pepsi for Chase Commnity Giving, and we won $20,000. So Aspiritech won $20,000 by doing this Facebook—well, not just Facebook, but we used Facebook and we also sent out e-mails. For this one, you only vote one time. Each person can only vote once. It was a matter of basically sending notices and e-mails to every person you’ve ever met in your life to vote on this thing.

[Laughter]

Tricia Kenney: Right.

Katie Levin: So that was kind of some of the things that they’ve been working on lately.

Brenda Weitzberg: Can I jump in?

Tricia Kenney: Sure.

Brenda Weitzberg: Sorry. Based on what Katie just said, and back to a question I think Tricia asked: If the testers would work on the client sites. Did you ask that?

Tricia Kenney: Yes, I did.

Brenda Weitzberg: Well, actually, those two things, which she talked about with Google Docs, they’re connected. The Danish company, 75 percent of their work is done on the client’s site. But they have more staff to go in and set up things. We, from the beginning, thought: “Well, let’s tackle the percentage of jobs that we could do from an office or from people’s homes,” because some people live far away from our office.

Tricia Kenney: Sure.

Brenda Weitzberg: Because of Google Docs, just like Moshe can follow what Katie is doing at all times, our client companies [can follow what we’re doing]. It’s all done through Google Docs and cloud computing. It’s all out there, and it means that you’re typically not bound to any specific territory to do your work. So it’s actually very conducive.

Tricia Kenney: Now this brings up a question for me: Really, could your testers be anywhere in the country at this point? Or do they have to be physically there for the training?

Brenda Weitzberg: That is such a fantastic question, Trish. They could theoretically be anywhere. They could, once they’ve done their training. They could even be trained [over] Skype—have a Skype conference or a GoToMeeting kind of thing. However, just like Katie and other testers [have] said, some people have a hard time focusing at home or in the library, and you lose the whole social piece.

What has been wonderful at Aspiritech, and if I ever get to work at Aspiritech, I will build up the social piece, the HR piece. They go out to lunch. Social isolation of sitting at home on your computer can be…we’re not getting the benefits of getting out there, seeing other people, going to lunch, chatting. Over time, we’re going to have a big office. We’ll have a big lounge where people can play air hockey or whatever they want, video games. I have a much bigger vision.

Katie Levin: Moshe calls a meeting probably every couple of weeks. So even over the sumemr and so forth, when there wasn’t work, he would call meetings and usually everybody would be expected to come to these meetings if they could. Those meetings gave everyone a chance to talk to each other, talk to him, ask questions. We usually would be able to get lunch. Sometimes the meeting would be interactive, where we would actually be doing things on the computer during the meeting.

Tricia Kenney: Very good.

Katie Levin: Moshe not only updates us with the computer and sends us e-mails and stuff like that, but also actually has physical, in-person meetings that people are asked to attend as often as possible.

Tricia Kenney: Right. And it gives you a chance to reconnect and be around other people, and that’s really good.

Brenda Weitzberg: The jury’s still out on telecommuting.

Tricia Kenney: Yeah.

Brenda Weitzberg: Yeah, that’s the answer. We’re not sure. The one who finished ITT, he lives very far away. His goal is to do some of the work from home and some from the office. He doesn’t want to come into the office five days a week, because it’s challenging for him.k

Tricia Kenney: Right.

Katie Levin: Yes. It’s got to be at least an hour away, right?

Brenda Weitzberg: Umhm.

Katie Levin: It has to be at least an hour from where he comes from, assuming he drives. My drive is about a half an hour, at least—no, actually, a little more than that from where I am.

Brenda Weitzberg: [We tried?] to put the office on a train line, also.

Katie Levin: Oh, yeah. Yeah. But the train has made cutbacks lately, so they’re not running as many trains as they were.

Katie Levin: What about training other offices who work with employing autistic people. Pretty much every major city has some sort of vocational rehab and things like that in place. What about training them to train testers, and expanding Aspiritech?

Brenda Weitzberg: Train the trainers.

Tricia Kenney: Yes.

Brenda Weitzberg: Yes, that’s one of our goals down the road. We’ve already hosted groups from around the country who’d like to take the model to their own states. We’ve had a department of rehabilitation ask if we could come out and do the training. But to be honest, at this point, unless they’re willing to subsidize, we just don’t have the staff to do that.

Tricia Kenney: Right; right.

Katie Levin: Down the road.

Tricia Kenney: [The thing that usually comes?] up every time I mention Aspiritech and the work that you guys are doing, everybody’s like: “How do we get that here? How can we make that happen here?” And it’s like: “Gosh, I’ll ask.” [Laughter]

Brenda Weitzberg: I have a dream that there’s a private public pot of money—the government and some big foundation get together and put together a pot of money, and with that, that there’s one office where we could provide technical assistance and a business plan as we get stronger and more standardized. And different organizations apply for…We send out RSPs (requests for proposals) let’s say once a year. And different organizations get some seed funding through this pot of money, and then we can provide technical assitance. It wouldn’t be rocket science to expand this across the country. But as you can see, and we’re very honest about it, we’re just in our infancy.

Tricia Kenney: Right; right.

Katie Levin: I also wanted to mention quickly that, as well as the money and everything being donated, also the computers in the office and the office furniture was all either donated or bought at extremely low cost. So there has to be laptops or computers in the office for everyone to use, if there’s a lot of people in there. There have to be chairs for everybody to sit in; there have to be tables for people to work on. So all that stuff, I believe, was donated.

Brenda Weitzberg: Most of it; most of it.

Tricia Kenney: And this is really so incredibly important, because as Brenda had mentioned at the beginning of the show, oftentimes when there is a disability mentioned, when there’s a diagnosis, people are put in jobs where it’s not going to be enough to live on.

Katie Levin: Right.

Tricia Kenney: The pay is not going to be living wage, and that’s going to put them at risk for job loss. One little thing happens, and they won’t be able to pay the rent. One little thing happens with their car and they won’t be able to keep their electricity on. All kinds of bad things can happen when you’re dealing with very low-paying jobs that are very part time and things like that. It’s really such a useless notion, considering the potential that these people have. I think getting a program like yours out there into the masses is going to be absolutely crucial for their survival.

Katie Levin: Well, I’vew noticed that it’s difficult to even get people in mainstream society to even acknowledge that there are adults on the spectrum. I know in Illinois, and I don’t know about the other states, as far as getting services from the state, go, you either need to have a severe developmental disability or have a diagnosed mental illness. If you don’t have either one of those, you don’t qualify for any services or any funding or anything.

Tricia Kenney: Umhm.

Katie Levin: And that can be frustrating for those of us on the spectrum who people might look at us and be like: “Well, what’s wrong with you? You’re fine. Why don’t you just get up and get a job like everybody else?”

Tricia Kenney: Right; right. Have you had any jobs previous to this, Katie?

Katie Levin: Yeah. The last job I worked at was five years ago. I was a cashier at Walgreens drug store for about six years. I quit right around the time I went back to school to get my Bachelor’s degree, but I actually quit because I couldn’t handle, again, with the multitasking, again with the sensory overload. With customers talking to me while there was music and announcements and things. Often I would be asked to do different things. I wouldn’t always be asked to do the same thing each day, and that upset me a lot. So there was a lot of stuff that made it very, very hard for me to do that job, and I pushed through it as long as I could until I couldn’t do it anymore.

Tricia Kenney: Right. Brenda, as far as the training goes, I know a lot of autistic people also are ADHD as well, and so the situation that Katie is describing, where there’s too many different things going on, that is exactly what other people are looking for. If they do the same thing every day, they’ll just go insane. [Laughter]

Brenda Weitzberg: Exactly. Like me.

Tricia Kenney: Yeah. So they need variety, different tasks, multitasking and a variety to keep them engaged. Does your training allow for that as well, or are you just sticking with the one model at this time?

Brenda Weitzberg: The initial training, which some people take two months to complete. We have a new person who did it in three days or four days—just whipped through it. That doesn’t, and really in a way gives people going through it the sense of repetitive tasks. But you shouldn’t think it’s not creative. Because what Katie’s testing, for example, is a phone that’s on the market and it still has bugs.

We find that our testers…You both want to be able to both follow a test script and do step-by-step, but also think outside the box: “Hm. Let me try…What happens if I do–?” And sometimes, they find bugs or software errors that the person who wrote the script or designed the product, the phone, didn’t even think about. So there’s that little bit of creativity.

On the other hand, each task that has come in is very different. The jobs that we’re getting are very, very different. So there may be testers down the road who want to do the same thing, day in day out. Hopefully we’ll have big contracts that will be able to give that to testers. Someone else might want to switch around—smaller contracts. They may do a job for a week and a new job the next week. So that’s one one Moshe’s tasks, and hopefully we’ll be able to afford getting him help soon: to match the jobs that come in with the testers—their interests, their abilities.

For example, we’re getting a big contract now that’s very complex about forms, and some people may enjoy that work while others may not. We’re learning a lot. There’s a lot to learn.

Tricia Kenney: I’ll bet.

Katie Levin: With me personally, I like variety. I just don’t want it all at the same time. It’s like: Do one thing, and then when I’m finished with that one thing, I’m interested in working on something else. I just don’t want to have to worry about it simultaneously.

Tricia Kenney: Gotcha. Right; right. And there’s a huge variety in the human species, in that respect. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of configuring in that way for the jobs and the testers, so it’s going to be interesting, I’m sure. What I was also interested in was the pay. Are these companies contracting the testers at the same type of rate of pay that they would other testers?

Brenda Weitzberg: See, at this point, to get into the business, we started off charging companies $20 an hour for our services. We upped it pretty quickly to $25. We started our testers right out of the testing at $12 an hour. Now, it may seem low, but what happens is, the months they didn’t have work, we were able to keep them on a very small stipend. So they are not at a liveable wage yet. We’re hoping in the next year to be there.

Tricia Kenney: Umhm.

Brenda Weitzberg: We’re definitely not putting money back from our contractural work into the Aspiritech budget. We have to cover rent and utilities and Internet.

Tricia Kenney: Sure, sure. $12 is a lot better than $5.

Brenda Weitzberg: Well, minimum wage in Illinois has gone up to $8 and a quarter, so it’s almost 50 percent better than minimum wage.

Tricia Kenney: Right.

Brenda Weitzberg: My son certainly has never earned $12 an hour. Are we satisfied with that? No. But our first goal is to get regular work, so that they can depend on X amount. And especially some of the testers still have some benefits, like Katie talked about, and we have to make sure not to go over that.

Tricia Kenney: Right, right.

Brenda Weitzberg: Till we can guarantee them…

Tricia Kenney: Sure, sure.

Katie Levin: I worked for Walgreens for six years, and when I left Walgreens, my pay was at about $8.50. That means that when I started at Walgreens, it was at least under $6 an hour.

Tricia Kenney: Wow. Right.

Katie Levin: So this is considerably better than anything that I had earned in the past.

Tricia Kenney: Right, and think of what that does to your self-esteem and your whole living condition. It’s the difference between living in an apartment that probably is not really supposed to be inhabited by humans—

Katie Levin: Which I’m kind of in now. [Laughter]” I’m hoping that next year I’ll be able to change my circumstances. That’s probably my top goal right now.

Tricia Kenney: Right.

Katie Levin: I really want to move into an apartment that has more than one total room. [Laughter]

Tricia Kenney: Exactly; exactly.

Brenda Weitzberg: A lot of our testers still live with their parents, too, because they cannot afford to be independent. And that’s our whole goal, is to give people an employment path to realize their potential and live more productive and meaningful lives, beccause they are amazing. I would lose my mind if I had to sit at that computer scren and do what they do. Absolutely.

Tricia Kenney: [Laughter]

Brenda Weitzberg: My patience would run thin in about 20 minutes. Every time my husband tries to show me something, I’m like: “Not now, honey! I don’t get this!” I run a huge school, a huge not-for-profit child care center, and I would lose my mind doing that work. I’m not technical; I just would. They have incredible focus and attention to detail, which is exactly, exactly what the software industry needs for testing.

Tricia Kenney: And I can see this just blowing up in a huge and positive way for the autism community. Really, if you think about it, the way it can branch out. A lot of autistic people may not get into the testing part, but they are very artistically inclined, and maybe they could get into designer graphics.

Katie Levin: Yeah. I actually was hoping that I could do a little bit of that, because my minor was art. So I’m not a great artist, but I do a little bit of drawing and photography. [Those] are some of the things that I’ve worked on in the paat, but I never expected to really do anything with that. The thing is, that with my education thing, I have the knowledge but not the skills.

Tricia Kenney: Mm.

Katie Levin: With this computer stuff, I have the skills. I just don’t have the degree, or the formal schooling for it.

Tricia Kenney: Right.

Katie Levin: So that’s where I’ve run into the biggest problems, as far as finding work goes.

Brenda Weitzberg: We’re going to get you work, Katie.

Katie Levin: Thank you.

[Laughter]

Brenda Weitzberg: I will tell you a funny anecdote. Before Katie came on, there was only these six guys. And one of the guys actually comes from a neighboring state, Wisconsin. He comes on the train. He sat in the office and he said: “I’m not so sure we should have a female. It may be too distracting.”

Katie Levin: Oh, really?

Brenda Weitzberg: And apparently, he has adjusted very well.

Tricia Kenney: [Laughter]

Brenda Weitzberg: I will not tell you who it is, but there was some concern.

Katie Levin: I know who it is.

Brenda Weitzberg: This same person came to us. I remember sitting around with the guys before we went to present on the East Coast in April, and I wanted to get feedback from them about their experience to share. This same guy sat around and said: “You know, I’m not so sure I have Asperger’s.” He’s been struggling with that, and one of the other guys—actually, the guy who finished ITT—was kind of like a natural leader, because he has amazing skills in the field and education. He turned around and he started laughing, and he said: “So-and-so, I don’t think you’re any different than any of us,” and everyone cracked up laughing. They were all hysterical.

[Laughter]

And this same person, when Katie started the CASPAN group in our office, he was the first person to say that he was going to come. I don’t believe he actually came, but he said he was going to come, so that’s a big step forward.

Tricia Kenney: Wow.

Brenda Weitzberg: And that’s from employment: being more aware about yourself, feeling better about yourself and who you are.

Tricia Kenney: Exactly. Exactly.

Brenda Weitzberg: Imagine getting that from work.

Tricia Kenney: It’s hope for the future and really starting to see your future in a different light.

Brenda Weitzberg: Yes.

Tricia Kenney: When you don’t have that inspiration and it doesn’t look like any of these goals are attainable, and you look at other people and you’re like: “Well, they’re working towards this; they’re going to buy a house and do this and this and that.” Why on earth should they not have those same options? Why could they not have the future that they dream of, like any person dreams of?

Brenda Weitzberg: We’re wasting such skills and abilities. As a society, we cannot afford to waste and disregard these skills that are so needed by businesses. We can’t. It doesn’t even make sense from an economic point of view.

Katie Levin: When there’s no work or the work is slow, you can send the employees out to help give tech support for people who hare having trouble with using their computers.

Brenda Weitzberg: The Geek Squad.

Tricia Kenney: Yeah. [Laughter]

Katie Levin: We’re the uber-Geek Squad.

[Laughter]

I can’t tell you how many times my mom would call me and tell me…She knows how to read an e-mail but she doesn’t know how to open or send an attachment. I’m like: “You just do this and this and this,” and she doesn’t know what I’m talking about.

[Laughter]

Brenda Weitzberg: It’s like me and Facebook, Katie. Some of us are very hard to train.

Tricia Kenney: I think you guys are doing a great job. I hope you just keep expanding and reaching out and making more friends and contacts on Facebook, Twitter, wherever you can get it. Everybody that I’ve talked to about this is so excited about it, and they just want to be a part of it. They want to figure out a way to bring it into their communities, and here in St. Louis, I have had several people say: “How can we do this? How can we prepare people in the autistic population to have a future, to have a career, to have a living wage, so that they can have a successful future? So that if a parent dies or both parents pass away that these individuals aren’t destitute?

Brenda Weitzberg: Exactly.

Katie Levin: Yeah. A lot of people live at home and I’m not able to have the support from my family that a lot of these other people—

Tricia Kenney: Exactly, and there are a lot of people like you, Katie. There are.

Katie Levin: I have to figure out how to make things work for myself, because that’s what I have.

Tricia Kenney: It’s survivable.

Katie Levin: Yeah.

Tricia Kenney: It’s absolutely survivable, and programs like this, we can get people to wake up and see: “Oh, well yeah, they can live out a life like anybody else,” and “Of course there’s potential there. There’s all this skill and there’s all this brain activity that we can harness and really produce a happy, functional—

Brenda Weitzberg: Contributing member of society. It’s a win-win.

Tricia Kenney: Yes. Instead of everybody freaking out, going: “Oh, my God! All these autistic kids are going to grow up to be autistic adults, and we’re not prepared to pay for all of them,” well, you don’t have to if you give them a chance.

Brenda Weitzberg: Exactly; exactly.

Katie Levin: There’s other things besides software testing that—

Brenda Weitzberg: Exactly.

Katie Levin: Everybody is developing these things. You don’t all have to do software testing.

Tricia Kenney: Right.

Katie Levin: I’m sure there’s lots of other things that can be developed that would work just as well.

Tricia Kenney: Right, and we see autistic people in every facet of employment. We see writers; we see actors; we see musicians and public speakers, computer programmers and whatever else you do on computers. [Laughter] And we have artists. The thing I see so much is all these artists doing this amazing work.

Brenda Weitzberg: Oh, my God.

Tricia Kenney: And it’s just sitting there. It’s not being appreciated; they’re not making any money off of it. How do we harness that into a sustainable living, a career for them? There’s got to be a way, right?

Katie Levin: Well, yeah.

Brenda Weitzberg: Absolutely.

Katie Levin: I’ve never thought of my art being that spectacular. Even for my art classes, I never felt like my art measured up to what the other people in my classes did, and I knew from the get-go: It’s like: “Okay, this is my minor. I’m taking this because I have to have a minor, and I’m not expecting to make a career out of art. I know that is not a sustainable…It’s very unlikely that that’s going to be a sustainable living for me.

Tricia Kenney: Right.

Brenda Weitzberg: If you get a living wage, it might give you time to pursue hobbies like your art.

Katie Levin: Right. Exactly.

Brenda Weitzberg: For some it will be work; others, it’s something you do because you enjoy it for yourself.

Tricia Kenney: Right. And everybody should be able to do that.

Brenda Weitzberg: Right, right. Well, if one listener is on the Forbes list of billionaires—

Tricia Kenney: [Laughter]

Brenda Weitzberg: —and wants to name Aspiritech, it could certainly be named. And that would provide the seed funding.

Katie Levin: We need our neighbor Oprah.

[Laughter]

Brenda Weitzberg: Right.

Katie Levin: She’s in the area.

Tricia Kenney: Have you written to Bill Gates yet?

Brenda Weitzberg: Yeah, I have.

Katie Levin: You have?

Brenda Weitzberg: Oh, of course.

Katie Levin: Well, Temple Grandin—

Brenda Weitzberg: That one I haven’t written to.

Katie Levin: Actually, Temple Grandin has acknowledged Aspiritech, I think when they were starting up. And Temple Grandin knows about Aspiritech already, and I got to meet her this summer.

Tricia Kenney: Wow. Nice.

Katie Levin: I have a picture of her that’s my Facebook profile, and I got [to meet her] just a couple months before she won the Emmys for the movie.

Tricia Kenney: Wow.

Katie Levin: She was giving feedback about the website and some ideas about things. And also, I believe they have a letter from Barack Obama—from President Obama, don’t you guys?

Brenda Weitzberg: Yeah. I wish this administration, when they think about jobs and the stimulus bill, they need to also think about people on the spectrum.

Katie Levin: Even people with disabilities in general, going in a broader—

Tricia Kenney: Right, right.

Brenda Weitzberg: And October, isn’t it—?

Katie Levin: You know what? I’ve seen October, and I’ve seen April. I think it’s April.

Brenda Weitzberg: No. April is autism awareness month, but October is employment disability month. Something like that.

Katie Levin: Oh, really?

Brenda Weitzberg: Yes. So President Obama, if you’re hearing this [Laughter], we have a model that could be implemented throughout the country and provide hope to families and work to adults.

Tricia Kenney: And strenghthen our economy.

Brenda Weitzberg: Absolutely.

Tricia Kenney: It has to start somewhere, right?

Katie Levin: And I guess, talking from someone being on the other side of things, being on the spectrum, some people have this belief…We don’t want to be on Social Security for the rest of our lives.

Brenda Weitzberg: Yeah. [Unknown]

Katie Levin: We don’t want to be draining all the money that you guys need for people with disabilities. We don’t want to have to rely on that for the rest of our lives. We want to be a contributing member to society, just as much as everybody else.

Tricia Kenney: Sure. And who wants to live on that small amount of money every month, and just struggle every single month. That’s not living.

Katie Levin: Yeah, and I’ve been doing that for the past few years. I don’t want to do it. I know that the only way I’m going to make a better life for myself is if I do it myself. We have to be given a chance. We can’t be told: “Well, I’ve heard about that Asperger’s thing and I’ve met someone like you and that’s not the type of person we want.” When we hear things like that, then it discourages us. Like: What’s the point?

Tricia Kenney: Of course; of course. When people think that you’re not up to the task or you’re unable to perform in some way, it’s really sad. It’s really sad that anyone would do that to someone else.

Katie Levin: When we are given a chance, we don’t want you to have to do everything for us. We want to just meet in the middle. We need a little bit of help, but we also want to meet in the middle to want to do what we’re expected to do and what we need to do as close to the level as everyone else as possible.

Tricia Kenney: Right.

Katie Levin: And it might mean a couple of accommodations. Depending on what those accommodations are, it’s a matter of compromise.

Tricia Kenney: Right; right. And with such amazing results, really, who could look at that nd say it’s not worthwhile?

Katie Levin: Umhm.

Tricia Kenney: Well, we’re about out of time, ladies. I really, really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us today. I’m going to be sending this broadcast out to a lot of friends and really spreading the message. Hopefully, somebody pops up and says: “This is something that we need here and we want to be able to fund this,” and hopefully get some funding coming your way. This, I think, is such a crucial thing that you’re doing, and I applaud you. Everybody I know is like: “Oh, my gosh! If we could only have Specialisterne in the United States!” Well, we kind of do, now, so let’s nurture that and make it grow and really give some people some feeling of worth in their lives.

Brenda Weitzberg: Absolutely.

Katie Levin: And also if you’re on the spectrum and there isn’t any way to do anything socially, you can go online and start a Meetup group. Anybody can. That’s what I did, and that’s actually how I found out about Aspiritech and was able to apply. I started this Meetup group and it turned into a network, because peopel didn’t want to have to drive two hours to go to the group on the other side of Chicago or something.

Tricia Kenney: Right. That’s right.

Katie Levin: So the Meetup group really helped, and Aspiritech was nice enough to allow us to use their office to have a Meetup group. I named the group CASAN: Chicago Autism Spectrum Adult Network. We have different groups and they’re each run by different people, and we also do a lot of social things. We’re hoping to have a Halloween party. Someone is hopefully going to be throwing a Halloween party at the end of the month.

Tricia Kenney: Oh, awesome.

Brenda Weitzberg: That’s wonderful.

Tricia Kenney: I wanted to ask something real quick before we end. There are some adults who are non-verbal who would also be exceptional at this type of work. Have you started looking into maybe the types of accommodations that would be needed to employ a non-verbal adult into this kind of work?

Brenda Weitzberg: Not yet, but it’s definitely on the radar. We’re taking it one step at a time, but absolutely. Once we have enough work coming in for our current testers, that’s one of the things. We’d love to work with universities, doing research. One of the grants we have out is to have a part-time autism specialist, so that would be the kind of tasks that we’d like an autism specialist to help us with.

Katie Levin: I can tell you one university, the university that I went to, desperately needs some education regarding autism spectrum and student population and hwo to work with them.

Tricia Kenney: Umhm. A lot of schools, yeah.

Brenda Weitzberg: They all do, yeah.

Tricia Kenney: Yeah. And that’s a common theme across the country right now. People are starting to realize: “Okay, there’s more training, more education that needs to be done, more awareness.” That’s something we can all do ourselves, take part in and be a part of bringing that education and awareness to the people around us in our communities—something we can take responsibility for, definitely.

So, again, thank you, both of you for being on the show today. I think it’s just a wonderful service that you’re doing and I truly hope that it expands, because I know so many people could benefit from this—not just the autistic people, but the families, their communities, the schools, the employment services. I think it would just be a wonderful evolution for them all. How can they get a hold of you? If anybody has questions, how can they get a hold of you?

Brenda Weitzberg: The easiest way is brenda AT aspiritech DOT org. It’s on our website: www.aspiritech.org. And they could find our phone number, also. I’d love to speak with anyone. Thank you so much for having us, shedding light on Aspiritech.

Katie Levin: [Unknown]

Tricia Kenney: Well, it was definitely my pleasure, and hopefull we’ll be touching base with you again sometime in the future and see how things are going, if that would be okay.

Katie Levin: Absolutely.

Brenda Weitzberg: That would be wonderful.

Tricia Kenney: Okay. Well, thank you both and have a good afternoon, okay?

Katie Levin: Okay. Thanks a lot.

Tricia Kenney: Bye-bye.

Katie Levin: Okay. Bye.

[Brenda and Katie hang up].

Tricia Kenney: Okay, well that was a really great interview. I’m glad that they were able to join us today. I’m hoping some places decide to use this as a model and think about doing the same thing within their community. It’s vitally important, so again, I just want to thank Aspiritech and all the work that they’re doing. It’s absolutely wonderful.

Before I end the show, I would just like to say that Sharon had to take care of some things, so she wasn’t able to finish off the show with us. But she will be back with us next week, for our show with Brian King. Before I close off, I want to mention that in St. Louis we are starting a homelessness initiative for the autistic population, and to get us rolling with that, we entered the Pepsi contest for a grant. If you would like to vote for us, all you have to do is go to www.refresheverything.com/stlhome. And if you’d like to text in a vote, the text is 103465 and you just text that to Pepsi, which is 73774. So until next week, take care and God bless.

[End]

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