The Autism and Innovation Initiative

Maureen Dunne, Disability and Human Development, UIC
Tamar Heller, Disability and Human Development, UIC
Daria Tsoupikova, New Media Design; Electronic Visualization Laboratory, UIC

Industry Partners:  Microsoft Technology and Civic Engagement Group, Yolobe.com, Chamber 630, Code DuPage, Venture 1818 Partners, Autism 911, LearnStep, Inklusion Works, Inklusion Capital, Social Skills Hero, TMT Partners

Community Partners: Autism Community Ventures, Autism Society of Southern Illinois, Mental Health Association of Greater Chicago, The Transiiton2Success Project, MakerSpace Lab, Community High School District 99, University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (University Partner), Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (University Partner), Grupo Salto, The Autism Program of Illinois (TAP)

Abstract:
In recent years, the shortage of technology talent in Illinois and the outmigration of engineers to other states has been identified as a major concern. It is also estimated that approximately 85 percent of people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) remain unemployed or underemployed. ASD is the fastest growing developmental disability and is diagnosed more frequently than AIDS, cancer and diabetes combined, with 1 in 59 children now being diagnosed (CDC, 2018). The mission of the Autism and Innovation Initiative is to strengthen the technology and innovation talent pipeline in Illinois by including people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and taking a strength-based approach to training, entrepreneurship and workforce development. 

In pioneering an inclusive model to training, attracting and retaining talent in Illinois, the program will offer opportunities for engagement with innovative technology projects to inspire enthusiasm for technology, innovation and entrepreneurship. The Autism and Innovation Initiative, in collaboration with industry and community partners, will spearhead the foundation of a statewide Innovation Hub that takes a strength-based approach to including individuals with autism in the Illinois STEM workforce.

The initial milestones this initiative will accomplish include 1) Coding Bootcamps and Hackathons in different regions of Illinois; 2) STEM Faculty Training Workshop on ASD; 3) Community College Bridge to UIC Program to Support STEM Transfer Students with Autism; and 4) Autism and Technology Working Research Group and Seminar Courses to drive interdisciplinary collaborations, innovative technology solutions and entrepreneurship. While a core focus is on integrating persons with autism into the Illinois workforce, the statewide Innovation Hub seeks to invigorate the overall technology pipeline and retain engineering talent.