Laura Klinger, PhD, associate professor in the UNC School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry, will lead a team developing a “neurodiversity toolkit” to help companies address challenges faced by employees with autism, such as social expectations and time management in the workplace.
Projects aimed at helping employers support workers with autism and improving North Carolina residents’ ability to test private well water have received the annual C. Felix Harvey Award to Advance Institutional Priorities at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which recognizes exemplary faculty who reflect the university’s commitment to innovative engagement and outreach that addresses real-world challenges. Each project will receive $75,000.
Laura Klinger, PhD, executive director of the UNC TEACCH Autism Program and associate professor in the UNC School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry, will lead a team developing a “neurodiversity toolkit” to help companies address challenges faced by employees with autism, such as social expectations and time management in the workplace.
The toolkit will feature a series of online e-learning modules, enabling companies to train their human resources staff and supervisors to support employees with autism. These modules will be created in collaboration with the TEACCH Employment Services team and local businesses (SAS Inc., Credit Suisse). The companies will pilot the program next year with the goal of making the toolkit available online to companies across the world.
“Across the country, one in 54 children have a diagnosis of autism,” Klinger said. “As they grow up, we are committed to creating opportunities for successful adult outcomes. The C. Felix Harvey Award allows us the opportunity to work with local business to create a toolkit that can support businesses and employees with autism here in North Carolina and across the world.”
At least 40% of adults with autism have average or above-average cognitive ability and the potential for successful and sustainable employment. However, research shows that less than 10% of these adults with autism are employed.
“Our toolkit focuses on supporting the employer and the workplace as the context for successful employment for adults with autism,” Klinger said. “We know that companies with a neurodiverse workforce report increased revenue, productivity, innovation and enhanced reputation with customers. Our goal is to help businesses create a neurodiverse workforce that includes employees with autism.”
To ensure the toolkit meets business needs, the project team will collaborate with the Linking NC with Innovative Talent Program, a statewide public/private partnership of government, nonprofits and employers dedicated to creating internships for adults with autism. The team also will collaborate with campus partners by integrating the University’s clinical and research knowledge of autism as well as business entrepreneurship expertise. In addition to Klinger, the team’s core members are Nancy Bagatell, PhD, associate professor in the UNC School of Medicine Department of Allied Health Sciences; Michael Chapman, director of TEACCH’s Supported Employment Program; and Danielle Pavliv, senior diversity and inclusion manager at SAS.
Read more about the 2020 Harvey Awards at The Well, UNC’s online publication dedicated to faculty and staff.