Initiative for Autism, Innovation and the Workforce


Center for Autism

Type: Vanderbilt Initiative Award (ViA)

This project will study the unique capabilities of autistic adults, as well as how to match these capabilities to 21st-century workforce needs and how to develop managers who can leverage the “autism advantage” to fuel innovation in their organizations. This initiative connects Vanderbilt’s world-leading researchers in autism-related disorders, psychometrics and managerial science, with Specialisterne, the world-leading recruiter and trainer of autistic individuals for employment with major corporations. With the Initiative for Autism, Innovation and the Workforce, Specialisterne is establishing a presence in Nashville, with UBS and HCA as the first major employment partners.

The past decade has documented the challenge of optimizing lifespan outcomes for individuals with increasingly common and impairing neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism. Traditional research, educational and employment approaches have focused on characterizing symptoms, impairments and documenting challenges related to unemployment, underemployment, psychiatric symptoms and other negative quality-of-life indicators. With these characteristics well-documented, there has emerged a great need and opportunity for creating, understanding and systematizing interventions for individuals with autism. At the same time, the advent of the information age and the data-intensive nature of work in the 21st century economy has opened new avenues for meaningful engagement of individuals with innate talents uniquely well suited to detailed, quantitative, data-immersive employment. Many cities have an unmet demand for talented, highly skilled and capable individuals in the sectors such as technology, finance, cyber-security, healthcare analytics and others. Within this context, a new paradigm has emerged to look beyond the traditional deficit view of autism; to instead understand and harness the unique abilities of neuro-diverse individuals to create systems of mutual benefit in education, research and the private sector. If we can understand and leverage the unique capabilities of autistic individuals to fuel innovation in the 21st century economy, we will have significantly addressed one of the emergent grand challenges of our time.

Faculty Participants

Lead Faculty in bold

College of Arts & Science

School of Medicine (Clinical)

School of Engineering

Owen Graduate School of Management

Peabody College

Graduate School

Related Links

Innovation for Autism, Innovation and the Workforce website