Mompreneur on Employing Autistic Adults and Teens | MomCave LIVE
Single mompreneur Tiffany Hamilton chats about employing autistic adults and teens as well as people with other developmental disorders. She’s the co-founder (along with her 15-year-old autistic son!) of activewear company Victor Wear. We also take a look at autism awareness and support systems for moms.
Employing Autistic Teens, Autistic Adults and People with Developmental Disabilities | Tiffany Hamilton | MomCave LIVE
Employing Teens & Adults with Autism
Jen: Welcome to “MomCave LIVE,” where we may have lost our minds but we haven’t lost our senses of humor. I’m Jen from “MomCave,” and my guest this week is Tiffany Hamilton, who I’m gonna call a “mompreneur.” Is that how you would pronounce it?
Tiffany Hamilton: Yes.
Jen: A mompreneur. She is the founder and CEO of Victor Wear, and it’s an amazing company. We’re gonna talk all about her mission and why it’s important. Welcome, Tiffany.
Tiffany Hamilton: Oh, thank you. Thanks so much for having me. Happy to be here.
Jen: Thanks for being here and dealing with all of the technical issues that we always seem to have
Tiffany Hamilton: No worries.
Jen: Tiffany, can you tell everybody how the idea for your company came about?
Tiffany Hamilton: Yes, so I’m actually the co-founder. My son is actually a founder. He is 15, he has high functioning autism, and this is an idea that we’ve had for a while. He’s very artistic, so originally we were thinking, “Oh,” you know, “We should do T-shirts with your art,” and he’s kind of grown out of that. And the idea has evolved into inspirational activewear. So it’s something we’ve been planning for a while, and we just decided to just do it.
Jen: Just do it.
Tiffany Hamilton: And launch in April. But the whole idea now is around empowering people with disabilities and really creating economic opportunities. As I mentioned, my son, 15, he’ll actually be 16 very soon, next week.
Creating Opportunities For Teens And Adults With Autism
Tiffany Hamilton: And yeah, so, you know, getting very close to the working world and I want to create opportunities for him and for other autistic adults and teens because the unemployment rate in the disability community is really staggering. Like there’s, you know, 85% of people with developmental disabilities are unemployed.
Tiffany Hamilton: And I don’t want that to be my son. That shouldn’t be anyone. It infuriates me. So this company is a way of creating opportunities. We want to build it and become a major employer of people with disabilities, especially autistic adults and teens. And also, the other part of it is really around inspiring triumph over obstacles. We call them “fellow victors.” We define victors as people who overcome obstacles through grit and determination, and that’s been so much of our journey together.
Jen: Yeah, that’s great. Well, for any 15-year-old to be the co-founder of a business is huge.
Tiffany Hamilton: He’s amazing.
Winning Over Employers
Jen: But for him to do this and have the challenge of autism, is awesome. So when you talk to other employers who are considering employing more autistic adults and teens and people with other disabilities working for them, how do you make them see that it’s to their benefit? That they’re not just doing a kind deed.
Tiffany Hamilton: Oh, I love that question.
Jen: It’s good for their business.
Tiffany Hamilton: Absolutely. So, I would say, you know, in a lot of ways, like, Victor Wear, that’s what we’re trying to show, like the extraordinary things that differently-abled people can do. And so, you know, an example, Isaiah, my baby, he’ll always be my baby.
Jen: Always be the baby, yeah.
Tiffany Hamilton: Yes, but he’s a coder, he can sing, he’s a voice actor, he’s a swimming champion. I mean, these are, like, I can’t do, you know, any of those things, and just, you know, there’s study after study, and I don’t have those studies in front of me, but, you know, just Google.
Jen: They exist and you can get them if you want.
Diversity In The Workforce
Tiffany Hamilton: Absolutely. Google is your best friend. But so many studies show the value of a diverse workforce, whether it’s, you know, diverse in terms of abilities, in terms of race, you know, socioeconomic status, everyone brings value. Everyone brings a different perspective, and together, that perspective is so much more powerful in terms of, like, what you can contribute to the world than, you know, like a homogeneous mindset. So there are so many benefits. And at this time now, like, you know, Great Resignation, you know, where so many companies need, you know, people.
Jen: They’re searching for employees, yeah.
Tiffany Hamilton: Absolutely, and you have this whole segment of the population, you know, willing and able to work and capable of extraordinary things. Hire them! Like, hire folks.
Managing Challenges In The Workplace
Jen: Yeah. Well, I have a few autistic people in my life, and I used to volunteer at a school with autistic children. And so a lot of the challenges that we had, of course, was when they would get overloaded or overstimulated and they would have outbursts. So how does an employer learn to sort of manage that in the workplace?
Tiffany Hamilton: Ah, great question.
Jen: Yeah, is there an organization they can go to? Are there guidelines? How do they work with that?
Tiffany Hamilton: So, yeah. So many autism organizations. The key thing about autism is that it’s different for every single individual, and I think that is where it gets tricky. Like, you know, folks don’t like the nuance, but it really is.
Jen: Right, everybody just wants to do X, Y, and Z.
The Wide Spectrum Of Autism
Tiffany Hamilton: Exactly, and there’s no sort of formula for autism. And what you described as a kind of like sensory overload, I dealt with it a million times with my son. So there are a couple of things. There are government organizations that provide job coaches for people on the spectrum. There are early intervention programs that can provide, you know, guidance on dealing, you know, with challenges around autism.
So there are so many supports that are available, many that are free, you know, just Google your local nonprofit, county government, that can provide that kind of assistance. And when it comes to employment, I would say, you know, employers have to be very invested in making it work, you know, and you have to do the work to understand, particularly with autism, you know, that it’s a spectrum, it’s a wide spectrum, and understand what that means, and then understand how to provide support across, you know, the spectrum and reach out to available resources, you know, make that investment to make it work.
Jen: Yeah, totally. Well, and it’s like all people are so very different.
Tiffany Hamilton: Right, absolutely.
Any Employees Will Have Challenges
Jen: Any employees that you have will have different challenges, and I think some people get a little scared away by just a label instead of realizing that, yeah, you may have an employee who is, I don’t know, not neurodivergent or not developmentally disabled that has challenges as well, and then you may have autistic adults or teens or people with other developmental disabilities who have these amazing gifts that you wouldn’t have had in your business if they weren’t there.
Tiffany Hamilton: Exactly. Exactly.
Jen: And we’re all figuring it all out as we go along, just like motherhood, right, Tiffany?
Tiffany: Oh, yeah. And I’m telling you, like, the learning never ends. It’s like each stage of my son’s life has been, you know, I’ve been learning. Like even now, like this new venture into adulthood and the working world, like, I’m very much learning and trying, you know, in a small way to make the world a little better and more inclusive for him.
Jen: That’s amazing. Yeah. And you’re taking this on as the mom, as moms do. Whatever our kids need, we somehow find a way. If we don’t know something, we have to learn about it.
Tiffany Hamilton: We’ll figure it out, yes.
Resources For Moms Of Autistic Kids
Jen: If you wouldn’t mind, would you share with me a little bit, like, when you first started learning about autism, what kind of things were good supports or resources for you as a mom?
Tiffany Hamilton: You know what? Like, the first thing that comes to mind, I think, is the classic, I think it was the book, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” or if it wasn’t that book, it was some kind of, you know, I was, you know, reading about, of course, pregnancy and then beyond that, just like, you know, raising your child through age five.
Tiffany Hamilton: And so, reading about the different milestones really helped, and I was still home with Isaiah, helped me to see like, “Oh, okay, like, he’s a little late with this and he’s not quite doing this,” and it really made me, you know, start asking questions. So a lot of that, like, very basic, like, developmental, you know, whether it’s like a developmental handout or, you know, a book that you have, can really help you to flag different things, and, you know, those are things like I mentioned to my pediatrician and he wasn’t, you know, very concerned.
I had to, like, be very pushy about it and finally get Isaiah a developmental evaluation at 12 months, which indicated delays, and then from there, in terms of helpful resources, I was referred to the county, which had an early intervention program. And it was Easter Seals was the organization that offered, so it was free therapy.
Tiffany Hamilton: Yeah, through age five. And that was everything. I mean, that changed his life.
Jen: That’s great.
Tiffany Hamilton: And it makes such a difference to get that intervention at an early age, because, you know, the brain is still developing, particularly as it relates to speech. Like, getting that intervention can make such a difference.
Resources To Help Moms
Jen: Yeah, so you found this amazing resource for, oh, there goes my earbuds. I won’t be able to hear your answers. Okay, so you found this amazing resource through Easter Seals for free therapy for your son, but what about you as a mama? I wish you had some free therapy. Who did you rely upon for support, and just, you know, you have to take care of yourself, too, when you’re going through this, so was there anything, in particular, helpful for you?
Tiffany Hamilton: It was really hard. It was hard, and I would say, you know, at that time when Isaiah, you know, was under five, I was going through separation and divorce and everything. So, you know, I had that going on, but then just all these like developmental things with Isaiah, and I didn’t get him diagnosed until he was eight, although I was treating it like autism all along, so I would say, like, at that time I really wasn’t, I did some counseling, like, on and off, just dealing with the stress.
Tiffany Hamilton: But for the most part, I was so hyper-focused on Isaiah, and looking back, I mean, yes, I should have been focused, but I very much, like, neglected myself. And so, you know, that’s one of the things I learned as a mom.
Self-Care With Moderation and Balance
Tiffany Hamilton: I feel like the key to life is moderation and balance. And, you know, I am still not the expert, but I have learned that when I, like, fill myself up now, like whether it’s taking a walk or meditating or, I don’t know, a good cry when I need to, like, that makes me better, like, as a mom, as an employee, as a partner, so yeah.
Jen: Yeah, we don’t have the answers. That’s the whole point of “MomCave.” We’re just here to be like, “It’s hard.” We can laugh, laughing helps a lot.
Tiffany Hamilton: Yes, it really does.
Jen: Just accepting and being there.
Tiffany Hamilton: Exactly.
Victor Wear Products
Jen: Tell me a little bit more about the products that you sell, Victor Wear.
Tiffany Hamilton: Oh, sure. So it’s inspirational activewear. So a lot of our products have variations of our very cool logo. It’s a “V” and a “W” that kind of looks like a flame, which you can see here.
Jen: It’s kinda like a superhero logo.
Tiffany Hamilton: Yeah, yeah, people say that. Kind of like, “I feel like a warrior,” we’ve gotten. But also, inspirational slogans. So if you look on VictorWear.com, you’ll see a range of slogans. “Be All In, Go All Out,” is our best seller right now, or our tagline, “Rise Above It.” But we’re all about that, like, inspiring triumph over obstacles and really celebrating and amplifying the stories, so beyond, you know, empowering the differently-abled community, we want to celebrate victors, like ordinary people doing extraordinary things whether it’s teachers, nurses, we have Memorial Day coming up, we’ll have a new, you know, T-shirt celebrating that. So it’s just about positive, like, resilience.
Jen: Yeah, yeah. That’s great, and do you have sizes for kids and adults? What’s the sizing like?
Tiffany Hamilton: Yes, so right now, we only have sizes for adults. A lot of our customers are mothers.
Jen: Because we wear activewear even when we’re not actually being active.
Tiffany Hamilton: Oh, absolutely, yes, yes. It’s all about comfort. But very soon, we are launching Victor Kids, so stay tuned for that.
Jen: Cool. Oh, awesome. And here I’m gonna do my little graphic, “10% of every product sold goes to the Special Olympics in Virginia.”
Tiffany Hamilton: Yes, yes. We are so proud to be a partner. I love Special Olympics. My son is a Special Olympics athlete. He’ll be in the swimming championship. So love everything they do, and so, so proud to support them.
Jen: That’s a great organization. If you ever need a reason to spend money, it’s always good to be like, “10% of this is going to the Special Olympics. I can buy all the stuff I want.”
Tiffany Hamilton: Yeah.
Autistic Adults, Teens, and other People With Developmental Disabilities In The Workforce
Jen: All the activewear that I’m not gonna be active in, and just wear to actually pick my kids up from school. So it’s such a great, important mission. Is there anything, you know, that you just wanna get out there in the world, if people had to remember one thing about autistic adults, teens, and people with developmental disabilities in the workforce, what would you say?
Tiffany Hamilton: I would say that people with developmental disabilities are amazing. And, you know, I think as humans, we kind of tend to gravitate towards, like, similarity. Like, we can be kind of tribal and we, I think, it’s a human challenge to embrace, just to embrace, like, all of humanity, all, you know, abilities and colors and, you know, just all of humanity. So I would say, you know, hire people with developmental disabilities, they’re amazing. They are willing and able to work and let’s put them to work.
Jen: Definitely, I just thought of another good question. I don’t know if you know the answer, but if someone is watching this and they are an employer, they have a business of some kind, and this message resonates with them, like, where would they start? Is there a place to go to hire or learn about hiring autistic adults and teens?
Tiffany Hamilton: To go to hire?
How To Hire Autistic Adults and Teens
Tiffany Hamilton: So, I would say a couple of things. They can start with, a lot of employers these days have Employee Resource Groups, ERGs. So that’s a place to start, just looking at your people. Like, who do you have? And starting, you know, groups within your organization that can be supportive.
Jen: That’s a good idea, yeah.
Tiffany Hamilton: And, and just looking, like, you know, if you look at your employees and they all kind of look the same, you know, that’s something, too, because it’s also about creating an environment where, you know, people with autism and other developmental disabilities can thrive. So if you’re putting them, like, in an environment where they feel like the only one or not supported, like, that’s part of being successful. I would say the other thing, The Arc is a great organization.
Tiffany Hamilton: They have a lot of-
Jen: The Arc?
Tiffany Hamilton: Yes, The Arc. It’s a national organization. They have a lot of employment programs, that would be one to connect with. And they could certainly refer you to resources that could help make you successful in hiring differently-abled people and autistic adults and teens.
Where To Find Tiffany
Jen: Awesome, okay. Well, check out VictorWear.com, and 10% goes to Special Olympics in Virginia, and then go follow Tiffany on all the places. Tiffany, what are your social media handles?
Jen: Awesome, so if you want some amazing, fun activewear, to do good with 10% of your profits, and to learn more about employing teens and adults with autism and other developmental disabilities, go visit Victor Wear. And thank you for being here, Tiffany.
Tiffany Hamilton: Thank you so much.
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