Why We Need to Encourage Neurodiversity and Different Ways of Thinking

Why We Need to Encourage Neurodiversity and Different Ways of Thinking

By Jordan Rosenfeld


Because a one-size-fits-all approach to success won’t work.

By Jordan Rosenfeld

OZY and JPMorgan Chase have partnered to take a deeper look at how businesses can impact society for the better. Enjoy the rest of our special series here.

Inspired by his sister, who was diagnosed with autism at a young age, Harrison Rogers founded Lexington Life Academy in Mesa, Arizona — a school for youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). As part of its curriculum, the Academy puts students through a job-coaching program called “the transition to employment,” which introduces them to basic job skills such as communication etiquette, computer literacy and problem-solving techniques.

“We ask the students, ‘What are your talents?’ ‘What are your desires after school?’ ‘What would you want to do in college?’” Rogers says. Based on their responses, the Academy then partners with local businesses to provide students with relevant job experience. This is extremely valuable, as it not only allows these students to gain work experience early on, but it also shows employers the benefits of hiring individuals with ASD.

And while programs like “the transition to employment” are extremely beneficial to individual students, it’s also important to reframe the way we think about autism in the workplace overall. The term “neurodiversity” is now commonly used to highlight that people with autism are part of the range of human mental ability and may just need a certain amount of guidance, accommodations or individualized support to navigate the workplace.

Increasing “neurodiversity” in the workplace is the goal behind JPMorgan Chase’s Autism at Work program. Launched in 2015, Autism at Work is an initiative focused on hiring and expanding career opportunities for employees with autism. And given its success, JPMorgan Chase recently created a new program called Spectrum Scholars — a 10-year, multi-million dollar collaboration with the University of Delaware to help bridge the gap between college and work life for students on the autism spectrum to ensure they have fulfilling careers.

“The program provides individualized coaching and management to help students with autism build their independence,” says Anthony Pacilio, vice president, Autism at Work at JPMorgan Chase. The program also offers group support to respond to academic and social needs and encourages self-advocacy and independent living skills.

“Hiring people with autism is not just the right thing to do, it’s good for business.”

Mike Civello, vice president of Rethink

Mike Civello is the vice president at Rethink, a web-based health care company that focuses on treatment and care for individuals with developmental disabilities. Civello — who frequently works with companies to better their health care offerings, including options for individuals with ASD — explains that some of the job challenges that individuals with autism face are largely due to differences in the way they communicate and interact with others. “These individuals might be inadvertently identified as disengaged,” Civello says. “But we’re working to help managers recognize and identify [these types of actions] and how best to address them.”

The work that Civello is doing has not gone unnoticed. Companies are becoming increasingly aware that, just like other top candidates, individuals with autism can be highly educated, highly capable and highly productive in their lines of work. In fact, Civello adds that “people with autism, in many scenarios, outpace their peers when it comes to attention to detail, pattern recognition, design, and engineering. Hiring people with autism is not just the right thing to do, it’s good for business.”

By recognizing the untapped potential of individuals with autism, programs like JPMorgan Chase’s Spectrum Scholars are encouraging progression in our society, expanding creative perspectives and adding extremely qualified individuals to the talent pool.

“With this program, these students will be set up for success right from the start,” says Pacilio.

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