Today we’d like to introduce you to Heidi Stieglitz Ham.
Heidi, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
The transition from adolescence to adulthood for individuals on the autism spectrum can be a time fraught with uncertainty, and even desperation, as these young adults try to find their place in society. I have met with many families over the years, and they shared their heartbreak with me as their now young adult children are left behind as their siblings grow up, marry, and start families of their own. Sometimes they leave for a time, only to return home once again but now with feelings of failure as they realize that their dreams are unattainable, and their self-esteem starts to plummet.
My nephew, Joshua, was one of these young adults who experienced a difficult transition to adulthood. The pain and loneliness that he felt were overwhelming at times, and he turned to “friends” who did not have his best interests at heart. My nephew tried to fit in with a group of peers, and made choices to use substances to alleviate his anxiety, but ended up in trouble with the criminal justice system. This is not an uncommon story for adults on the autism spectrum, and it is now a passion of my nephew to help other young people who might be tempted to make these same choices. He is developing a program to help the police understand how they can get to the truth when interrogating individuals on the autism spectrum.
I also have a seventeen-year-old nephew named Nicholas who also has a diagnosis of autism, and lives in Austin, Texas. Nicholas will soon transition from high school, and his family will begin to explore opportunities for his future life path. His father was an Assistant Principal and his educational advocate throughout his school years, attending all of his planning meetings. Although his mother is dedicated and devoted and attends every meeting as well, his father understood the language and navigated the requirements of the educational system. Sadly, his father passed away ten months ago, and his family is experiencing a great loss. Not only did Nicholas lose his father, but he lost his educational and future advocate. I am dedicated to helping Nicholas and sharing every resource that I have to help provide new opportunities for him.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I am a social entrepreneur. According to Schwab Foundation, “A social entrepreneur innovates by finding a new approach to a social problem coupled with dogged determination, which allows them to break away from constraints imposed by ideology or field of discipline, and pushes them to take risks that others wouldn’t dare. Social entrepreneurs hold an unwavering belief in the innate capacity of all people to contribute meaningfully to economic and social development, and they have a driving passion to make that happen.”
In my case, I have the passion to improve the quality of lives for adults with autism by removing the financial barriers to connections that are necessary to create new opportunities for these individuals. However, creating a program that allows these individuals access to connections is a distinct break from the traditional programs and services available in the community.
The Reactor Room is the first of its kind, and it is a collaborative approach designed specifically for each adult with autism that we serve. We bring together entrepreneurs, business leaders, community connectors, therapists, and educators to share their ideas and create an action plan. Sharing and collaborating require trust, and each panel member must put aside their own personal or professional alliances, and share in the desire to make a difference in the lives of our adults with autism for the greater good. As the program continues to grow, we continue to find like-minded individuals and organizations who share our same vision for creating new opportunities and outcomes for adults with autism.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Spectrum Fusion story. Tell us more about the business.
I am passionate about working with individuals on the autism spectrum, and our mission at Spectrum Fusion is to make the world a better place for adults with autism. I believe that every individual is unique and deserves to be valued. Spectrum Fusion is founded on four key components: Belonging, Purpose, Community, and Collaboration. The programs of Spectrum Fusion are developed from the vision and the mission of Spectrum Fusion.
Spectrum Fusion is a Not-for-Profit organization designed to improve the quality of lives of individuals with autism, not only by raising awareness but also through harnessing the power and the energy of collaboration and community engagement. We are transforming the lives of adults with autism by removing the financial barriers to connections that are necessary for opportunities for individuals on the spectrum.
The premier program of Spectrum Fusion is The Reactor Room. The Reactor Room is the first of its kind: a Think Tank for adults with autism. The Reactor Room was developed as an innovative solution to a critical social problem facing adults with autism across the globe. Although adults on the spectrum individuals have much to offer, many are still living at home and are not employed, or even engaged in any meaningful activity. The issues surrounding the transition to adulthood are complex, and there are many reasons why these individuals may not be able to achieve their goals and live independently. Some families may not possess the financial resources to pay for programs and services that are necessary to develop the skills of their adult children. Many individuals on the spectrum experience low self-esteem or low self-confidence as a result of being victims of bullying in school. Coupled with social anxiety and depression, many of these talented young adults remain at home, feeling hopeless about their futures.
These individuals deserve a chance to contribute to society in a way that suits their personal and particular styles and meets their needs, but this requires a team of creative, innovative, and courageous individuals to bring strategic approaches to this unique population; including breaking through traditional barriers to develop new opportunities for these adults.
We are currently building our Reactor Room teams including entrepreneurs, business professionals, therapists, psychologists, and community connectors. After learning more about a particular individual with autism, each team member will participate in a Reactor Room event. Each team member will prepare for the event and bring their ideas and connections tailored for the particular Reactor Room participant. For example, if a participant is an artist, we will have panel members available to provide connections to artists and mentors to critically evaluate their work and provide the necessary steps to gain further training. Some of these individuals may be ready to hold an exhibition but may not have any connections to the art sector in Houston.
The Reactor Room team will guide the individuals towards the next steps towards meaningful progress for their personal growth. The aims will include the increase of meaningful engagement as well as the development of appropriate pathways for each participant.
We are so excited about the launch of our program in The Reactor Room where we are bringing forth the ideas, connections, and fresh perspectives to create new opportunities these adults. At Spectrum Fusion we believe in the power of community and collaboration. We believe that this is the way forward in making a significant and lasting impact to society.
Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
My younger sister was delayed in speech and language, and as a child, our parents and family members looked to me to ask me what she was trying to communicate. I don’t know why, but I seemed to be able to interpret her wants and needs to others, and this may have been one of the reasons that I was drawn to becoming a speech and language pathologist and helping others who struggled to communicate their thoughts as well.
Every night I read a story to her, but there was only one story that would do! She wanted to read the same story every night called The Old Lady and Her Pig, an English fairy tale. I can still remember the first line, “ONCE upon a time, an old woman was sweeping her little house, when, to her great joy, she found a silver sixpence. “What,” said she, “shall I do with this little sixpence? I think I will go to market and buy a pig.”” Of course, she had the story memorized, so skipping pages was not an option. I wish I had a silver sixpence for every time that we read the story together. We still speak fondly of this memory that we shared, and I am grateful that we had this time together in the evenings.
- Address: 3714 Purdue Street
- Website: www.spectrumfusion.org
- Phone: 8322085786
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: spectrumfusion
- Facebook: spectrumfusionUS
- Twitter: @thereactorroom