Autism summit connects neurodiverse students and employers | The Triangle

Autism summit connects neurodiverse students and employers

Photograph courtesy of Amy Edwards.

The Drexel Autism Support Program held an event Nov. 27 at The Study at University City called “Autism at Work Summit: University Series.”

The “Autism at Work” program was launched in 2013 by SAP Software Solutions.  They started the “Autism at Work Summit” in 2014 and it has been held by a different company every year since.  The goal of the summit is to start conversations among employers about creating programs for people with autism, according to Amy Edwards, director of the DASP.

This most recent event — the “Autism at Work Summit: University Series” held in collaboration with SAP Software Solutions and funded by the Olitsky Family Foundation — is the first to include universities, such as Drexel, Carnegie Mellon University and West Chester University, in the discussion with employers.

“The ‘Autism at Work Summit’ has been held [in the past] with employers … but this was the first event that brought the universities into the conversation,” Edwards said. “Drexel can definitely help better prepare neurodiverse students if we know what employers are experiencing and what they are looking for.”

The daylong event welcomed speakers from different companies, as well as advocates for autism support programs.

John Elder Robison, an autistic adult and New York Times bestselling author, presented “Neurodiversity: At College and in the Workplace,” and is a great advocate for autistic students in Edwards’ opinion.

Robison shared his personal story about growing up undiagnosed with autism. From there, he took an interest in machines and worked for the infamous group Kiss designing special effects guitars. Robison has also worked to advise United States public health agencies about why autism research is meaningful.

“You might wonder what does a person like me has to offer a group of esteemed scientists?” Robison said. “But I don’t need to be a scientist to know what research is meaningful to people like me. And I realized that so much of the research that we were doing was — frankly — of no possible benefit to me or anyone else living with autism today.”

Jane Thierfeld Brown, Ed.D is the Assistant Clinical Professor at Yale Child Study, Yale Medical School and Director of College Autism Spectrum at Yale University. She spoke about adequately preparing students with autism for job searches after graduation. According to Brown, college is like a vehicle, and the end goal is to become independent and successful. The best way to foster this success is to start early.

“We need to start before someone is 18 and going off to college, and has so much of their attitude and rituals and habits already established,” Thierfeld Brown said. “[We need to] make sure the student is getting the experiences they need while still in that really supported environment at high school that has infinitely more services than any student is going to get at college.”

However, the DASP is working to change that reality and create a student-centered program for supporting those with autism.

According to the Drexel Student Life website, the program is person-centered, individualized and focuses on employment skills, social development and planning for success.

“Over the past year, we’ve built up DASP to include many different options for students with autism,” Edwards said.

Many Drexel University staff members attended the “Autism at Work Summit: University Series,” which shows that the faculty is committed to making sure Drexel students are prepared. It also shows that Drexel is devoted to learning more about the autistic population and current needs in the workforce.

“It was great to see so many people as interested in this topic as we are,” Edwards said. “I can’t wait to do it next year and include more topics and information.”