Governor Roy Cooper proclaimed April World Autism Month and April 2 World Autism Awareness and Acceptance Day to recognize and encourage better understanding of those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Read the proclamation.
Autism spectrum disorder is a neurological and developmental disorder that begins in early childhood and consists of a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication. According to a 2020 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 1 in 39, or 2.5 percent of, 8-year-olds have been identified as having autism in North Carolina, higher than the national average of 1.85 percent.
“All people, regardless of disability, should have access to the care, services, and opportunities they need to find fulfillment and achieve their potential,” said Governor Cooper. “Individuals with ASD face many challenges and also have much to offer. I took action to establish meaningful work as the preferred choice for all North Carolinians, and I’m pleased to see new and better employment opportunities happening for people on the autism spectrum.”
In 2019, Governor Cooper signed Executive Order 92, Employment First for North Carolinians with Disabilities, to increase opportunities for fair wages, employment, and careers for individuals with disabilities. As part of this initiative, the North Carolina Business Committee for Education (NCBCE) launched LiNC-IT (Linking Inclusion for Innovative Talent), a collaborative internship program that supports early career individuals with ASD and helps employers develop neurodiversity programs.
“We developed LiNC-IT to address two different challenges: employers in North Carolina need qualified team members and many individuals with ASD have the skills and education needed for successful employment but have difficulty getting a job,” said Caroline Sullivan, NCBCE Director.
NCBCE is a business-led, education non-profit (501-c3) that operates out of the Office of the Governor.
LiNC-IT interns and their managers are provided free job coaching services, funded by Vocational Rehabilitation, through the Autism Society of NC and the University of North Carolina TEACCH Autism Program. LiNC-IT works with employers to identify potential positions and helps to tailor the hiring process, from the interview all the way through the early days of employment, to best suit the needs of individuals with ASD.
Since the program’s launch in 2018, 58 individuals have been placed in internships, and 90 percent of interns are now employed full time.
North Carolina employers that have partnered with LiNC-IT to develop a neurodiversity internship program include the North Carolina Department of Administration, the North Carolina Department of Information Technology, Alamance Community College, NCBCE, Bank of America, Biogen, Credit Suisse, Fidelity Investments, Lenovo, Participate, PassionIT Group, SAS, Technica Editorial, UNC Genetics, UNC Healthcare, and Wells Fargo.
Team members with ASD can offer a number of benefits to companies and organizations, including excellent problem-solving skills, higher focus, loyalty, and a unique perspective. Neurodiversity programs aimed at increasing hiring of individuals with autism have proven beneficial due to improved standards and increased awareness of hiring practices.
In addition to LiNC-IT, the Triangle Neurodiversity Advisory Council and the North Carolina Higher Education Collaborative, have been established to help people with autism find and secure employment.
For more information on launching a neurodiversity program, or to apply for a LiNC-IT internship, please visit https://linc-it.org/
To learn more about Autism, visit: UNC TEACCH Autism Center https://teacch.com/, NC Autism Society, https://www.autismsociety-nc.org/ and the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development, https://autismcenter.duke.edu/
Reaction from LiNC-IT interns and employers
“As an early participant in Credit Suisse’s Neurodiversity Program, who went on to be hired full-time, my story has influenced multiple hiring managers to participate in the program. When the Governor of North Carolina visited our campus in 2019 to learn about the program, I helped to represent it. The presence of neurodivergent colleagues has also contributed to Autism awareness amongst people who previously had no exposure to ASD. We've helped deconstruct common stereotypes and build a path to further neurodiversity opportunities in the company.” Rebecca Alley, Credit Suisse
“You guys found me the internship that turned into a full-time job. I’m super grateful!” Paul Linton, Fidelity Investments
“I got assistance I needed when job searching, and they got me involved with a neurodiversity program that was beneficial for my career. Now after a 6-month test contract, I got my first job in my field.” Stephen Buchenberger, Wells Fargo
"I wholeheartedly feel that the program has done a terrific job of spreading autism awareness among staff and making the work environment a successful one for people like me.” Clark Johnson, Credit Suisse
“This program has enabled me to get my foot in the door to a company I probably wouldn’t have been able to on my own. The experience so far should provide me better opportunities with my career in the future. Fidelity seems eager to help people with various disabilities succeed in their organization.” Jason Haliski, Fidelity Investments
“We are really happy with the LiNC-IT program and the support we get from NCBCE, UNC TEACCH, and ASNC, and we are already seeing true business value from the diversity of thought, skills, and experiences neurodivergent candidates bring.” Ro Lissenden, Credit Suisse
"Fidelity Investments is focused on creating a workforce that reflects today’s diverse consumers, suppliers and businesses – which starts with a more inclusive hiring process to help ensure people across all elements of difference, both visible and invisible, do not get screened out by traditional recruiting, and continues with rewarding experiences and a supportive environment where associates receive support from managers and mentors trained in accessibility to ease assimilation and to help them thrive faster.” Arpita Sullivan, Talent Acquisition Programs Director for Fidelity Investments
“Our partnership in the LiNC-IT program positively impacts the mission of Vocational Rehabilitation. By highlighting the talents of neurodiverse jobseekers to meet the challenging recruitment needs of employers, LiNC-IT provides access to a pipeline of qualified, often overlooked talent, while neurodiverse jobseekers gain skills and experience that prepare them for life-changing careers.” Kathie Trotter, Division Director, NC Vocational Rehabilitation Services