The Wall Street Journal on March 28th published a headline article “Companies Find Autism Can Be a Job Skill.” The article was introduced with the statement “Some employers increasingly are viewing autism as an asset and not a deficiency in the work place. Business software company SAP has been actively seeking people with autism for jobs, not because of charitable outreach but because it believes features of autism may make some individuals better at certain jobs than those without autism. It’s a worthy initiative, according to disability experts, since 85 percent of adults with autism are estimated to be unemployed.”
In 2013 the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation gave its Productive Lives Award to SAP. It was a recognition of the company’s achievement and policies in regard to employing people who have suffered the disabilities of mental illness and capitalizing upon whatever unique skills the disability may enable. The article notes that “SAP isn’t the only company to have such a program. In the U.S., mortgage lender Freddie Mac has offered career-track internships since 2012, including IT, finance and research.” The first winner of the Foundation’s Productive Lives Award was Walgreens, Inc. and the leader of its program, Randolph Lewis, Senior Vice President of Supply Chain and Logistics. Walgreens led the way with rehabilitative training for prospective employees. They have indicated that these employees have proven to be outstandingly productive.
The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation program has supported work and career development education and training strategies through a large number of grants. Emphasis has been on overcoming disabilities through specialized training; for example, to name just a few: a 1988 NARSAD Grant to Dr. Kim Mueser, now Director of Psychiatric Rehabilitation at Boston University, supported work on social skills training to patients with schizophrenia; a 2000 NARSAD Grant to Dr. Stephanie Berns at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center, to measure how work settings can be adjusted to support the success of those with mental illness; a 2000 NARSAD Grant to Dr. Sofia Vinogradov at the University of California San Francisco, to develop computer training programs to improve cognitive symptom of schizophrenia; a 2006 NARSAD Grant to Dr. Aaron Beck at the University of Pennsylvania to study the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy for schizophrenia; and a 2009 NARSAD Grant to Dr. Susan McGurk at Dartmouth Medical School, for the development of an employer pilot program to improve cognitive skills.
The Foundation has helped build a broadening base of the science of rehabilitative training toward the aim of enabling those with mental illness to live productive lives. Most recently, in 2013 and 2014, we have awarded 295 NARSAD Grants to continue to bolster our progress in facilitating productive lives for those with mental illness.
We are pleased to share this increasing evidence that the research you support will provide the opportunities for better lives. Together, we cannot accept the continuing situation where an estimated 85 percent of adults diagnosed with autism are jobless and where mental illness eliminates or reduces the chances for a normal life.
We thank you for your continuing support of our joint effort.
Shirley S. Wang moderated a panel at the Foundation’s 2012 Women’s Mental Health Conference in NYC. Watch a highlights video.