by Photo courtesy of San Diego County

San Diego County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a plan to open more doors for neurodivergent people entering the county workforce. 

County Board Chairman Nathan Fletcher and supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer authored the proposal, which calls on the county departments to obtain the necessary skills to interview and train neurodivergent people. 

According to an article published by Harvard Medical School, “neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways; there is no one "right" way of thinking, learning, and behaving, and differences are not viewed as deficits”. According to Nicole Baumer, MD, MEd and Julia Frueh, MD, who authored the article, "neurodiversity refers to the diversity of all people, but it is often used in the context of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as well as other neurological or developmental conditions such as ADHD or learning disabilities".  

A board document states that Autism affects one in 44 individuals in the United States, one in 26 in California, including tens of thousands of people in San Diego County. Current data suggests 75 percent of autistic adults are unemployed or under-employed, “and a delayed launch into the workforce for autistic young adults can have lasting negative impacts throughout an individual's lifetime," according to Fletcher and Lawson-Remer. 

The loss of worker productivity and cost of care for autism generates an economic cost of $137 billion in the United States, reads the board document. 

“The data underscores the urgent need to take action and address systematic barriers autistic adults face in finding and keeping meaningful employment,” reads the board document written by Fletcher and Lawson-Remer. 

San Diego County holds the title of one of the largest employers in the region, with more than 18,000 individuals in a variety of fields serving the county workforce. Along with recruitment and training, the board directed County Administrative Officer Helen Robbins-Meyer to give employees the right skills “in order to advance a more inclusive work culture," said Fletcher and Lawson-Remer. 

A 17-member working group crafted the proposal, in collaboration with the county's the DiversAbility Employee Resource Group. Partners included Autism Society San Diego, Autism Tree Project Foundation, National Foundation for Autism Research, San Diego Regional Center and San Diego Workforce Partnership.

Fletcher introduced Jay's Program in 2019, which provides people with intellectual and developmental disabilities with part-time, six-month paid internships in county departments.

“Today’s action marks a substantial step in supporting our neurodivergent community, by aiming to increase the County’s recruitment and outreach efforts to neurodivergent individuals, by aiming to increase the County’s recruitment and outreach efforts to neurodivergivent individuals, including autistic adults, by 2030,” wrote Fletcher and Lawson-Remer in the board document.

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