April is Autism Awareness Month, and as we close out the month I sat down with Clouderan Susana López Huertas, who shared her story of raising a son with autism and the work she is doing to promote an environment where autistic adults can thrive in the workforce.
Meet Susana López Huertas
Susana, who has been a part of Cloudera for about a year, works out of the Madrid office as a senior account manager for the country’s Telecom, Media, and Central Public Sector accounts. She has 20 years of experience in the field with companies like EMC, Dell, and SAS.
Susana and her husband juggle a family of two children aged nine and 11, with her oldest, Borja, who is autistic. The specialized care Borja needs requires Susana’s day to be flexible. “I have to be honest with my clients and my team about my schedule and my personal situation. Sometimes we have therapy after school, and I usually find myself working once the kids are asleep” she said. “The European team and leadership have been so supportive. Romain Picard, our SVP for the region, hires the ‘whole person’ and in turn gets a lot out of his team.”
Building awareness of autism through Susana’s family journey
“I was excited to participate in a #ClouderaLife Spotlight because it is so important that people have greater awareness around this disorder,” Susana said.
“What we see in film or in a brief interaction with someone with autism creates a lot of misconceptions.”
Susana explained that lack of eye contact, a common trait with those with autism, creates assumptions that the person lacks any interest or ability to show affection or relate to others. This cannot be farther from the truth.
Take Susana’s son Borja, who shows curiosity about different topics and is able to learn a lot on his own about those he is passionate about while displaying sincerity and honesty throughout his day. Borja was diagnosed with autism at two and a half, after Susana and her husband noticed Borja started talking late at two and didn’t answer to his name or maintain eye contact.
Early detection is very important when talking about autism so a child can start with therapy as soon as possible. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the therapy of choice for Borja, which the family settled on after trying many other things. “It’s all a matter of trial and error, and seeing what works for your child,” Susana explained. “From adopting a dog, and later a cat, to enjoying the swimming pool or playing badminton with his friends.”
ABA is a type of interpersonal therapy in which a child works with a practitioner one on one. The goal of ABA is to improve Borja’s skills, focusing on social skills, by using interventions that are based on principles of learning theory.
Borja has shown great results working with his therapist, who has become part of the family. Some tasks he is assigned are projects like venturing out to the supermarket with a list of items to purchase and instructions for greeting and communicating with people he interacts with. When he comes back, he is rewarded for his efforts. “This teaches him respect and compliance with established rules, attention to detail, and trains him to become an independent adult,” Susana explained.
Employing adults with autism: how we all can make a difference
Employment opportunities for adults with autism is another issue to consider. According to European figures, between 76% and 90% of adults with autism spectrum disorders are unemployed. This is a cause Susana is worried and passionate about as she thinks about her son’s future.
Susana has partnered with Cloudera’s Employee Resource Group (ERG), Capable+, whose mission is to leverage individuals’ unique abilities to contribute while striving for equity in employment opportunities and to improve, advance, educate, and to fully participate in every facet of Cloudera.
Last October for example, Capable+ hosted the event Neurodiversity: The What, Why and How of This Massive, Untapped Business Resource to build awareness and get more involved.
Through these programs and talking with coworkers, Susana has found like-minded individuals with both direct or indirect experience with neurodiversity issues as well as those who just want to make a difference.
Susana wants to encourage everyone to get involved in this cause by donating or volunteering to local organizations. A great European-based foundation to look into is Specialisterne Foundation, a nonprofit with the goal of generating meaningful employment for one million autistic/neurodivergent persons.
As we close out this Spotlight we thank Susana for taking the time to share her story and her efforts in making a difference, not only for her family but for all those living with autism.