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Supervisors Introduce New Effort to Support Autistic and Neurodivergent Workers



County Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer and Chair Nathan Fletcher will introduce a proposal on Tuesday to recruit to the County workforce neurodivergent individuals, including autistic people, and ensure County departments have the proper skills to interview, train, and work with these members of our community. In setting this example, the Supervisors are urging other local employers to follow their lead as part of a broader push to provide San Diegans with autism and other neurodiverse traits more autonomy and opportunity in their lives. 

Autism affects one in 44 Americans and one in 26 individuals in California, including tens of thousands of people in San Diego County. Current data suggest approximately 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.

“We all know someone in our community whose life has been touched by autism, and for me, it's my amazing daughter,” said Supervisor Lawson-Remer, whose toddler was diagnosed with autism in the Spring of 2021. “I want every person living with autism and neurodiversity to have the same opportunities as anyone else, but they are often overlooked or pushed to the side, exacting a great toll on them personally and our society as a whole. With this proposal, San Diego County will lead by example in promoting equity and prosperity across cognitive differences, and we encourage other local employers to join us in this movement.” 

The proposal was crafted over six months in a collaborative process led by a 17-member working group that included representatives of  Autism Society San Diego, the Autism Tree Project Foundation, the National Foundation for Autism Research, the San Diego Regional Center, the San Diego Workforce Partnership, and the County of San Diego’s DiversAbility Employee Resource Group. 

Tuesday’s proposal builds upon Jay’s Program, a policy introduced in 2019 by Chair Nathan Fletcher to provide internship opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities for part-time, six-month paid internships with County of San Diego departments (learn more).  Twenty individuals have participated in the program, and another cohort will start in July of 2022.  Together, Jay’s Program and this new initiative will create an inclusive work environment at the County. 

“People who are neurodivergent and autistic are capable and willing to work, but it is up to us as an organization to take intentional actions to create real opportunities for them – that is what this policy positions our County to do,” said Chair Fletcher. “It takes the work we have done previously with Jay’s Program to the next level, and I appreciate Supervisor Lawson-Remer’s leadership on this issue.”   

If passed, it would do the following:

  • Increase the County’s recruitment and outreach efforts of neurodivergent applicants, including applicants with autism. 

  • Require all County staff and hiring managers to complete a disability and neurodiversity training.

  • Equip County employees with skills useful in the interview process in order to advance a more inclusive work culture, including an understanding of the differences in the processing of information, social cues, as well as verbal and non-verbal cues of neurodivergent individuals, and neurotypical individuals. 

The proposal will also help the County more effectively recruit in a tight labor market by tapping into skilled workers in the autistic and neurodiverse community. Underemployment of the autistic community generates an economic cost of $137 billion every year in the United States.

“Individuals with autism are willing and able to work - and the County of San Diego has many great positions to fill. This is an initiative that will bring these two groups together in a format that will ensure success for both,” said Andrea Korogi, Executive Director, Autism Society San Diego

Failing to adequately include neurodivergent people in the workforce harms those individuals and imposes steep societal costs, like reduced personal independence, negative impacts on mental health, lost worker productivity, reduced economic output, and increased expenditures on taxpayer-supported social service programs for those without the means to support themselves. 

“As someone who has experienced discriminatory ableism and been denied opportunities because of how autism is often misunderstood, this County proposal is not only welcome but necessary,” said Brian Lafferty, a Legal Support Assistant for the County of San Diego. “It will allow people like me to thrive and be accepted”

“The County of San Diego is one of the largest employers in our community and this initiative sets the tone for all businesses in the county to increase employment and outreach efforts to pair neurodivergent applicants, including those with autism, with paid employment opportunities,” said Mark Klaus Executive Director of the San Diego Regional Center. “On behalf of the San Diego Regional Center and the more than 36,000 individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities we support, I want to thank Chair Nathan Fletcher and Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer for their dedication and leadership to expanding employment opportunities for neurodivergent individuals in San Diego County.”

“Employment is much more than a paycheck. It offers the individual a chance to earn a living, become more self-reliance and independent, and start realizing their dreams. We are excited to support the neurodiversity efforts of Supervisors Lawson-Remer and Nathan Fletcher! We believe this work is essential for furthering the opportunities for those with autism,” said Sharon and Juan Leon from the National Foundation for Autism Research.

“To see San Diego striving to be a leader on an issue so substantive and important to me, both as an Autistic person in the workforce looking to blaze trails for others and as a community leader that has worked with many families with individuals on the Autism Spectrum, is a great joy,” said Garret Hoff of the Autism Tree Foundation.