This is the second part of a two-part interview with Mike Macedo. Mike Macedo is a clinical social worker, psychotherapist, writer, and autism advocate working in Rhode Island. Macedo speaks on a variety of autism advocacy topics including school and workplace transitions. Last week he shared some of his experiences growing up undiagnosed with multiple disabilities and often misunderstood by his peers. This week he shared his transition to college and current disability advocacy work.
What was the transition to college like? In what ways did you have to self advocate? Were you comfortable self advocating at that age?
Going to college was something I never questioned growing up- my parents always pushed me to go. I was the first in either side of my family to go to college full-time after high school. I wanted to make family history, and I knew that I wanted to be a therapist when I was an upperclassman in high school once I started educating myself about Asperger’s, and going to my IEP meetings.
When I got to Rhode Island College, I didn’t really know what to expect. I was actually elated because for the first time in a decade, I could start fresh with new peers who I felt accepted me right away. I was a notable XC and track athlete at my high school, which got me recruited to my college’s XC/track programs, and I fit in with my coaches and teammates right away, and found immediate success.
Meanwhile, I was registered with Disability Services (as it is called there), already, so it was up to me to hand over letters validating my need for accommodations to my professors. For the most part, I did not have any issues with this, aside from maybe one elderly professor who told me “You don’t have a disability.” One time, I had to retake a class because my professor thought I was using my phone to cheat when I was given a separate location to take the exam. I started my first two semesters of grad school without accommodations. For some reason, I did not realize I could extend my undergraduate accommodations to graduate school; my accommodations were mainly for exam-taking, and my MSW program didn’t have exams.
In my 3rd semester, I had a field placement that was too fast-paced. My supervisor at that placement would not accommodate me, and I fell apart. It was only after having to wait to be reinstated in my program that I reached out to Disability Services, who set me up with accommodations to take to my field placement that would include extra instruction, supervision time, etc. I also had extended time on papers, and while I didn’t face too much resistance from my professors, there was an overwhelming feeling that I was the only student asking for such accommodations, and that the faculty were on their toes when dealing with me.
What made you decide to begin your public advocacy work? What are the most important topics you like to share or teach people about?
So it all started in 2007 when I was selected to participate in the RI Youth Leadership Forum for Students with Disabilities. It took place for 4 days the summer before freshman year of college, and it was the event that reshaped the second half of my life so far.
In those 4 days, I met lifelong friends, my first girlfriend at the time, learned about Justin Dart and the ADA and about self-advocacy. I became a peer facilitator at YLF over the next few summers, and eventually was asked to participate in a college panel put on by an education collaborative in RI. For 12 years now, I have been involved in this college panel, made up of many former YLF alum, speaking to students, teachers, and parents about our experiences as past and current students in both high school and college, and offering advice to students who are figuring out what to do once high school ends.
Around this time too, one of my best friends (also from YLF) had the idea to start an advocacy group on campus for students with disabilities and allies. In 2010, we finally got this set up at our school, and to this day, the Advocacy and Beyond Club is a successful organization on campus.
In 2017, I did the keynote speech at one of our college panels at Providence College, and from there, I would be invited to speak at a handful of other events from high school assemblies, to teacher convocations to Autism expos in the RI-MA-CT area. The facilitator of the college panel has been a great friend for many years who has been like my unofficial manager, often using her connections to get me speaking gigs and boards I can sit on, like the RI Rehabilitation Council.
Tell me about your YouTube channel. What do you hope listeners gain? What drives your content, etc.? What other professional advocacy goals do you have?
I started making videos on YouTube back in 2018, and have continued at a pretty inconsistent basis, but nevertheless, they’re on there. I talk about a variety of topics pertaining to Autistic adults, including passions and interests, advantages of being Autistic, challenges Autistic adults can face in the workplace, and my favorite topic, executive functioning. I have 6 subscribers and 11 videos overall, but I feel stuck, because I’m not the type of animated person who can make videos fun and engaging. I’ve discovered that talking into a webcam is awkward and lonely. I don’t get the same thrill from that as I do speaking to an audience from a podium that is meant for someone much taller than me.
My dream is to be a become a nationally-recognized public speaker and consultant. I want to be able to see the entire country speaking and consulting at high schools, colleges, and conferences. I’ve been turned down many times from Autism Conferences around the country, and I’m waiting to find one that prioritizes self-advocates. I want my voice to be heard because I’m an Autistic person who has overcome many challenges in youth, but also faced new challenges in adulthood that I was not expecting. I know I’m not alone in this.
I’m in a fairly unique position where I am a mental health professional who gets to treat Autistic adolescents and adults just like me. There are days where I feel like the only difference between them and me is the space between the couch and my office chair. I also do fee-for-service therapy at Social Sparks, a fairly-new social/emotional learning center in RI for Autistic people ranging from children to young adults. I get to run an adult group there, and while it is awesome to be able to feel like I don’t have to put a mask on at all there (it’s well-known that I’m the Autistic staff member there), I really want to branch out to other waves of young adults, people in their late 20s-30s like me, because this is where I feel the real transition to adulthood is.
Lastly, I’d like to start a blog called “The Neurodivergent Therapist,” where I can talk about a variety of topics related to mental health, including masking, burnout, disclosure in the workplace, and the importance of self preservation and mindfulness. I want to create a platform where readers can feel free to ask questions, and share their own stories.
I also want to encourage Autistic individuals to explore careers in mental health, because I feel we can really be an asset to potential neurodivergent clients, because, well, we’re just like them. While making YouTube videos is effective, I don’t feel I’m very good at it, and I don’t know how to edit. My real skill is, and had always been in writing, and I think this is a good road to go down. I have one published writing piece on The Mighty, it’s called Autism in the Workplace: Why Accommodations Need to be Fluid. It brings up the importance of effective accommodations for Autistic employees, and how even the simplest of modifications can yield their full potential which is limitless, based on some of the Autistic professionals I know.