Hiring the neuro-diverse: 5 questions with Rowan’s Chiara Latimer

Many companies have programs that welcome employees on the autism spectrum — should yours?

Chiara Latimer is the coordinator of the Autism PATH Career Program at Rowan University. The program is designed to support the transition of neurodiverse students from higher education into meaningful employment.

We asked her five questions about the challenges and opportunities that come with hiring those from the neurodiverse community.

ROI-NJ: What should the goal be for companies that seek to hire neurodivergent employees?

Chiara Latimer: Organizations should have the primary goal of providing a sustainable, diverse and inclusive work environment. Secondly, there needs to be a priority of embracing neurodiversity and retaining neurodivergent employees by giving them space to share their experiences and needs in the workplace.

ROI: How should companies seeking to hire neurodivergent employees go about their job search? Should they reach out to Rowan and/or other universities with programs that support neurodivergent students and employees?

CL: Companies seeking to hire neurodivergent employees should build partnerships with Accessibility Service Offices in higher education, and specifically with autism support programs at colleges. This partnership is needed to encourage the development and retention of neurodivergent employees and to build pipelines for the recruitment of neurodivergent talent. In addition, there are larger organizations who specialize in neurodivergent hiring programs such as Integrate and Specialisterne, which can assist with recruiting neurodivergent employees.

ROI: What should training be like to encourage inclusivity, while considering the needs of new employees who may be neurodivergent?

CL: There is a need for training on neurodiversity and the importance of embracing neurodivergence as a fact of human diversity, as described by Judy Singer. Often, companies provide training on diversity, but do not address ableism and neurodiversity. Continuous training on ableism and neurodiversity by experts in the field reinforces inclusivity in the workplace.

ROI: Are there challenges that companies should expect when seeking to hire neurodivergent employees, possibly related to social skills and/or accommodations?

CL: While there may be challenges with hiring any employee, companies should recognize that creating an inclusive culture with a focus on embracing neurodiversity is the responsibility of the organization. This helps to promote a company culture where neurodivergent people can express what they need to be successful in the workplace.

In order to promote an accessible working environment, employers should learn and share resources related to successful employment outcomes and the accommodations implemented. It is often assumed that workplace accommodations are difficult to implement and expensive. However, the Job Accommodation Network conducted a survey in 2020 and identified that 56% of workplace accommodations are free.

By focusing on the challenges associated with hiring a population of people, we begin to think from a perspective of deficit instead of difference and acceptance.

ROI: Some companies might avoid hiring employees who may be on the spectrum. Why should employers embrace the opportunity to expand their workforce, be more inclusive and hire employees who might not have as many opportunities as neurotypical candidates?

CL: Hiring efforts should focus on recruiting and hiring the best candidates. Organizations who are committed to hiring neurodivergent people have found wonderful outcomes related to tapping into diverse talent, such as SAP, JPMorgan Chase and Ernst & Young. It is time for organizations to recognize that diversity commitment should extend to neurodiversity, and action is the best example of effort.