Efforts to open up career opportunities for people with autism

An MOU between CAI and the WV Autism Training Center aims to boost the neurodiverse talent pipeline

A collaborative partnership between CAI and the West Virginia Autism Training Center (WV ATC) at Marshall University aims to create career opportunity for people with autism.

The college support program, developed in 2002, was the first in the country, according to Executive Director Marc Ellison, Ed.D. “We support about 70 students right now on the campus of Marshall University. And about 60% of those come from out of state. We’ve had students from Alaska – right now we have several students from Texas, New York, Florida. So, people come from all over the country.”

End-to-End Neurodiversity Employment Program

Anthony Pacilio, vice president of Neurodiverse Solutions, CAI, says, “It’s an employment program that will help companies and organizations realize the benefits of people who are neurodivergent.”

Anthony Pacilio, VP of Neurodiverse Solutions, CAI

He explains, “We have a model that brings the untapped talent pool into the workforce and creates more opportunities for individuals who couldn’t get through the hiring process or the interview. Our program builds rewarding, long lasting, meaningful careers for individuals who just haven’t had that opportunity.”

Regarding the memorandum of understanding with WV ATC, Pacilio says, “We’re developing a candidate pipeline. We’re taking what we see in the workforce trends. We can influence curriculum. We can drive training.”

Pacilio adds, “Our clients are in the financial sector, in the health care sector, in the IT sector, as well. We understand the requisitions that are out there, where the trends are focused, what it looks like.”

WV ATC’s Ellison says of the MOU, “It helps us significantly in helping soon-to-be graduates prepare for the transition into the workforce. We decided years ago that it wasn’t good enough to help people graduate from college. We had to help them prepare for and transition into the workforce.”

Marc Ellison, Ed.D., executive director of the WV Autism Training Center, Marshall University

“One of our initial goals was to follow people for a year after they graduate to help with employment needs. But we didn’t have any real infrastructure for that. It was a real challenge. What CAI’s MOU does for us is give us real infrastructure.”

Ellison notes a Marshall University graduate is already receiving CAI support. “We had a student that graduated at least at eight or nine years ago who we referred to CAI and they’re working with him to find placement. We’re going to be able to open it up to other people we support across the state. They don’t have to be at Marshall University – they can be involved in one of our other programs. It opens up the doors for a lot of people, not just the current college students.”

Workforce, Neurodiversity, and Data

“We would love to see what research comes out of this. Not a ton of research has been done in this space. Workforce development and neurodiversity. There are some statistics out there, but maybe we can help figure out after graduation, what’s the income level, what’s the average income, what kind of jobs are they doing? We obviously want to place them in professional jobs as much as we can,” says Pacilio.

“The most important thing we do is a kind of individualized, person-centered plan. There are people that are completely fine with disclosing [neurodiversity] 100%. And then there are people that don’t want to disclose at all. We’re not advising people as much as helping them make informed choices about it. A big part of this MOU is going to help us with continuing to improve workplace culture in understanding and accepting neurodiversity,” says Ellison.

He adds, “I think there’s still a lot more stigma. I worry, for instance, if someone immediately discloses and says, ‘I have autism, but I want to come in for a job interview,’ I know places that would just not take that application.”

“A big part of what we want to do is collect data, collect information that’s about ‘what’s being successful’ in the workplace. I can see us using that to try to help improve business culture in other places.”

Support Beyond the College Population

Ellison makes clear the WV ATC has additional programming, including one that helps families and educators learn how to support young children.

He also adds, “We have a behavioral mental health technical assistance program that’s carried out statewide. That’s a non-autism specific program. It includes things like mental health first aid. What we’re primarily doing is working to improve climate and culture in schools.”