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New Neurodiversity at Work Minor Launches as Organizations Increasingly Seek to Hire Neurodiverse Candidates

The interdisciplinary minor will target Saint Joseph’s students who are likely to work alongside neurodiverse individuals with conditions such as autism spectrum disorder and ADHD during their careers.

Kinney staff and student working together in classroom

Written by: Gabrielle Lacherza

Published: December 6, 2021

Total reading time: 3 minutes

As organizations are increasingly considering the largely untapped pool of neurodiverse talent for their open positions, Saint Joseph’s University will launch an interdisciplinary minor in managing neurodiversity at work to equip students to be future employers and future management professionals with the skills necessary to navigate the unique needs of a neurodiverse workforce.

The minor — offered to students at the undergraduate level — will focus on the challenges and opportunities of working with neurodiverse individuals with conditions such as ADHD and, primarily, autism spectrum disorder (ASD). As of today, one in 59 people diagnosed with ASD and an estimated 500,000 young adults on the spectrum are expected to join the workforce in the next five years.

The Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support took a multidisciplinary approach when building the minor, partnering with the University’s College of Arts and Sciences, Haub School of Business and School of Health Studies and Education. The minor, believed to be the first-of-its kind, will launch in spring 2022.

“Although society has been making progress toward building workplace and other environments that are accessible to all, there remain significant and serious barriers to ensuring that the participation, engagement and input of the full spectrum of neurodiverse individuals is fully realized in many, if not most, workplaces,” says Joseph McCleery, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology and executive director of academic programs for the Kinney Center. “Our students who graduate with this minor will have both the academic training and hands-on experience that organizations are currently in need of and seeking, in order to ensure that they are both supporting and maximizing the benefits from an increasingly neurodiverse workforce.”

The tri-college initiative will include courses from management, psychology, special education and autism behavioral studies. Students will also be required to participate in a semester-long internship coordinated by the University’s Kinney Center.

Through this internship, participants will have the opportunity to serve as job coaches and managers for individuals on the spectrum, working directly with the Center's ASPIRE program and the Adult Day program — two of the Center’s support programs. In turn, the internship requirement will regularly provide the Kinney Center with additional dedicated and trained staff, ultimately increasing the number of people on the spectrum whom it can serve. The internship requirement could also be fulfilled through opportunities with partner organizations who are champions in the area of neurodiversity, and who have provided support for the new minor.

A number of organizations across various industries — including Lincoln Financial Group, SAP, Merrill Lynch and Ernst & Young — are already implementing autism-at-work programs to attract neurodiverse talent and to hire candidates who have the unique skillset to manage a neurodiverse workforce. Students participating in this minor will be equipped to support these and other organizations’ commitment to hiring more individuals on the spectrum or with other neurological differences.

“The managing neurodiversity at work minor will equip our students with unique combinations of tools in human resource management, diversity and inclusion, special education and psychology needed to make neurodiverse employees successful,” says Eric Patton, Ph.D., associate professor of management.

The minor furthers the University’s Jesuit commitment to cura personalis, or care for the whole person, and builds on existing efforts to train students in various professions to better serve a neurodiverse world, including Saint Joseph’s and Thomas Jefferson’s autism physician specialists partnership.