The League School’s neurodiversity project relies on community, business partnerships

By Eileen Weber
January 4th, 2024
League School CEO Larry Sauer, MA, MS
League School CEO Larry Sauer, MA, MS

Career Learning Center in the works

Neurodiverse students display behaviors associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other neurologically atypical thoughts and behaviors like ADHD, Tourette Syndrome, social anxiety, and dyslexia. These are commonly viewed as differences and disabilities rather than classified mental disorders. Thanks to an initiative, opportunities for employment are available to students enrolled with the League School for Autism.

Launched in May 2023, the Neurodiversity Employment Incubator Partnership was created in response to a high rate of unemployment—greater than 80 percent—in the neurodiverse community.

The League School of Autism, formerly known as the League School of Greater Boston, was founded in 1966 and provides education for children and young adults with ASD.

League School CEO Larry Sauer, MA, MS, believes despite a need for employees, companies are reluctant to hire this demographic because of a fear of the unknown.

“The hardest part is attracting businesses. We have agencies that are a part of our group that are interested. But finding other businesses that are interested in accepting neurodivergent students is more difficult.” -- Larry Sauer, MA, MS, chief executive officer, The League School of Autism

“The hardest part is attracting businesses. We have agencies that are a part of our group that are interested,” he said. “But finding other businesses that are interested in accepting neurodivergent students is more difficult.”

Kristine Biagiotti-Bridges, BCPA, who helped create the Dell Technologies True Ability Employee Resource Group and Neurodiversity Hiring Program has assisted the school in its neurodiversity partnership program.

On a school podcast, she discussed not finding talent until adjusting the process to include individuals with neurodiversity.

“We allow our candidates to come in over a two-week period and actually showcase their skills and get to know the managers,” she explained. “So now our managers can see the skills they really have. We have hired some really amazing individuals.”

In an interview with Biagiotti-Bridges, she said the program hits home for her, having a son with autism and a daughter with special needs.

She sees the neurodiverse community as an untapped talent pool and hopes this program inspires other companies to reap the benefits of that talent.

In addition to the League School and Dell, other companies such as JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, and Microsoft have created similar hiring programs.

“We need companies working together in partnership, not competition” she said. “If Microsoft has a candidate that doesn’t quite fit for them, then they can give us a call at Dell to make that suggestion—`Hey, we’ve got a great candidate for you.’”

“Neurodivergent people are smart, but under- or unemployed. So how can we bring these folks in? They don’t do well in the interview process,” she said, further explaining the need for Dell’s two-week interview program. “Candidates love it because they don’t have anxiety and they can really show what they can do.”

Biagiotti-Bridges noted the company does not have to pick up the slack for neurodivergent employees every time they try to complete a task. She feels this population is loyal and have brought a different perspective that has reshaped how her company approaches business.

“When you look at their skillset, you’ll find they are more than capable of doing the job,” she said.

Don Lambert runs the Spectrum Empowerment Project and has a partnership with the League School.

Don Lambert runs the Spectrum Empowerment Project and has a partnership with the League School.

Don Lambert runs the Spectrum Empowerment Project and has a partnership with the League School. Lambert reached out because he exclusively works with neurodivergent people.

He now has 18 employees and said the work is rewarding. However, he cited downsides: a lack of true job coaches, who tend to drop off kids or strictly work on laptops.

“People kept telling me the flaw in my plan was that I was hiring low functioning kids, that I should replace them with high functioning kids and then I wouldn’t need a job coach,” he explained. “Okay, but then what about the low functioning kids? There’s such a need for employment for this group of people. But it’s all about training the kids and getting them employed. What happens after that? There’s no next step. “

Sauer explained his hiring partnerships with organizations like Dell, Spectrum, and two local YMCAs, is not the only part of the plan.

The school is in the beginning stages of a Career Learning Center. It will be based on a model of vocational/technical schools but still be licensed as a special needs school. The intent is to give students more exposure to job skills and expand the school’s community reach.

Available will be shop classes for building trades like plumbing, carpentry, and painting as well as clerical, office, and technology classes for coding and data entry.

Plans also include retail training on site with a café and a garden craft store open to the public.

The campus already has a small garden and they hope to add a greenhouse.

A groundbreaking is anticipated in 2024 with the opening in 2025.

At an event in April 2024, the League School hopes to attract potential employers so they can hear about what it is like to work with neurodivergent people, all they can bring to a job, and the challenges and accommodations they may need to make.

“Every neurodivergent person is unique,” Sauer said. “Some have a very strong focus and a deep attention to detail. When you hire them, they tend to be loyal. They are rule followers. If you’re willing to make some accommodations, they make a good employee. And 80 to 90 percent of our students will go out into the workforce in some manner.”

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