Atiai P. Woody is a co-host of (A) Moms Happy Hour, a podcast where the topics are geared around autism and the special needs community, but still, their humorous and eye-opening stories are relatable to those raising all abilities. Her nephew is on the autism spectrum and inspired her to pursue a career as a behavior therapist and create the non-profit organization, The Puzzled Pathway.
Tell us about yourself and (A) Moms Happy Hour.
Wow, where do I begin? I'm an outgoing, charismatic go-getter who loves to laugh and learn new things. I'm ambitiously driven and somewhat predictable; yet always full of surprises! I hope this doesn't sound like the beginning of a dating profile...lol. I enjoy working my trade as a behavior therapist for children with autism while being the Executive Director of the not-for-profit organization, Puzzled Pathway. I am the aunt of a 24 year old handsome young man with autism, who has been my inspiration, and the reason for why I do everything! As a co-host of the podcast (A) Mom's Happy Hour (AMHH), where we share light-hearted stories about autism, I make sure the audience is up to date with the latest news, resources, and events across the country. We want people to get a lot of value for the time they tune in with us, so this is the one-stop-shop to laugh, learn, share, and laugh!
What perspective do you bring to the much-needed conversations on (A) Moms Happy Hour, and what impact do you hope this podcast has for listeners?
I bring the perspective of the caregivers, and the paraprofessionals to AMHH. Though I do not have any children of my own yet, I consider those I work with as my own and treat/love them the way I would want my nephew to be cared for and respected. I would love to see the podcast grow into a household name where parents, caregivers, and paraprofessionals tune in to laugh, relax, and know they are not alone. I can't wait for the day that we have our live happy hours in every state where the above come out to mingle and make new connections; friendship, love, or business!
What led you to autism advocacy?
My nephew, Eric, is the main reason I am an advocate for those on the autism spectrum. I was about 16 when I knew I had to be a voice for this community. It was the day I was told Eric was abused at school. Being that he is nonverbal, I was filled with so much emotion (along with the family) to stand up for him, and be his voice. This emotion soon spilled over for other people with special needs, becoming the reason I went into this field.
How did your non-profit organization, Puzzled Pathway, come to be?
I wanted to provide a place for parents and special needs educators to receive information and resources without paying. So many seminars charge for information that a large part of the community can not afford. Special education teachers come out of pocket for resources that the district can not or fail to provide. I founded Puzzled Pathway to fill in those missing pieces, because of the trickle down effect it would have on the child/student with autism. Once the parents and educators are empowered with information and resources, the only outcome is success for their child/student.
We love that your organization's motto is "Celebrate All Victories." As a special education professional, what challenges do you often see families facing as they advocate for their child who is on the spectrum?
Here lately I see more families advocating for a “look” rather than for what's best for their child. I won't get into too many details because I don't wish to offend any readers...
Just try not to compare your child's different ability to another child's different ability. Also try not to compare your child with special needs to a child that is nuero-typically developing. Just focus on what your child can do/is doing and celebrate that victory!
What is the greatest lesson or eye-opening moment you've gained from working alongside Syrenthia and Jaime?
Wow there are so many! The main thing that sticks out is the way they balance being moms, having fun, and running a business. They have taught me, along with other parents, that autism isn't a death sentence. It's ok to take a break and not feel guilty about it. It's ok to fulfill your goals and dreams while raising autism and they are the epitome of "No Excuses!"