Neurodiversity and Work:

Employment, Identity, and Support Networks for Neurominorities Book Chapter

David Schena II, Ashleigh Hillier, Joseph Veneziano & Brittney Geary , May 2024

High-school and vocation-related programs aim to help autistic individuals achieve their employment goals. High-school IEP programs may provide needed support by emphasizing transition-related skills, while supported employment programs can give students direct experience on the job, both with and without the use of state vocational rehabilitation services. One notable program, Project Search, partners students with a local business for direct employment and on-site instruction with support from program staff. School psychologists in particular play an important role in high-school-related programs, as their expertise can not only improve a student’s success but can also do so through a neurodiversity-affirming lens. Various vocational programs and clinical settings can also teach the skills necessary for the pursuit of independent employment. These skills vary based on individual goals and needs, from practicing interviews to improving on-task performance, and can be especially effective when done in naturalistic settings. Skills taught tend to focus on on-the-job skills, however, with additional research needed on skills such as job applications and self-advocacy. In summary, these and other supports can teach the skills necessary for successful employment and empower autistic adults to be central in decision-making as they strive to reach their personal goals.

Neurodiversity, Independence and Transitioning to Adulthood

David Schena, Brittney Geary, Victoria Rosado, Alisha Syed, Linnea Zagaeski, Hanna Rogers, Monica Galizzi, & Ashleigh Hillier, Ph.D. (University of Massachusetts Lowell)

Neurodiversity is an umbrella term that typically includes individuals with autism, ADHD, or learning disabilities. The neurodiversity movement is becoming increasingly influential as self-advocates work to increase acceptance and inclusion and encourage others to embrace neurological differences, using a perspective describing neurological differences as a strength (Dwyer, 2022; Lorenz et al., 2017). In this symposium presentation, we discuss four studies examining the transition to independent adulthood for neurodivergent individuals covering topics of higher education, employment, and financial literacy. In our first study, we examined the impact of a pilot program with neurodiverse students preparing to transition from high school, “New Horizons”. New Horizons was a 5-week, online mentoring program with two one-hour meetings each week. During the meetings, high school students engaged in small group discussion with college students serving as mentors. While each session had a specified topic (e.g. college life, academics, socializing on campus, etc.), small groups focused on the individual questions, concerns, and experiences of the participants. Five students and six mentors participated in this pilot. Results from pre-post surveys demonstrated that overall, students felt better prepared to transition from high school at the end of the program. Next, we examine the experiences of neurodiverse college students in college through weekly surveys and end of semester interviews. Weekly surveys consisted of three open -ended questions which collectively describe subjective weekly experiences, highlighting notable positive and negative experiences. Interviews were conducted at the end of the semester to review the entire semester and gather more detailed information from participants. Challenges and negative experiences reported included class/academics, self-care/mental health, and time management. The most common positive aspects students reported were related to academics which included professors, grades, and assignments, and social activities such as making friends, meeting people, and attending events. Overall, findings indicate that challenges experienced by those with autism in college may be overestimated. We then discuss employment, which is a topic of particular concern to neurodivergent individuals. We conducted a systematic PRISMA review of literature related to employment skill instruction for individuals with psychological diagnoses (including autism). Abstract and full text screening revealed a total of 59 relevant articles, of which 41 included or focused on participants with an autism diagnosis. These articles were found to focus disproportionately on employment acquisition rather than retention (56 vs 19) and tended to perform one or fewer follow up assessments after intervention cessation (43 articles). These results point to a need for additional research on employment retention as well as additional long-term follow-up or maintenance assessments. Finally, a review of financial literacy ability among 61 autistic adults was conducted via a survey given on Amazon Mechanical Turk and compared to a matched sample of individuals without autism. After screening out low-quality replies, results indicate that individuals with autism generally self-report to have less financial experience as well as more financial anxiety and worries regarding their own abilities but tend to report access to financial systems consistent with parental oversight.