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Matt George (00:00):

Today's episode of the Sensory Friendly Solutions podcast on the Unsettled Media podcast network is

brought to you by Sensory Friendly Solutions. Discover sensory friendly solutions for daily life. To learn

more, head to sensoryfriendly.net.


Matt George (00:23):

Hello listeners and welcome to episode four of the Sensory Friendly Solutions podcast. We're almost to

the halfway mark of this first season. Can you believe it? On the podcast today, for episode four, is a

man named Bill Wong. I was reflecting on the conversation that I was lucky enough to have with him

and he's a fascinating person. I started to engage with his work via a TED talk he did at TEDx Grand

Forks.


Matt George (00:58):

The title was Fighting On: Overcoming Autism Diagnosis with Bill Wong and I thought the description of

the talk was really fascinating. It's had over 22,000 views and I'll read how TEDx introduced Bill. I think it

captures it nicely.


Matt George (01:20):

Using his rare perspective as an occupational therapist and an individual with autism, Bill Wong OTD

OTR/L presents problems individuals with autism are facing today. Offering community based solutions,

Bill showcases how individuals with autism are capable of success, even if the routes they take in life

don't fit the expected.


Matt George (01:48):

Born in Hong Kong but raised in the United States, Bill Wong didn't speak until he was nearly three.

Although he demonstrated restricted and repetitive behavior, his pediatrician refused to diagnose him

with autism because of his high IQ. It wasn't until after obtaining an undergraduate degree in statistics

and finding limit job prospects that Bill was finally diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome and discovered

his passion in occupational therapy.


Matt George (02:17):

Since 2010, Bill has completed a Master's degree in occupational therapy and received his clinical

doctorate. Now an established clinician with a specialty in autism, he is also a well known presence on

social media, an avenue he uses to share his successes and challenges as an individual with autism.


Matt George (02:37):

Moving forward, Bill plans to use his passion to engage students in Chinese speaking countries with

education in their native language while continuing to establish himself as a leader in OT in autism

communities. Again, that is TEDx Grand Forks and we'll put a link to Bill's talk in our show notes.


Matt George (02:59):

I asked him how he wanted to be discovered by you all, the audience, and he said Twitter. He's very

active on Twitter. He has almost 13,000 followers following the work, he's got a great bio, lots of titles,

lots of different hats. You can find him @BillWongOT. I think you're really going to love this


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conversation. I feel very lucky to have had this conversation with Bill Wong. Enjoy episode four of the

Sensory Friendly Solutions podcast.


Matt George (03:39):

Bill Wong, welcome to the Sensory Friendly Solutions podcast.


Bill Wong (03:44):

Thank you for having me, Matt.


Matt George (03:48):

You're very welcome indeed. We're really eager to dig into your experience, into your career as well and

before we started recording, you mentioned to me that you're used to this. Does that mean you speak a

lot?


Bill Wong (04:02):

I guess for me, that means I have done some podcasts as a host before and I've also been on the other

end as a guest as well, so I'm pretty used to the drill.


Matt George (04:14):

You're used to the drill. What's your experience with the podcast medium? What do you think? Do you

think it's good to have these freeform conversations?


Bill Wong (04:23):

Oh yeah, I think it's definitely [inaudible 00:04:26] on select topics. The ones that I usually host are from

AOTA. We're doing a leadership podcast, so therefore I'm part [inaudible 00:04:40] or [inaudible

00:04:41] facilitator those so therefore, I've been on that end and then I've also been on the guest end

as well. Of course on that podcast as well as [inaudible 00:04:52] podcast by [inaudible 00:04:54]

community and also autism community as well, so I'm pretty used to it by now. I think this year I've

been to about six podcasts as guest, five or six podcasts as a guest so I'm pretty used to it.


Matt George (05:08):

Fantastic. I'm always surprised when people tell us it's their first because the medium has been around

for some time, so this is certainly not your first.


Bill Wong (05:17):

No, but that podcast I do for AOTA, I've been doing that for almost five years now so yeah, I've been

used to the format actually because it's part of my role in AOTA. It's not a big role, per se. It's a small

group, but we're producing this leadership podcast, I'm so used to the format by now. It's all good.


Matt George (05:39):

That's great. I really want to get into what AOTA is but first, let's start at the beginning and let's actually

start outside of your career and your life. This has been a really strange year for everybody. Where do

we find you right now?


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Bill Wong (05:57):

Where do I find you right now? In terms of geographic location, I do not [inaudible 00:06:02] this

question.


Matt George (06:04):

Yeah, where's your location exactly?


Bill Wong (06:07):

I live in East Los Angeles specifically, in the USA. I think that's a good enough answer, right?


Matt George (06:14):

Yeah, East LA. That's wonderful. We were in LA County in September and it was really beautiful. Coming

from the east coast of Canada, it's a big change.


Bill Wong (06:24):

Yeah, I've been speaking on east coast. I think the most east I have been in Canada was in [inaudible

00:06:31]. I was there I think a few years ago.


Matt George (06:35):

Wow, excellent, excellent. Okay, so we find you in East LA. What has this year been like for you in

America, in California? It must've been a really strange year.


Bill Wong (06:46):

It is very strange year and now of course you also have to add, aside from COVID, you also have to add

too the wildfires that we had. The air quality is so bad that going outside is definitely a challenge as well.


Matt George (07:02):

[crosstalk 00:07:02] with the wildfires right now?


Bill Wong (07:04):

Yeah, we have quite a bit of fires on the west coast, so the air quality from what I know is usually decent

but for the last few weeks has been very bad.


Matt George (07:18):

Yeah.


Bill Wong (07:19):

I would say at least 10 times worse than usual if not more.


Matt George (07:27):

Yes, and then factoring in COVID on top of that, what has your experience been like this year? Has your

work carried on as usual? Has your life carried on as usual or has it been a total disruption?


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Bill Wong (07:41):

Ooh, good question. Because of work, I still work in the nursing home but the routine has definitely

changed for sure with daily check ins and then infection protocols, you know? Infection control

protocols, so adjusting to different ones from different facilities. That has definitely been the challenge,

so that's a different part, right? Then in terms of education because I'm a teacher as well, at least for the

lecture based classes, this whole year is all online. Definitely that was a big change, you know?


Bill Wong (08:19):

Then of course, one of my favorite hobbies is to play golf. That has also changed as well, you know?

When the shelter in place orders were happening, the golf courses did not open for two months and

then now, unless I'm going out with my mom or my dad to play golf, you can't share carts with anybody.


Matt George (08:47):

Right, right.


Bill Wong (08:50):

Yeah, that's another one.


Matt George (08:51):

When you think about your teaching right now, and I want to dig into what you're teaching and where

you're teaching, do you think we lose something when we take education online? I know it's the

situation wherein right now we have to adapt. How do you feel like you've been adapting to that?


Bill Wong (09:10):

Oh man, I think I've heard from a lot of my colleagues in my field. They've said they've had to do a lot

more work than say when the classes are [inaudible 00:09:19].


Matt George (09:19):

Oh really?


Bill Wong (09:21):

There are a few factors. One is I think it's your schedule, but a lot more flexible than before because

sometimes it's maybe the students, they may not want to meet you at the regular scheduled time. They

may want to do something else and then I think even that there's a lot of uncertainties, so therefore

you've got to try to respond to students' emails. I can imagine there will be a lot of emailing about

clarification for assignments or papers, whatever it is. You know? That kind of stuff happens.


Bill Wong (09:59):

Then in my schools, we track attendance, because they had to use the... Every class, they have to do

discussion boards as a means to track attendance, you know? Of course, I also have to grade the

discussion boards posts, so that is definitely... That work wouldn't exist if classes were on ground, you

know?


Matt George (10:22):


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Mm-hmm (affirmative).


Bill Wong (10:24):

Yeah, there's a lot more work than usual, I would say. Another thing I think is given that the students

have a lot of anxiety of what's happening already, so [inaudible 00:10:39] the students want to know

where they stand as soon as possible.


Matt George (10:43):

Sure. Let's stay there for a second because that's really interesting. We are on the Sensory Friendly

Solutions podcast and we talk a lot on this podcast about sensory overload. In the elements of our

current time, you notice that in your student body, would you say?


Bill Wong (11:01):

Oh, you know what they call Zoom fatigue or being on video conference? Yeah, there is such a good

term like that because they're on video conferencing software programs too long. Sometimes they'll be

on for hours upon hours of the lectures. Sometimes the students just zone out, probably a lot more

quickly than say on ground, because in person, it's like if I see the people raise their hands, then it's like,

"Okay, I'm going to stop and I will answer questions." But if it's online now, even if it's on Zoom, I can't

see all the students on one screen. It's hard to know when the students have questions.


Matt George (11:53):

Yeah.


Bill Wong (11:55):

Therefore sometimes the students are like, "Bill, just go, man. Just go. We're all [inaudible 00:12:02],"

and then it's like if you have any questions, okay, we just type it into the chat box or when the lecture's

over, we'll just shout out the questions to you.


Matt George (12:14):

Yeah, and it's also that I think we've heard on the course of this podcast we're always being bombarded

with news. It seems to me like especially news from America. I know Canadians even, we pay a lot of

attention to what's happening south of the border, so when you're on your computer the entire day,

even for work, it's tempting to be constantly checking the news, to be checking Twitter, to be checking

these sources.


Bill Wong (12:44):

Oh yeah, definitely. Or sometimes on Zoom, you can just turn off your camera and sometimes it's like I

don't know if you're doing something else, you know? I don't know if you're checking your email, I don't

know if you're on Twitter, I don't know if you're on Facebook, I don't know that.


Matt George (13:02):

Exactly. Bill, with your permission, let's sort of trace your career a little bit. Describe for people not only

what you do professionally today but how did you get here. Tell us a little bit about your origin story in

your career.


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Bill Wong (13:21):

I guess how did I get here. Let me get a clarifying question first before I [crosstalk 00:13:26] understand.


Matt George (13:26):

Absolutely.


Bill Wong (13:28):

I guess, what you mean by how you get here is just to where I am today professionally. Is that what is

being asked?


Matt George (13:38):

Exactly. What was that arc of your career? How did it progress to now?


Bill Wong (13:45):

Very good question. Forgive me to ramble on and on, because autistic individuals, they can have a

tendency to do that. Also of course, being an instructor, being rambling on and on and on is not a very

good thing.


Matt George (13:59):

As you know on a podcast, this is the perfect time to ramble.


Bill Wong (14:04):

Although of course there's also a length of time. There's also [inaudible 00:14:10] constraints, so that's

why it's finding the right balance in terms of sharing relevant information versus going on and on

nonstop. Anyway, now I'm going to go back to the question. I would say this. Growing up, math was

actually my strong point. It was actually not a field like health sciences. I would say it was very far away

because growing up, I got a trophy. I won a mental math competition, so I was pretty good at arithmetic

and then also I remember in fifth grade before I immigrated to the US with my family, after competing in

the open qualifier for the International Math Olympics.


Bill Wong (15:01):

Therefore, my math was a strong point of course and it was all throughout high school. It's not

surprising that I was declaring stats as my major for my undergrad. Then I think what the turning point

when I did not pursue that further was when I was taking the upper division courses in undergrad. About

the sophomore or junior year of my undergrad, that was when I had my moment of it's not worth it to

pursue anymore, especially when I heard what I'd be in for if I were to pursue statistics in graduate

school.


Bill Wong (15:46):

I did not want to be more miserable for three more years, you know? For me, I realized right away when

I took some upper division courses in stats, it's a lot of truths and it's very abstract and it's not very black

and white as arithmetic. Then I tried accounting but for me, for someone like me, I guess little did I

know, for someone like me who don't have very good [inaudible 00:16:20], accounting was actually not


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a very good match given that the sole complex in terms of rules [inaudible 00:16:27] stuff like that. For

me, it's like nope. That actually is not it.


Bill Wong (16:32):

Then coming out of undergrad with a stats degree, I was unemployed for a year and a half actually and

about a year towards that unemployment period, that was when my parents said, "You either could

continue to be unemployed or you should start looking at some other careers to continue life, because

you shouldn't be wasting your time like this." So, we explored a few fields. We explored business school.


Bill Wong (17:06):

The business school was actually our first choice because that was the least amount of prerequisites to

make up if you were to go to a graduate school. Unfortunately, my score for the graduate school exam,

it was not the best that my parents would hope for and I think my parents' perception was if I couldn't

get into a good business school, then it would be not a very worthwhile investment.


Bill Wong (17:36):

Then we tried seminary because at the time, my parents and I, we were pretty active in the church and

we knew some young clergy. [inaudible 00:17:50] similar path, but then we looked at the job prospects.

I was like, "Nope. That ain't it either."


Matt George (17:56):

That's not it either.


Bill Wong (17:58):

That ain't it either. Then we looked at occupational therapy and I guess at the time it's like we didn't

consider occupational therapy assistance because I guess my family is like, "Why are we going

backwards into the degree? You have a Bachelor's already. Why are you going back to having

Associate's? It doesn't make sense." Then we looked at a Master's program for occupational therapy.

We only looked at one school ironically because I guess that school was pretty close to home, so that

school is actually University of Southern California.


Matt George (18:37):

USC.


Bill Wong (18:38):

Yeah, of course. There's also another USC down in Australia as well, you know?


Matt George (18:42):

Right.


Bill Wong (18:43):

That's why I said the full name as well. It's better to say that way because Australia, there's the

University of Sunshine Coast and they also know that as USC too.


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Matt George (18:54):

Okay.


Bill Wong (18:56):

Yeah, so this is an FYI. I noticed later on in my career but this is more of a side note. But then back to the

story, my parents were like, "You know what? This school is pretty close." Then we look at the

prerequisites. Hey, maybe I could make it because even though it's a top school, by the time there's

like... You know what? My math skills were pretty strong. They're still pretty strong, especially

considering I had the stats major, so who knows? Maybe I would be able to get in the field because my

GPA is about par with the admission requirements and then [inaudible 00:19:41], hey, if I have a decent

day, I probably could meet the requirements for the graduate school examinations score too. It's like

hey, you've got this.


Matt George (19:54):

Yeah.


Bill Wong (19:55):

Then of course we also looked at the job prospects. It was like the pay is pretty good and the

unemployment rate is pretty low at the time. Then we also heard about the admissions rate at the time

at that USC. It was 50%, so it's not now of course but 50%, I was like, "Dude, my odds are pretty high."


Matt George (20:16):

That's a good deal.


Bill Wong (20:18):

That's a good deal, you know? We spent about a year to actually make up the prerequisites to enter into

the occupational therapy school and I guess that school was also the only school I applied. Although, in

the US right now, this is not the strategy I would advise some students to do so because nowadays, the

environment is so competitive. I would not advise that.


Matt George (20:43):

Right.


Bill Wong (20:47):

Anyway, I started my occupational therapy at that USC in 2009, summer 2009. It was a very rough

beginning but it was sort of expected because to transition from a field like statistics to a field like

occupational therapy, it was definitely a transition because it's not like crunching numbers anymore. It's

more like a lot of health science stuff. I remember back in my day when I was in high school, anatomy

and physiology, they're my worst enemies, so definitely I was barely getting by.


Bill Wong (21:25):

Yeah, I was barely getting by and then the following term, [inaudible 00:21:30] survive. I think many of

my classmates said, "It probably got better, right?" Academically, [inaudible 00:21:37] get better

because I started beginning to get the hang of the field, beginning to get a hang of what occupational


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therapy is and as I got to know more about it, I was like, "You know what?" I think at the six months,

that was when I finally bought into it. You know what? That was going to be my career.


Bill Wong (21:58):

But on the flip side of things, we also had to do clinical rotations or internships and actually I struggled a

lot there in the very beginning. A comment that I got was more eye contact, more reading social cues,

not managing the time well. When I heard that the first time, I was sort of put off by it but it's like, you

know what? I was still learning. It was still a transition phase.


Bill Wong (22:27):

The second time that happened again, that was when the alarm bells. I was like, "Hey, how come I

struggle in this more than my classmates do?"


Matt George (22:37):

Right.


Bill Wong (22:40):

Then I think a few weeks later, actually I read a reading in pediatrics about how autistic children play and

I remember, I reflected upon my childhood. I was like, "You know what? These descriptions look like

me."


Matt George (22:58):

Interesting.


Bill Wong (22:59):

I brought that attention of course to my parents but my parents were like, "You are in OT school of all

places. How could you have autism?" I just listened to my parents and I just put it off but then in the

summer of 2010, I was in a clinical internship. [inaudible 00:23:18] really matters not. It's not those

observational placements I had before. It was actually the hands-on placements and I really struggled

mightily in that one.


Bill Wong (23:28):

In fact, out of the 12 week placement, I walked out after week seven. Technically, I failed that placement

but when my parents learned that I walked out of the placement and I got a fail, I told them, "Well, you

know what? This struggle has been continuing for a year now in terms of my clinical internships. I need

to find out why I was struggling."


Bill Wong (23:55):

I guess at that time, I was also very fortunate to be on the insurance plan for my university, so I was able

to get the screening and assessment done pretty quickly. That period, I remember that took me a year.

Not a year, sorry. A month actually. That took me a month to actually get tested and I remember in

August of 2010, that was when I found out my diagnosis of Asperger's. Yeah.


Matt George (24:34):


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When you received the feedback from your professors at the time and you read the article about how

kids play, something resonated with you. You saw some of yourself in those descriptions.


Bill Wong (24:49):

Actually all of it.


Matt George (24:50):

Interesting.


Bill Wong (24:52):

Yeah, so we can break down that question because I'm sure we can continue on in terms of how I got

[inaudible 00:24:58] today but you feel free to pause.


Matt George (25:01):

Yeah, no, that's really fascinating. You end up receiving a positive diagnosis. What happens from there?


Bill Wong (25:09):

Good question. Of course, the day of, I brought it up to my parents and instead of scolding me about

failing the clinical internship, they were not... I guess they feel regretful in terms of making me do the

internship without listening to me because they felt very guilty of me being in [inaudible 00:25:38] at

that time because they knew that I could not afford to fail another clinical internship. Therefore, they

felt that they caused the failure, so to speak.


Bill Wong (25:50):

Then in terms of my classmates, a lot of them were very shocked and the shock part is not because I was

a little bit different socially but was more because I was going through all my education without any kind

of accommodations. I think the diagnosis part, that was probably the second thing that they were

surprised by because they probably could not have imagined somebody who is autistic amongst them in

the classroom.


Matt George (26:30):

Fast forward, you get to your later years of study, you eventually come out of university and now you're

practicing in the field. Is that right?


Bill Wong (26:40):

Yes, I am and I would say this. In between, definitely there was a long road there to get back because

the fact that I failed clinical rotation. That means I have to make up one aside from the one that I'm

supposed to have remaining.


Matt George (26:57):

Right.


Bill Wong (26:57):


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