Creating Opportunities For The Neurodiverse

When he was just 5 years-old, Doctors told Anthony Ianni's parents that he wouldn't be successful in life because of his Autism. Hearing this from a medical professional would have a devastating effect on parents and be extremely discouraging for children.

Coach Ianni at the non-profit camp, Kids On The Go, near Detroit, Michigan.

Thankfully, times are changing and there is an increasing awareness of the issue that is going hand-in-hand with an economic shift to help special needs and intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) individuals secure a full-time position in the workforce is quickly spreading nationwide.

And the benefits of an inclusive work environment don't just improve the state of life of the individual employed but has proven to enlighten and motivate those around them. For instance, former Special Needs Educator Tiffany Exter, one of the many trailblazers to this important movement, noticed a void in meaningful job opportunities and careers for those with special needs. She felt moved to open Pizzability/Brewability in Denver Colorado where she employs IDD individuals as well as others without special needs. Her understanding of the situation had her make sure that her restaurant Pizzability would include a sensory corner for employees or guests who may want to use it between bites. Although not the goal, teaching respect and patience is an ancillary benefit that comes from an inclusive workplace such as this one.

A Special Place for a Slice and a Beer

Click here to learn more about Pizzability/Brewability

An author, Daryl Reed once said: "Compassion without action is just observation". Surely Tiffany is one such individual whose actions speak loudly. Another is the owner of Rising Tide Car Wash, John D'eri who has another success story of compassion. John's youngest son Andrew is autistic and when he noticed that Andrew's future would be dim unless he did something, Rising Tide Car Wash was born. This wonderful family-owned business gives young adults with autism a chance to thrive with a combination of what John's eldest son Tom explains as "process-driven tasks" and "detail orientation".

Florida Car Wash Employs Autistic Adults

Click here to learn more about Rising Tide Car Wash

Michael Coyne, a young man with ADHD and Autism, featured in a CBS news article couldn't find a job after submitting multiple applications and decided to open his own "beacon of hope" coffee shop, the Red, White and Brew Coffee in North Smithfield, Rhode Island, that employs special needs individuals. By doing so, he made sure that his future was secure along with others like him. Parents are overjoyed to see their children work and have fulfilling lives instead of the less dignified and productive alternatives like sending them to adult daycare facilities or having them stay home.

Michael with his mother sitting in their cafe.

One would think job training or even a 4-year college degree would assist IDD individuals to at least get their foot in the workforce door. That is not the case. Even when an individual on the spectrum graduates from college their chance of employment is low and that's if there are opportunities in or near their location that caters to their abilities.

Byran Dai, who has a brother on the spectrum, along with highschool friend Raul Mahinda founded a startup: Divergent, after coming to the same realization as Tiffany Exter. Divergent, as reported in the New York Times 'Using Technology to Close the Autism Job Gap', has become a lead Artificial Intelligence startup to hire neurodiverse and neurotypical candidates. By working with colleges to provide internships and hiring outright, Divergent has hired 75 people with IDD to date, not letting the hard work and dedication to gaining an education go to waste. Divergent offers positions in which IDD individuals "can focus on detail-oriented, complex, repetitive kinds of work". To further accommodate their employees, Divergent also provides a sensory break room for staff that may help with settling thoughts and de-stressing from feelings that might overwhelm, which a typical workspace often presents.

Divergent's owners Byran and Raul.

All of these examples are positive steps in providing special needs, neurodiverse and neurotypical individuals a job and a chance for a productive life. Hopefully, many more companies will open their doors and offer employment opportunities to this unique community of adults. However, it takes a unique company with a heart open to these employee prospects. Mr. Campbell, Divergent's first hire makes a good point about the types of businesses that will have the best chance to succeed with IDD employees, "I want an employer to see me as a person. Don't hire because you want to look better for your investors."

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