The Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University has joined in a multi-university program aimed at easing the way for young adults with certain disabilities, including autism, to enter the workforce or higher education.
The Utah Neurodiversity Workforce Program, which started at the University of Utah, strives to help neurodiverse students enter jobs or higher education on completing high school. It’s a group of young people whose potential—for out-of-the-box thinking, dedication and focus at work—has remained untapped all too often. Neurodiverse workers include those with autism, dyslexia, Tourette’s syndrome and other neurological conditions.
The project’s aim is to train not just students, but also educators and potential employers about including neurodiverse young adults.
“They’re very dedicated employees,” said Dr. Valerie D’Astous, Director of the Utah Neurodiversity Workforce Program at the University of Utah. “Often it’s just simple accommodations that they require. … We’re trying to get managers to understand the benefits of working with these students—that it’s not charity.”
This year, the project’s partners include Utah State University’s Center for Persons with Disabilities, Utah Valley University and Dixie State University.
CPD Director Matthew Wappett will be the project’s principal investigator at USU, and he is encouraged by the way it is helping universities cooperate to bring about social justice for a problem that has been largely invisible.
“It’s really exciting to see us come together,” he said.
Daisha Lopez of the CPD is coming into the project after helping 11 clients of the CPD’s Employability Clinic find part-time work. A lot of the work with UNWP will involve building partnerships, she said—and that’s a topic she has explored a lot over the past year as she worked with clients and employers.
Those relationships are key, not just with employers but with the client, the client’s family, and any other support system they may have. “If it means it takes longer to build those relationships, then I’m going to take the time,” she said.
D’Astous said the training helps ease both employers and potential employees into their new relationship, letting them know what to expect. “When they first start, both sides are nervous.” But those feelings are eased when they find out how to accommodate neurodiverse workers.
UNWP launched its pilot program last year with a partnership between the U, Salt Lake Community College and Davis Technical College. Two hundred faculty and staff members at the U received awareness training, with more events slated for Davis Tech and Brigham Young University.
Another 200 employees and managers were also trained. Twenty neurodiverse participants had work-based learning experiences, and two of them secured full-time employment.
D’Astous is looking forward to expanding the program to communities in northern, central and Southern Utah.
For resources on easing the transition from high school to higher education or the workforce, visit the UNWP website.
Writer and Contact: JoLynne Lyon, 435-797-7412