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Empowering Young Adults With Autism for Workplace Success

Center for BrainHealth

The Brain Performance Institute at UT Dallas’ Center for BrainHealth established an internship program with 29 Acres, an innovative housing community for young adults with autism, for participants to practice and hone social skills in a remote workplace. Called the BrainHealth Accelerator Program, this 6-week virtual internship included ongoing coaching that focused on topics such as how to organize, plan for, and lead virtual meetings, how to give and receive feedback, and how to communicate digitally. Five students of 29 Acres’ Transition Academy completed the program over the summer. They worked together to complete a long-term, team-based project that required establishing a YouTube channel, problem-solving how to stream and edit videos, creating and uploading videos, and designing a personal logo for their channel. “People with autism may have all the technical skills for a job, but they often need additional support to build soft skills that are so important for successful collaboration with colleagues at work,” said director of Youth and Family Innovations Maria Johnson, MA, CCC/SLP. “The BrainHealth Accelerator Program provides this support to accelerate the pathway to sustained employment.” Students also completed security awareness training where they learned about phishing attacks and other email scams. One of the work assignments was for each student to look through their emails and find an example of a phishing attack. This taught students to read their emails carefully and not click on suspicious links or open random attachments. The BrainHealth team further leveraged the program to establish effective employer practices and principles to support employees with autism. [any examples? Are we going to publish them at some point?] “What we learn with this program can inform future employer-employee relations regarding brain-healthy ways to make the workplace more conducive to collaboration with neurodiverse populations,” continued Johnson. According to Debra Caudy, MD, president and board chair of 29 Acres, “National data indicates that the vast majority of adults with autism are either unemployed or underemployed, with estimates ranging to as high as 90%. This should not be the case, and we hope to instill meaningful change with enlightened initiatives like the BrainHealth Accelerator Program.” About Center for BrainHealthThe Center for BrainHealth®, part of The University of Texas at Dallas, is a translational research institute committed to enhancing, preserving and restoring brain health across the lifespan. Major research areas include the use of functional and structural neuroimaging techniques to better understand the neurobiology supporting cognition and emotion in health and disease. This leading-edge scientific exploration is translated quickly into practical innovations to improve how people think, work and live, empowering people of all ages to unlock their brain potential. Translational innovations build on Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Tactics (SMART™), a proprietary methodology developed and tested by BrainHealth researchers and other teams over three decades.

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Maria Johnson, MA, CCC-SLP

Director, Youth & Family Innovations Lead Research Clinician and Trainer, Charisma Virtual Social Coaching


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