Discovering and Nurturing Hidden Autism Talents with Swathi Chettipally
Today Mai Ling and Martyn share some updates on what has been keeping them busy lately and then they follow that with a wonderful interview with Swathi Chettipally. Mai Ling talks with Swathi about her experiences as a mother of an adult daughter with autism. Swathi shares some very heartfelt stories of the struggles and triumphs their family has faced. She also gives encouragement to other parents of children with challenges. This inspirational conversation is one that you don’t want to miss.
Contact Mai Ling: MLC at mailingchan.com
Contact Martyn: Martyn at martynsibley.com
Every single day when I wake up, I keep thinking, What do I do to make her story go out. We are not doing this for the money sake, we want people to see her inspirational story so that they would be inspired if they have a child with special needs.
Mai Ling 00:22
Welcome to Xceptional Leaders with Mai Ling and Martyn, where we spotlight high profile topics and amazing people who are changing the worldview on disability. I'm Mai Ling Chan of mailingchan.com.
And I am Martyn Sibley of MartynSibley.com. I'm really glad to be here today to chat about entrepreneurship, of course, and around autism, which is something that we've touched upon a couple of times, and jewelry. And I could go on and on because there's just so many things in this chat today, right?
Mai Ling 00:51
Absolutely. And this guest we've been trying to connect with for a couple of months here. And I'm so so happy that we were able to finally connect and get her story, even though her daughter continues to grow and do so many things just on a weekly basis. And she shares that on Facebook. But I'm just being able to catch up with her and get a snapshot of what Siri has been up to has been amazing.
Yeah, it's just a lovely story, as it's always there in the intro here, I want to kind of, we both want to sort of vet you guys, the listener's appetite, of what's to come and get you a bit pumped and a bit excited without doing too many, you know, ruin in the whole thing up front and giving you a bit of mystery at the same time. But no, I just think as the thing with entrepreneurship, obviously, Mai Ling and I are totally passionate about and obviously entrepreneurship and disability is our is our thing. So, it's got all of that. But I think there's so much in there about learning and not giving up. And those are the general narratives, but the way Swathi talks about it and the way they've done it, as a family was just really inspirational as well.
Mai Ling 02:01
Yes, absolutely. This was definitely one of those interviews, where I tuned back into being a speech language pathologist and reminding myself about competency and potential and not giving up, you know, and always bringing everything that you have every day when you're with someone because you just never know. You just you just don't know, and, you know, Siri is making such growth, such exponential growth, and she's out of school now. But the you know, the foundations that she had, and just all the wonderful things and the people that have been in her life, I'm sure as has helped her to continue to grow now. So that was an amazing interview, Martyn,
I think I was chatting someone earlier with a work call about how you have gifts, and it's about a world and a society and an environment that helps us to uncover and nurture that. And I think again, that's just that really great example of that narrative around bringing someone's gifts out for the for themselves, but also for the world to enjoy and benefit to.
Mai Ling 03:00
Exactly, yes, this is also a great story for parents of children with autism, because, you know, I think that there are different times in in growth, you know, when you're wonder, are we stagnating here is this, that we hit a ceiling, you know, I've definitely heard that from parents, and series stories, just such an amazing, wonderful story of just, you know, finding what helps to open her up and what helps to, you know, turn on her interests, and just being open to it and letting her doing it on her own time, you know, so I'm really excited for everyone to listen to her story. Before we get there, though, Martyn, we asked last week for people to give us some reviews and feedback. And we're just so grateful. And I just wanted to ask again, if you're listening and you have a minute to please go into Apple podcasts or Spotify or any of those platforms that you're listening to us. And just give us a great five-star rating. And you know, tell people how much you love us because this is really helping to get the word out and share what we're doing. Especially our guest’s stories, right?
Yeah, exactly. Um, we had a little look at the listener numbers. And it's, it's on the app. It's amazing how many more people are listening. And we've had such great feedback of how people are benefiting from these interviews and sharing these stories. But yeah, of course, we know there's 1.3 billion people in the world who have a disability, and we may not reach all of them. But we're going to try and yeah, the way to get out there and serve more people and make more positive impact on the world is by that kind of method of reviewing and subscribing and liking and sharing. So, we'd really humbly appreciate your support to get out there.
Mai Ling 04:39
Excellent. Thank you so much. And can you share a little bit what you're doing is Purple Goat (http://purplegoatagency.com/) because I feel like in last week, you're just blowing up?
Yeah, so we I wasn't a pivot, but as you know, I was running Disability Horizons (https://disabilityhorizons.com/), but I came on the show and then we've ended up co presenting together and that that's a magazine and so it's a media platform and it's still growing being great content but the business model was really hard to how to kind of create enough content for all the sub communities within the disability world. So what Purple Goat is, it's a marketing agency that supports brands to get messages and initiatives out to the disabled community, but very fundamentally using influencer marketing. So, if we're trying to get a message to the autism community, then we work with autism influencers who blog or on Instagram, on YouTube on Twitter. And it's just a really powerful mechanic from a marketing perspective. But it's really cool that we're bringing budgets and you know, marketing spend with big brands to the disabled influencer world, but also representing disability in advertising. So, consumers feel like they're, yeah, they see themselves in the advertising that they see. So, it's excellent, some pretty cool stuff and working with some big brands, and it's growing really well. Thank you.
Mai Ling 06:06
I love it, Martyn. And I'm seeing an upcoming episode just on this. It just sounds so interesting, especially for entrepreneurs who are listening. So, let's see if we can get that on the calendar.
And how about you Mai Ling? What's your latest news?
Mai Ling 06:19
Well, coming off of having the book that we did together to Become an Exceptional Leader (https://www.amazon.com/Becoming-Exceptional-Leader-Accomplished-Changemakers-ebook/dp/B08DWWW8X9) available on Kindle and hitting eight of the most, you know, one of these big top categories, that has just been amazing. Women in Business and autism and it's just been incredible to have that type of exposure and we are finalizing the paperback so soon we will be able to have that book in our grubby little hands.
Mai Ling 06:44
All right. Well, I think we're ready to get to our interview with Swathi and hear all about what she's up to with her wonderful daughter Siri, what do you think?
Let's get to it.
Mai Ling 06:52
All right. I'm really excited to be here today with Swathi Chettipally, who is the CEO of designs by Siri. And this is really interesting because she is the mother of an adult daughter with autism. And she has helped Siri to create a company where she creates jewelry, and then promotes her work through social media. So welcome.
Thank you. Thanks, Mai for having me on your program.
Mai Ling 07:20
Thank you. How old is Siri?
Siri is 27.
Mai Ling 07:24
Oh, wonderful. And how long has she been creating jewelry?
For the past five years.
Mai Ling 07:30
Oh, wow. Okay, and how long have you had The Designs by Siri (https://designs-by-siri.myshopify.com/)?
About four years, I think.
Mai Ling 07:37
Okay, so she started making them and a year into it. You said this can really be something bigger?
Mai Ling 07:43
That's wonderful. So, have you had experience in the past of creating companies?
No, I never had any experience making companies. And we were actually forced to start the company. Because Siri was making all this jewelry. And we were trying to give it away. And our friend started paying us money, that how we thought we should start a business because every day every time it would be like a struggle because they tried to give us the money and we say no. So, we thought maybe if we can turn it into a business, then we don't have to have that kind of interaction with friends and family.
Mai Ling 08:22
Yeah, that makes sense. Oh, wow. This is so exciting. Okay, so what type of jewelry or what style does she make?
She usually uses very bright beads. And she makes a wineglass rings, she makes necklace sets, bracelets, anklets, key chains. Actually, if you show her anything she'll make. We can actually give her the ideas and she can make it.
Mai Ling 08:49
Oh, that's wonderful. Now how did she get the experience of actually, you know, using the tools to make them the clasps, you know, all of that I actually am not a jewelry maker. So, I'm very novice at this.
I was the same. You know how the children that autism have, they get into the school system. And at age 22, they're done with everything, they don't have anything to move on to. If they're high functioning, then they go to jobs, or else there are day programs where they are expected to just sit-down watch TV and be quiet. And Siri is such an individual that does not like to sit down and watch TV all day long. Nor she can speak, she cannot communicate that clearly. So, we did not find anything that is suitable for her. So, we ended up keeping her at home for six months.
Mai Ling 09:46
This is after school ended. So, you're saying at the end of that senior year or those extra years because you can stay in school for a longer amount of time until you age out right. There weren't services locally for her. So, in that six months period is that when she started to design?
Yes, at the same time I have three kids, the middle child went into army training. And on the Facebook, we have a page for the for the parents, and they were looking for care packages to be donated to to soldiers.
Mai Ling 10:22
So, Siri was home, my son was gone. And at that time, my relationship with Siri was very strange. She would never want to be in the same room that I will be in.
Mai Ling 10:34
Oh, that's interesting.
Ya, if I come to hear, if I come into a room, she just gets up and she leaves the room. Unless we're sitting at a table for a meal. I could always see that friction, like, her not liking my presence.
Mai Ling 10:52
No, that must have been so hard for you.
It was very difficult. But then I went on thinking that it's, maybe it's me, or maybe the autism. And with my husband, she was very comfortable. But with me, she was like that. And he would say that maybe because I'm strict. I expect her to do this do that and all. Well, anyway, it was 22 years. So, I wasn't so worried about it. I thought that's how the life is going to be. But then that's the time we started connecting. So, one day, I thought I should train her to make care packages for these soldiers. So, I asked her to bring a paper and a pen, I told her the items that we would be picking up mint, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and all that. And then I told her to write on the other side, the stores that we will be going to Walgreens, CVS. So that's when she was just writing one thing at a time. And she looked at me. And the look she gave me was like, I know what you're trying to make me do. That was a connection I had with her. From that day onwards, it just moved on. She made care packages, I made her write the cards and we mailed out the packages and the soldiers started writing back because I told them that those packages are done by my daughter who has autism. I did not disclose that my son was training with them. I said that I'm one of the moms. And they all wrote letters and one letter was, Siri actually touched many lives in a way that we never think that she could, being what she is. So, this soldier wrote me a letter saying that you have no idea. I'm sitting in my barracks crying with this box in my hand. Oh, I believe he had a call from the office. They said that he has a box. And he said, I don't think anybody will send me anything because he's an orphan. He doesn't have anybody, and that day was his birthday.
Mai Ling 13:01
Yeah, so he said that you have no idea what this box means to me. And he said, I'm just sobbing sitting here with this box in my hand and I never had any kind of present given to me. And those are the things that Siri did not knowing that she's doing that. So once the soldiers graduate, we lose the connection. Or we don't we don't we cannot communicate with them anymore. Every morning Siri sits down at the dining table waiting for me to give her instructions what to do next, but once I lost connection with these soldiers. I didn't have anything else to do with her. That's when I thought because she likes wearing all beads. Maybe I should have her do something. And I myself don't know how to make any jewelry. So, I took her to a beads shop, Michaels and I asked her to pick whatever beads she wants. So, she picked so many strings of beads. If you give her one instruction, she does so fast that you have to be thinking fast.
Mai Ling 14:05
What do you want her to do next? So, after we came home, I had her open the strings, there, by sizes, whatever category I thought she did it fast as if she was waiting for me to give her the next instruction. That's when I went into YouTube and found out how you make an earring.
Mai Ling 14:26
So, I put some pictures for her, and I gave her the tools I had one. And I asked her to make a loop, put the beads and make a loop and her loop was perfect than me.
Mai Ling 14:39
So that's how slowly then the news people picked it up. She was interviewed many times on the television and many people wrote about her. So slowly she started getting this idea that people are noticing her work. I cannot tell her that people are appreciating your work. But when she sees herself on the television or on the magazines, she understands that okay, you know, this is what is happening.
Mai Ling 15:10
So, you say she's nonverbal. Is that 100%? Or does she have some communication?
She has some communication. When you ask her a question, she tries to pick one word from the question, and then she answers that, even though it's not the right one. I do put some videos of her other social media and you can see where her deficit is, right? She is smart.
Mai Ling 15:32
Yes, sounds like it. So, she's watching herself on the TV, and she's connecting that that's me, right?
Yes. Previously, she wouldn't like to see herself on television or even in pictures. She would not like it. But now she's recognizing herself.
Mai Ling 15:48
That's wonderful. Hey, there, hope you're enjoying the show. I just wanted to take a moment and introduce you to another great podcast that you might like in the Xceptional Podcast Network.
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Mai Ling 16:31
Now let's get back to our amazing interview. Okay, so you started to make the jewelry in mass. So, you're she's making more and more. And so, she was able to get creative with it. So, it sounds like in the beginning, you were giving her instructions. But when did she start getting more original?
If I asked her to make it and give her the supplies she does, but last time when we spoke, she was only making jewelry. But she's doing six different things now. If you want me to list them.
Mai Ling 16:58
She is doing functional fitness exercise. It's like combat exercise, which they she does a lot of heavy lifting and all that. And then she's learning how to box. I didn't think that she would like to learn boxing because they hit at you and she's supposed to hit. I thought that would make her become aggressive. But she did it. So, it's functional fitness, exercise, boxing, she does ice skating.
Mai Ling 17:26
She does fitness dancing. Dancing is another one I really wanted her to do. And the fifth one is she's actually working now in in Goodwill. And she started doing horse racing, where she goes to get up the horse and get on the horse and start riding it. So that's what she is doing. Yeah. Besides the jewelry and then now she's making masks.
Mai Ling 17:54
Oh, yes, that is very important. So right now, as we're recording this, it is the summer of 2020. And we are still unfortunately, in the midst of the pandemic and mask wearing is very important to protect ourselves and others. And how is she responding to that? Is she comfortable wearing the mask?
Of course, she is. Every time she goes out, I don't have to tell her she just puts her mask. She may like 147, 148 masks, and we donated them to a church in Los Angeles.
Mai Ling 18:22
Oh, that's beautiful. Wonderful. So, tell me about this Designs by Siri, do you work this as a business now? Or is it because you know now, she has so many other things going on? Is it a part of your weekly schedule? Or is it just when the you know; the originality moves her.
I don't try to force her to do anything. Or I look at what she wants to do for the day. And I already have lots of things that she already made. So, I do get orders for those. And if I don't have them, I kind of see if she's interested to do it. Sometimes she says no. So, I'll wait for her to be ready to make those items. But the business is going well. And then all the other activities also because of the lockdown we are working more on the masks.
Mai Ling 19:11
So that's interesting. That's a different area where she did, she had to learn how to use a machine sewing machine.
I actually started into involving her in making dresses. Last year, I thought she was standing there and watching me stitch her a dress. So, I thought okay, let me go to Joann's and I asked her to pick a fabric and she picked it and while I was stitching, she was standing there. So, I thought why I don’t see if she can do it because you have to manipulate the pedal. And also, the hands. Those two have to coordinate right? I'm sure you know how stitching works.
Mai Ling 19:45
So, she was very good at it. I think he was observing me stitch. So yeah, she's very good. But then we need to give us clear instructions. We should not frustrate her because she cannot ask back Is this what you want me to do? She cannot ask us, so we need to make sure the instructions are clear.
Mai Ling 20:06
Right? And then also staying with her in the beginning. So, for example, when you get to the end of the row, what does she do? You know, does she tie it off? Does she turn it? You know, so you had to, I guess watch her the first couple of times, right?
Yeah, she will she once you tell her okay, stitch like this, and then push the cut. There is a scissors picture, so she knows how to cut. And then we ask her to turn it. She turns it around.
Mai Ling 20:31
Oh, that's amazing. So, for our listener, the pieces that I'm getting out of this is this is a mom who is presumed potential. And I love those two words together is it sounds like you she really didn't know what Siri's talents what Siri was capable of new learning and retention. And little by little, she just kept giving her opportunities. Is that what you would say?
Yeah, initially, initially, I did not have the connection. But then I had all these wishes for her. Until we got connected, I didn't have that opportunity to kind of help her do all these things. And we are very excited for her future now. She's going to be moving to Cloverdale
Mai Ling 21:16
Oh, what is that?
We are working on a on a ranch for 24 residents, and Siri is going to be one of them. And we are going to make sure that her business and her skills are still developing there.
Mai Ling 21:31
Wonderful. So, this is independent living with supports.
Yes, Clearwaterranchcommunity.com. If anybody's interested to know about it, we are very excited because this is still in initial stage where parents have the liberty to work with the kids so that it will be comfortable and thriving for them. We want our kids to have a happy life, not just living.
Mai Ling 21:59
Excellent. What state is that in?
It's here in California? Cloverdale. California, it's about two hours from San Francisco.
Mai Ling 22:07
Oh, in North California. So, is this something that is a franchise? Or is it created locally, by the parents?
By the parents. It's Living Unlimited. We are supported by them. But we are the parents that it's the ownership model. So, we buy and then develop the programs for them.
Mai Ling 22:29
That is beautiful. Will she be living in her own unit in in a larger facility or will she have a roommate?
It's like six-bedroom buildings. So, four residents and two caretakers, and then they get to go to jobs and all the other things they want to do. And it's located a among lot of wineries in Sonoma County. Which means there are lot of job opportunities for them.
Mai Ling 22:55
Oh, that is wonderful. Is this something you've been looking into for a long time, Swathi? Or did it just come up?
That was our wish and it just came up?
Mai Ling 23:03
Yeah. Now that's wonderful. I know a lot of parents of adult children with autism, they're looking for, like you said, what do you do after 22? You know, what do you do after they age out of the school system, the education system. And this is such a great story of you, really you and your family, obviously, supporting her in her initiatives, and then seeing the enterprise opportunity for her. So, in creating the business, just taking a step back? You so you haven't done this before? So how did you go about educating yourself on let's say, doing the LLC and doing the taxes and you know, all of that infrastructure of actually having a home-based business,
Her dad is a physician who does a lot of things. He's into technology, AI, and different things. So, he knows how to start a business. He did the paperwork. But then every single day when I wake up, I keep thinking, what do I do to make her story go out? We are not doing this for the money sake. I really want people to see her inspirational story, so that they would be inspired if they have a child with special needs, especially autism where we don't, it's hard to connect with them. And Siri was never like this before. We went through a lot of hardships when she was growing up. So, she turned around a lot.
Mai Ling 24:30
Can you share that with us? What are some examples.
No school used to keep her for longer than a month or so. Or maybe a couple of weeks. I would get phone calls all the time, saying that she's been very aggressive. Come and pick her up. Back then we didn't have the cell phones so I would be at home waiting for somebody to call me so that I can go pick her up. So she ended up in a place it would look more like a jail where they had security cameras all over, you go there and they look at you open the door, and then you go in and the door shuts off behind you. And then another door opens, and then you go in, you clock her in, and then somebody comes and takes her. And then she walks away, and then they close the door behind her. So, there were a lot of doors. And every time I would leave her there, I would come back, sit in my car and like cry and cry a lot, because it would make me feel like I'm leaving her in a jail. Because nobody knows what happens behind that door. She used to be with the mentally disturbed, mental retardation and severely autistic, those are the individuals she would be with. And it used to be very difficult for me because I would actually leave her there.
Mai Ling 25:48
But later on, we moved her to another school where they gave her choices. Siri doesn't like if you ask her to do certain things. She's very smart.
Mai Ling 25:59
Sounds like it.
Yeah, because she doesn't speak, we think that we can just, you know, boss her around. She doesn't like that. So, when we had started giving her choices, when we started letting her... empowering her in the other school. That's when she started calming down. And then she was done with the school system. But it was very, very, very difficult. We never, ever thought that she would make one red cent. And now she's making jewelry and she has lots of orders for masks. People want to buy her masks. That wasn't my intention. My intention was to help the church make by making these masks and I put it on the social media and people started ordering. So, she has to work on the masks now.
Mai Ling 26:45
It's beautiful. So, you said that you have media attention. And how did that start?
I think a couple of years ago, they were introducing Julia in Sesame Street.
Mai Ling 26:55
Oh, yes. The character with autism.
Yeah. So, they were looking for somebody that has autism. So that they wanted to know how the family kind of feels about it. And then I think they heard about Siri somewhere. And they came in with one-hour notice. And my husband was not home. I was not sure how Siri would take it because it was the first time and here, they walk in with big cameras, and all these people with those things and all. And she was fine. She was just smiling. She has a lot of the intelligence that you don't have to actually tell her she understands with the environment.
Mai Ling 27:33
Context. Yeah. So, she figures it out.
She figures it out. And she cannot tell us though. So, she actually made some items. And she gave it to those camera men. So, they were very happy to take them.
Mai Ling 27:44
Wow, did she do that on her own as a gift?
Yeah, she did it right there when they were filming us. So, they were happy. And actually, that it was filmed in the in the news clip also.
Mai Ling 27:58
Yes, on your website, I believe you have a couple of clips from her. And then on your Facebook page you share like daily clips, is that true? I believe I've seen that
I do, I do share my inner thoughts about her and how the world is and I just want other moms that are like me, I want to empower them, I want to encourage them Don't give up. Siri never showed us any signs of improvement. We never thought that we would actually find a place to leave her and plan for her. And she has two younger brothers. But this is like a dream come true. Even now I pinch myself now and then to see if it is real or a dream. Because we never ever thought that she would do what she's doing now.
Mai Ling 28:44
What a beautiful story. Swathi, this is really, this is the success story of a supportive family and a patient family you know, and, and a family that is willing to try all different things. And like you said, this is a really important story for our listener and for other parents of children with autism. Because we all have hopes and dreams for all of our children of course and going on to college and having independent lives you know, that is something that of course we want for our children. But you know, listening to you it's different obviously for a parent with autism. However, if you have an open mind and are flexible, and it sounds like your family is very creative, that you know these are ways that together in our community we can help to do that for someone with autism.
As a mom of an autistic child, I feel as if she has become a president of the country. That's how proud I am of her and I don't mind stopping a perfect stranger on the street to tell her tell them my story, my daughter's story. And we are extremely proud of her.
Mai Ling 29:50
And you should be she is amazing. So how do we stay in touch with you and continue to support Siri
Designsbysiri.com She has her YouTube channel, where I put all her videos. So anywhere on social media, LinkedIn, Instagram everywhere she is designsbySiri. But I'm not sure how much of it she knows. But I do give her those things and she goes through; she scrolls down the things that I post about her.
Mai Ling 30:24
Oh, and she sees herself. So how did you ramp up and educate yourself on all of these social media platforms?
I don't know how I did it. I just did it on my own. Actually, I'm not a good learner. I don't like technology and stuff like that. But Siri is the one that kind of pushes me through all these things. Because I always think that I am her voice. I'm the only one who can do what I'm doing for her. And sometimes now that the COVID is around, I keep thinking, What if I don't wake up one day who is going to do have social media and who is going to, you know, talk about? So, my husband said that he'll hire, he'll hire a marketing? No, no, it's something that I want others to feel good about. Don't give up on your kids.
Mai Ling 31:14
That's beautiful. Nothing can replace a mother's love or a mother social media marketing executive.
Exactly. A lot of people ask me, who does your marketing? No, I don't have anybody who does that. It's just me.
Mai Ling 31:26
Oh, that's amazing. Well, thank you so much Swathi for coming on today and sharing Siri with us, sharing your family with us in the story. We so appreciate you. Thank you so much, and we will stay in touch.
Thank you. Bye.
Mai Ling 31:39
Thanks so much for joining us for this episode. And remember that if you have a creative idea that you're ready to start on and want help from someone who truly understands what it means to build a disability focused offering, visit mailingchan.com and let's get started.
And be sure to check out MartynSibley.com to embrace your place as a world changer. If you are serious about becoming an influencer and impacting the world, please join me in my VIP Academy where we focus on you and build momentum together. We will see you in the next episode.
Swathi Chettipally is the CEO of Designs By Siri and the mother of an adult daughter with autism. She built the company with the mission to develop talent among individuals with autism. She single handedly trained her daughter and others with autism to make jewelry and promote their work on social media. This work brings joy and confidence to the makers and builds self esteem to tackle other problems in their lives. It also promotes the idea that even people with autism can become productive members of the society. Swathi also hosts a weekly radio show to promote autism awareness.