I am CEO

Autism Expert Shares the Journey of Unmasking Late-Diagnosed Autism

Full Episode from I AM CEO Podcast - IAM2047

In this episode, we have Dr. Wendala Wickham Marsh, a retired educator turned author, speaker, and autism expert.

Dr. Wendy, who has published nine books and founded the Adult Autism Assessment and Services, shares her journey from education to specializing in late-diagnosed autism.

The discussion delves into the importance of understanding and diagnosing autism in adults, the concept of ‘masking' autistic traits to fit social norms, and the empowering effects of recognizing one's neurodiversity.

Through her work, Dr. Wendy aims to provide diagnostic services and support nationwide, emphasizing a neurodiversity-affirming approach.

The episode also explores the often overlooked human aspect of business and life, highlighting Dr. Wendy's multidimensional career and her passion for helping people understand autism better.

Website: www.wendelawhitcombmarsh.com

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Full Interview:


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Wendela Marsh Teaser 00:00

So I would hope that people would just listen and accept. If your friend or your family member says, I think I'm autistic, just say, Oh, tell me about that. You know, what makes you think that? Tell me more about autism and explore it together rather than trying to shut down the conversation.

Intro 00:19

Are you ready to hear business stories and learn effective ways to build relationships, generate sales, and level up your business from awesome CEOs, entrepreneurs, and founders without listening to a long, long, long interview?

If so, you've come to the right place. Gresh values your time and is ready to share with you the valuable info you're in search of. This is the I am CEO podcast.

Gresham Harkless 00:46

Hello. Hello. Hello. This is Gresh from the I Am CEO podcast. And I have a very special guest on the show today. I have Dr. Wendala Wickham Marsh. Dr. Wendy, it's great to have you on the show.

Wendela Marsh 00:56

Thanks. It's great to be here. It's lovely to meet you, Gresh.

Gresham Harkless 00:58

Yes. I'm super excited to meet you as well, too. And excited about all the awesome things that you're doing. And before we jumped in, I wanted to read a little bit more about Wendy. So you can hear about some of those awesome things.

Wendy retired in 2016 after a 40-year career in education. Since then, she's had nine books published and an award winning author sought after speaker and autism expert specializing in late-diagnosed autism.

Her books include recognizing autism in women's and girls and the four-book series, adulting while autistic. She is the founder and CEO of Adult Autism Assessment and Services and neuro diversity-affirming group practice providing assessment for autism, ADHD, counseling, and life coaching nationwide.

And I absolutely love everything that Dr. Wendy is working on and doing. She has a wealth of experience. Lots of different roles that I was reading about. She's been a teacher, principal, education, psychologist, university instructor, behavior analyst, pastor, counselor, group practice owner, just so many different things that Dr. Wendy's doing.

So I'm super excited to have her on the show. And one of the things that I always usually say is that we forget about the human aspect of business and life. And I think so many times we don't realize all the different things that people might be juggling and going through.

So I love that we're going to have this conversation, get more, I think, awareness, hopefully a lot more information out about autism and our loved ones or people that we know and how we can kind of be armed with making sure that we do that.

So Wendy excited again to have you on the show. Are you ready to speak to the I Am CEO community?

Wendela Marsh 02:29

I am so ready and thank you for having me. This is going to be fun.

[restrict paid=”true”]

Gresham Harkless 02:33

Absolutely. It's going to be a blast. So to kind of kick everything off, what I wanted to do is rewind the clock a little bit, hear a little bit more on how you got started with all the awesome work you're doing, what I call your CEO story.

Wendela Marsh 02:42

Well, as you said, I retired during the first 40 years of my life besides being in education, well, the first 60 something, I'm 70 now but I did marry a man who it turned out was autistic. My late husband and two of our three grown children are also autistic. I'd been working with autistic children and had no idea that I lived with autistic people too.

So that came as a surprise. And it opened my eyes to the difference in late diagnosed autism. When I did retire, I thought I might write a book, I might see one or two private consult, you know, do some consulting work but there is such a need for adults who think they're autistic to find a diagnosis.

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They've usually masked their whole life. They're aware enough to look around and say, Oh, you know, these other kids all know how to play and I don't know what they're doing or how they're doing it, you know, interacting. So I'll just observe and imitate.

So after all this masking, when they finally realized the rest of the world is not working as hard as I am, you know, I'm trying to think all the time about eye contact and social conversation.

And once they realized, I might be autistic it's hard for anyone to believe them because they're so good at masking. So if they go to a diagnostician who says, oh, you can't be autistic because you made eye contact. Maybe they didn't ask. What does that contact feel like for you? Did you teach yourself how to make eye contact?

You have a system for a look for two seconds, look away for three seconds. So I wanted people to be able to get a diagnosis that really spoke to who they are, not who they have been pretending to be.

Most of the people that I hire are autistic themselves or everyone who works with me has a very deep connection to autism and a belief that there's nothing wrong with being autistic. That's the neurodiversity-affirming part.

And I love this life. I love having a team of employees across the country who are helping people find out the truth about themselves and whether or not they're autistic.

Gresham Harkless 04:44

Absolutely. I truly appreciate that. And I appreciate you, of course, telling your story.

And, I think so many times, like when I was listening to one of your other interviews that with the word masking really stuck out. And cause I guess it kind of speaks to like maybe a psychological desire in all of us to fit in and not realizing that while we're trying to fit in. I don't know if we're masking it sometimes, even maybe to ourselves if you might be autistic and kind of just masking it.

But I think at the day, we sometimes don't provide that opportunity for people to get the help that they need or assistance that they need to be able to maybe even flourish even more.

Wendela Marsh 05:20

Knowing the truth can really free up someone. They can look back at their whole life through a new lens and realize I'm not the broken. I'm not flawed. There's nothing wrong with me. It's not that I'm a bad communicator. It's that I'm different. You know, the autistic brain is a different brain. It's not a broken or bad or distorted brain. It's just unique.

And once you know that's who you are, then you can forgive yourself and forgive the people who didn't understand you when they didn't know what they didn't know yet.

Gresham Harkless 05:52

Yeah, absolutely. And that's why it's so powerful the work that you do. Because I know you've written books especially about parents and of course, you've been a teacher and all of those different roles you've had yourself and even within your home.

I think that if you have more awareness on how you can kind of help out, sometimes your loved ones, sometimes it's your kids or family members, then you have that opportunity to be able to make that impact on a better level than if you didn't have that information.

Wendela Marsh 06:20

Definitely knowledge is truly powerful. Some people, if their friend or their family member says, I think I might be autistic, their 1st inclination might be to say, oh, no, you're not.

There's nothing wrong with you, which implies. There's something wrong with autism. And then if that person finds out I am autistic, they think, Oh, that person now thinks there's something wrong with me instead of just something different.

So I would hope that people would just listen and accept. If your friend or your family member says, I think I'm autistic, just say, Oh, tell me about that. You know, what makes you think that? Tell me more about autism and explore it together rather than trying to shut down the conversation.

Gresham Harkless 07:07

Yeah, absolutely. So I wanted to drill down a little bit more here, a little bit more on how you're working with your clients, how you're providing that impact. Can you take us through what that looks like? And of course, hear more about all the things you've been able to create, too.

Wendela Marsh 07:18

Sure. Well, I have a lot of clinicians who are licensed in various states. We have most of the states covered right now who are licensed to provide an autism diagnosis that we do. It's like three sessions with questionnaires. Plus there's a free we give a free 30-minute consultation to see if it's really right for the person.

And so they can meet their therapist. And then at the end of it, they can come up with an answer. And it's often, congratulations, you're autistic because so many of my clinicians are autistic themselves. They really understand and can relate to that.

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We also have counselors and life coaches. Now, to be a life coach legally, you don't have to have any particular training. Anybody can call themselves a life coach, but we only hire people who have a master's degree in psychology or a related field, a psychology type of field. And we've had training and have a heart for autism and it's all online.

So it's a hundred percent telehealth and you know, people find us and we're happy to work with them and help them get answers.

Gresham Harkless 08:26

Yeah, that makes so much sense. I appreciate you breaking that down, especially that telehealth feature because you have that opportunity to be able to connect with people.

But I almost wonder, I'm curious especially going back to that masking part, especially as a child growing up and starting to mask. Like, do you find or have those conversations that I've heard, kind of interactions where people may not show the signs of being autistic, but still something isn't right in alignment with what they're looking for.

And they have those conversation. They were like they might have been asking certain things.

Wendela Marsh 09:03

Yes, a lot of times people have perhaps an elaborate system for eye contact and they have put a lot of attention and emotional effort into eye contact. Also social conversations. They create scripts in advance.

They do a lot of social planning and just struggling with that. And at some point they realized that they assume everybody's doing the same thing. They assume everybody hates the sound of the lawnmower and the bright lights, but they're all stronger than I am. So they are continuing to work in spite of that horrible noise that is piercing my eardrums.

At some point, they realized that It's not the same for everybody else. Other people give no thought to eye contact, never think about a social conversation. We wing it. We just ad lib every conversation in passing and they are planning and planning and working and exhausted. And that's the word I hear often.

It's exhausting to mask. And once they realize everybody else is not working as hard as they are and they learn about autism often through TikTok, YouTube, probably podcasts. That's when they start asking themselves, wait a minute, this is different. And when they learn about autism and recognize themselves, that's when they start looking for a diagnosis. It can be hard.

I've had people tell me one woman, for example, went to a neuropsychologist and he did a number of tests. And all of the tests came out saying that she was autistic. But he said, I'm not going to give you that diagnosis because you are married and you have a job and you looked at my eyes.

Well, he knew that she was married and had a job before he took all her money and went through all those tests. So for him to discount all the force based on something that, you know, autistic people get married and have jobs. My husband was autistic. We didn't know that when we got married, we just fell in love like you do.

And it's frustrating to have people say, Oh no, you, you can't be autistic because of this out or the other. And then they think, well, if I'm not autistic, what am I, what's wrong with me? But once they can get the news that, We'll get behind the mask, we won't just say, did you make eye contact? We will find out what does eye contact feel like to you?

Did you teach yourself? Do you have a system for it and really get to the answers?

Gresham Harkless 11:15

Right. That makes so much sense. So. What would you consider to be what I like to call your secret sauce? This could be for yourself, the business or a combination of both. But what do you feel kind of sets you apart and makes you unique?

Wendela Marsh 11:26

I think our secret sauce is so many of us are no, I'm not autistic.. But so many of the people I hire are, they really get autism. And the ones who aren't autistic have such a heart, whether they have a family member or someone in their life who is autistic, that makes them want to reach out and help other people.

And I think that's unique.

Gresham Harkless 11:49

Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. So I wanted to switch gears a little bit and I wanted to ask you for what I call a CEO hack. So this could be like an app, a book or even a habit that you have, but what's something that makes you more effective and efficient?

Wendela Marsh 12:01

Well I've got a couple, one because I was new, when I was working in the schools, I didn't have to have a business.

I wasn't a CEO, never thought I would be one. So I found mentors and programs specific to therapy, like practice has a whole range of different mentoring and courses and that kind of thing. And also, once I was in business you know, I'm not a math major, I'm not a finance person but you know, you and your audience probably are familiar with Mike McCullough. It's a profit first and he has many books. Profit first is very entertaining, but the CEO of my accounting firm that does my accounting wrote with him profit first for therapists.

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And there are a ton of profit-first specialty books for whatever your business is. And to have advice that's tailor-made for what you're doing is just really important.

And I love profit first because when it's time to pay taxes, I think I owe that much. I look into my tax account where I've been every week. Putting my 15 percent in there and there's the money to pay the taxes. So it's like, oh, thank goodness. It's like, I don't have to pay it because it's already there.

Gresham Harkless 13:15

Yeah, that makes so much sense. And so what would you say would be what I call a CEO nugget? A little bit more word of wisdom or piece of advice. I like to say, it might tell you during the business self, if you were to happen to a time machine.

Wendela Marsh 13:29

I would say you are never too old. I am 70 and I did not start a business and never thought I would be a CEO until I was retired.

So you are never too old to start something. if you have a heart to do something, just do it, do it now.

Gresham Harkless 13:45

Nice. I love that.

Wendela Marsh 13:47

I have a favorite quote. Goethe said, whatever you can do, or dream you can begin it. Boldness has genius power and magic in it. So begin it. That's my nugget.

Gresham Harkless 14:01

Absolutely. So I want to ask you now my absolute favorite question, which is the definition of what it means to be CEO.

And our goal is to have different quote-unquote CEOs on the show. So Wendy, what does being a CEO mean to you?

Wendela Marsh 14:12

Well, to being a CEO is a lot like being a mom. You're taking care of everybody. You're making sure everything works. You want to give everything you can to your employees. But at the same time, I know that if I just pay everybody as much as I would love to pay them and then the practice went under, we'd all go under.

So it's like I promised to them that I'm going to take care of the practice and by doing so we'll take care of them. And whenever I can give them a raise, I do. And whenever I can't, I don't, because you know, the practice is our boat.

And so by taking care of that boat and I think that's how moms are, you know, they don't always give the kid candy for dinner, but they always love their kids.

And as CEOs, I think a lot of us love the people that work with us. It's like a family, even though we're spread out all across the country. Most of them I've never met in person, only by zoom, but we're still a family.

Gresham Harkless 15:19

Absolutely. I love that definition and perspective. Wendy truly appreciate that definition. Of course, I appreciate your time even more.

So what I wanted to do now is pass you the mic, so to speak, just to see if there's anything additional that you can let our readers and listeners know. And of course, how best they can get ahold of you, get a copy of your books and find out about all the awesome things you are working on.

Wendela Marsh 15:34

Okay. Well, first I want to tell everybody you can do it. Go for it. If you have a heart to be a CEO, you go be a CEO. If you want to find out more about my books, my author website is wendelawhitcombmarsh.com and if you wanna find out about our practice, it's adultautismassessment.com. And I would love to hear from you.

If you want to email me at drwendy@adultautismassessment.com. Just tell me that you heard me here so that I'll know how we know each other. And I would love to hear from you.

Gresham Harkless 16:07

Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. Well, Dr. Wendy, truly appreciate that. We're going to have the links and information that's shown us as well, too.

So that everybody get a copy of your books, find it about the practice. Thank you so much for your work, your time, and I appreciate you tremendously. I hope you have a phenomenal rest of the day.

Wendela Marsh 16:20

And you too. Thank you so much.

Outro 16:18

Thank you for listening to the I Am CEO podcast, powered by CB Nation and Blue 16 Media. Tune in next time and visit us at iamceo.co. I Am CEO is not just a phrase, it's a community.

Check out the latest and greatest apps, books, and habits to level up your business at ceohacks.co. This has been the I Am CEO podcast with Gresham Harkless, Jr. Thank you for listening.


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