Tiffany Waddington M.S. CF-SLP, is the original founder of the I-F Club. She also goes by a few nicknames, most notably “Talktor Tiff”. She has been working with the ASD community in different capacities since 2007. Her involvement with the Deaf community began in 2013.
In 2014, Tiffany graduated Magna Cum Laude with Honors from the University of Washington with a B.S. in Speech and Hearing Sciences. While pursuing her degree, she did research on the role of brain lateralization in dyslexia. During this time, she also worked as a peer mentor at Bellevue College in the Autism Spectrum Navigator’s program, as a mentor for private families on the Eastside, and as a caretaker for 2 ASD children.
Following her undergraduate education, she began working at the Laboratory of Auditory Brain Sciences and Neuroengineering at ILABS in the University of Washington studying auditory attention; specifically the ability of people to process sound in the presence of background noise. In 2016, she started working for Aspiring Youth, providing weekly social skills groups and 1:1 mentoring to kids, adolescents, and young adults.
In 2018, she earned her Master of Science with Distinction from California State University, Northridge (CSUN) in Communication Disorders and was awarded the Karen Jones Green Award for Clinical Excellence. During this program, she was able to continue working at ILABS and Aspiring Youth while also taking on clinical practicum experiences with diverse populations. She continued her mentoring and caretaking responsibilities and started to build the I-F Club as a way to merge all of her personal and professional interests.
When I was a child, it was my dream to live on Sesame Street. The community was friendly and diverse and as an added bonus (in my mind) they all lived right next door to Mr. Rogers (since Mr. Rogers came on immediately afterwards). Literally everything about that neighborhood appealed to me. In my early elementary years, when most kids were learning the disappointing truth about Santa Claus, I was learning the disappointing truth about Sesame Street. It was not a real place but a television show where actors pretended to live. However, not being the type of person to give up on my dreams, I simply changed them. If I could not live on Sesame Street, I could at least work there. I would still be able to have the experience of working in a nurturing community, bursting out into song randomly, and creating teachable moments in naturalized settings. I just had to change my tactic.
For the next few years, I went to acting classes and joined my local theatre troop. My dream never really wavered all the way through high school, where I received many awards at the district and state level for my oratory, acting, and presentation skills. During my senior year of high school, I applied for and was accepted to a couple of theatre programs in New York. Everything was falling into place. Later year, my theatre troop was invited to NYC for a week and I was ecstatic. Finally, I would be able to visit the city I’ve dreamed about for so long, the place that I would soon be calling home.
During that trip, we went to see a variety of shows on Broadway, attended multiple workshops, and put on a performance at the culmination. It was an amazing trip that was full of excitement, but as I was packing up I realized that I was ready to go home. The experience, while wonderful, was not what I had prepared myself for. The environment was not what I had expected. The dream that I had nurtured since childhood had gone unfulfilled, and I simply found myself with no desire to live in New York long term. Within a week of returning home, I turned down my school acceptance and started making other plans. I just had no idea at the time what those plans would entail because my entire life had been leading me to Sesame Street.
As it so happens, I chose to move as far away from New York as I could realistically manage and thus found myself living in Silicon Valley. I taught myself how to draw and program in multiple computer languages. Over the course of a couple years, I became pretty good at doing both and landed a few jobs where I was paid fairly well to make computers talk to the world through code and illustration. I was paid to create visual messages that were seen by thousands and to tinker with the underlying code to create new functionality on websites. It wasn’t a bad life but it was not as fulfilling as I wanted it to be either. I yearned to be my own boss and create a virtual community from scratch. And so, in my free time, I did. I bought a camera and took up photography, continued working on my illustrations and translated them to digital mediums, and slowly built my own business. I had finally found the freedom that I was looking for.
However, when my son was diagnosed with ASD and apraxia, my world changed. While I had been a relatively successful entrepreneur of a fledgling business, my life was now all about fighting insurance companies about out of pocket maximums, covered services, and ‘pre-existing conditions’. Stress was high as bills continued to pour in with no respite. When my daughter was later diagnosed with ASD and hyperlexia the stress just snowballed further. Yet, rather than crumble under the stress, I simply said to myself: “OK, this sucks. So what do I do about it?”
My priorities were shifting and thus the quality of my work suffered. My kids needed me to get them to and from school, to and from therapy sessions, to and from activities and doctor’s appointments, and just to be there as ‘mom’ as well. Over time, I came to the realization that my carefully built little business that I had cultivated was not the right thing for me to be doing at that time. The responsible thing for me to do was to refer my clients to other professionals so that I could focus more on what my family needed, and so I did.
With my new found free time, I had become engulfed in learning everything I could about autism. I observed every class, every SLP session, every OT session. I had a new book from the library every week which I would read and then summarize my findings with the mother’s circles that I was a part of. I quickly became the go-to person for advice for whatever issues their kids were having that day. I made it a point to speak to people who call themselves “autistic” as well as people who call themselves “people with autism” and learned a lot about both groups. In doing this, I made a lot of almost inevitable mistakes due to some very common misconceptions. However, simply by having the courage to ask questions and make those mistakes, I gained so much understanding and thus have become a better ally for my kids and their peers. In essence, by reaching out to my children’s peers, I had begun to accept them as my own.
One random day, shortly after the New Year, the stars aligned and realization hit me in the most serendipitous of ways: my kids were both watching Sesame Street. Something about that day, that episode, and that segment of the episode reminded me about what I had wanted to do for my entire life; that I had almost forgotten about. I realized that my experience could be molded into something beautiful and used to help other people. I could use the knowledge I had gained while unemployed to regain meaningful employment; not just for monetary compensation but to help guide those who didn’t know what I did. I could provide guidelines for creating inclusive environments that accept all people for who they are while still encouraging them to be the best version of themselves they could be. I could find my way back to Sesame Street.
With my dream re-materializing in front of me, I was now on a mission. I wanted to be able to work one-on-one or in small groups with people of all ages who needed me. I recalled the huge leaps of progress that my children made both behaviourally and emotionally just because they had learned how to communicate their wants and needs. With that in mind, I applied to go back to school to earn a Bachelor’s degree in speech and hearing sciences at the University of Washington.
My experience getting to know the ASD community before I applied for school allowed me to serve as a peer mentor for college students on the spectrum, helping them to succeed socially and academically. I was elected Vice President of my undergrad NSSLHA chapter. Additionally, I was invited to join Phi Sigma Pi, a gender-inclusive honor’s fraternity and served as Parliamentarian and various committee chairs for the organization. My interest in neuroscience led to an opportunity researching dyslexia in a speech-genetics lab for 2 years. When all was said and done, I graduated Magna Cum Laude with Honors in Speech and Hearing Sciences, one of only 7 people in my graduating class to receive the Honors distinction.
After finishing my undergraduate education, I began to work in another research laboratory focusing on auditory neuroscience and attention while simultaneously working on my graduate studies. I also started working with Aspiring Youth; providing 1:1 mentoring and facilitating social skills groups for kids aged 10 and older. In 2018, I received my Master’s degree with distinction in Communication Disorders from California State University, Northridge and am currently in the process of becoming a credentialed Speech Language Pathologist.