Florida Mom of Son with Autism Wants You to Know: SAP Ariba Changed Our Lives

Self-described stay-at-home mom Katie Swingle was the biggest celebrity at the recent SAP Ariba Live event after telling the story of her son who has autism to a spellbound audience who laughed and cried with her, and ultimately gave her a standing ovation.

I sat down with Swingle after her keynote to hear more about her family’s journey.

Easy Access to Life-Changing Scholarships

Swingle sends her young son to a private school thanks to Step Up For Students, a scholarship fund serving K-12 students with financial and special needs. Now developed to run on SAP Ariba, the marketplace will allow parents to seamlessly apply their awards to purchase tuition, education services, and other resources. While Swingle could front the funds for her son’s tuition and wait for reimbursement, many parents cannot, making the marketplace a direct conduit to a better life.

Swingle’s experience has changed her assumptions about technology. “The number one thing I’ve learned is how much value tech offers; more than I ever thought possible,” she said. “It’s not my world or background, and was intimidating until now. But I’ve found people in tech are parents just like me. I can’t tell you the number of people who’ve stopped me and said they could connect with my story.”

From #SAPAribaLive, Kate Swingle shared how much value technology can offer parents of special needs children

Small Things Have Huge Impact

Facing a devastating prognosis for her son Gregory, who is the oldest of her four children, Swingle said the family had to adjust expectations.

“I went from just wanting to be a mom to having this baby I knew was different,” she said. “Having a special needs child was a challenge for our marriage and other sons. We had to set new goals as we asked ourselves will our child talk, read or ever have a friend?”

Swingle is elated with her son’s progress, yet humbled by what he’s taught her family about relishing the simple things. “Gregory has gone from not being able to read, write or focus to being on the high honor role in fourth grade in all his subjects, which means he’s above 90 percent in all proficiencies, she said. “Four friends showing up at his birthday party made his week. He constantly reminds us that it’s the small things that life is about.”

She’s concluded that having a better life isn’t necessarily about big ideas, but rather the cascading impact of small ones. “You are changing lives in ways you don’t even know. It’s already touching thousands of Floridians, and I’m representing those parents. This is a small idea that could grow exponentially,” said Swingle.

The Step Up For Students marketplace on SAP Ariba will initially serve approximately 10,000 Gardiner Scholarship students in Florida who use education savings accounts. It’s slated to go live later this year. Swingle praised it as a boon for some parents who lacked basic reading and writing skills, allowing them to quickly navigate complex documentation requirements.

“SAP Ariba is thinking outside the box in applying its technology made for corporations to help a child who has autism. I can’t believe people like me are even on their radar,” she said. “Our lives as parents are so complicated, and this frees me up to spend more time with Gregory and my other sons.”

Imagine Diversity Differently

Before we wrapped up our conversation, Swingle wanted to make sure people understood that neurodiversity is another important aspect of diversity. She’s upbeat about her son’s future, foreseeing college and a rewarding career – provided employers have an open mind.

“My son is brilliant and could bring so many new ideas to a workplace, but couldn’t get 10 seconds into a job interview without being kicked out of the room because of his lack of social skills,” she said. “My hope is other companies like SAP will have more autism at work programs. People with autism think on a different plane. It’s almost a different sense that neurotypical people don’t have. I see the outcomes as he picks up on things I don’t even see. Imagine what an employee he will be.”

As for Gregory, he’s looking forward to fifth grade, and enthusiastically exploring basketball. Game on!

Follow me: @smgaler