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STATE: Cooper proclaims April World Autism Month, encourages more employment opportunities for people with autism

Gov. Roy Cooper proclaimed April World Autism Month 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 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, 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/