UConn’s Werth Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation has launched a center focused on improving employment outcomes for college-level neurodivergent (ND) students and alumni with autism, ADHD, dyslexia and other cognitive differences that all too often present barriers to securing meaningful career-focused employment.
Neurodiversity refers to the different ways all humans think, communicate, and perceive the world around them. Estimates are that anywhere from 10-20% of the world’s population is neurodivergent, meaning individuals whose cognitive functioning causes notable divergence from typical behavior or expectations. More and more organizations are seeing the benefits that come from building a neurodiverse workforce. However, some people’s brains are wired differently enough that they experience obstacles or barriers to accessing – and often retaining – jobs with those employers despite average to above average intelligence and unique skills and talents.
These cognitive differences, which are no doubt challenging for many neurodivergent people, can also be seen through a strengths-based lens, a view that was essential to the neurodiversity movement started by Sociologist Judy Singer in the 1990s. Sensory overload, anxiety, organization, language, and social challenges can create significant obstacles to interviewing and working in an environment not set up with ND people in mind. On the other hand, a ND person may bring a unique set of strengths to the workplace like high productivity in areas of interest, creativity, innovative thinking, pattern recognition, and accuracy on repetitive tasks. Organizations are learning that neurodivergent thinking results in better business outcomes like revenue growth, collaboration, range of thought, employee retention, innovation, and overall job satisfaction across the organization.
The key is helping businesses learn how to this.
UConn’s Center for Neurodiversity and Employment Innovation was founded with the mission of growing the number of employers who understand, value, and implement practices to intentionally become more inclusive of neurodivergent job seekers and employees. The center is also focused on the university side of the equation – helping all universities and colleges better prepare ND students and alumni for the workforce and employment, and better connect them with job and internships at companies that value and support their neurodiversity.
UConn’s center launched a Neurodiversity Hiring Pilot Program for the 2022-2023 school year aimed at offering employers the training and education they need to start a neurodiversity hiring initiative – even a small one. In addition to training, the pilot also provides a source for ND talent using a specialized network that includes over 3,400 ND job seekers from across the country and a period of post-hire support to ensure successful hiring and transition. Over 30 colleges and universities are active in the pilot and centralizing their populations of ND talent from their campuses to be connected with employers who value their skills.
UConn partners with employers from across the country for this pilot but is especially interested in adding more Connecticut organizations who want to post their hiring needs and experience an “on ramp” to this hiring strategy.
Other activities the center offers include a 5-week hybrid course developed in partnership with Synchrony Bank that employers can provide to key managers in their organization entitled “Neurodiversity: Building an Inclusive Culture.” The course takes participants through a deeper understanding of neurodiversity, how it shows up in the workplace, what kinds of strengths can be leveraged, and what managers can do to foster a more inclusive culture in which ND and neurotypical employees thrive.
Finally, UConn’s center established and leads the University Council for Neurodiversity Employment – a coalition of over 45 colleges and universities (and growing) from across the country working collectively to establish and implement best practices in employment readiness and support for their ND students and alumni. Employers collaborate with the council to co-develop the best ways to prepare, recruit, and interview ND talent at the companies where they recruit.
We welcome interested parties to contact the center’s director, Judy Reilly, at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or inquiries!
You can visit here for further information: https://entrepreneurship.uconn.edu/neurodiversitycenter/