Helping Gifted Adults with Autism Find Meaningful Jobs | An Interview with Jessica Lee

The missing lego brick...found

Calling all Lego builders...have you ever been in that situation when you are on the brink of putting together your masterpiece and you can't find that one brick that you need? Well, finding Jessica Lee from The Spectrum Works is like finding that Lego brick that you need to put it all together. 

The Spectrum Works is a non-profit organization that connects gifted adults with autism with corporations that need talent. This isn't as simple as it sounds and Jessica and I get into the process of how this is done.

Prepare the fleet

Yeah, there are a lot of boats. Let's start with corporations. Corporations, specifically ones who are committed to neurodiversity and inclusion, need to be prepared and understand what cultural competency of neurodiversity looks like. This preparation looks like increasing awareness of autism and the laws and regulations (Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act) that may apply to them. Then, it's promoting inclusive practices and getting the workplace ready, which at minimum, aim to change hiring practices and create safe environments for disclosure. Getting a corporation ready for a neurodiverse workplace takes effort, time, and a team of people who are ready for DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) mindsets. 

Then, it's the talent. Gifted adults with autism need preparation as well and can't just rely on their talent or gifts. The Spectrum Works helps to get talent past the interview in order to get a chance to show what they can do. 

Let's not forget about the families and other systems that support adults with autism. They need guidance to make sure that the talent is getting all of the real-life practice that is necessary to be engaged in a hiring process, to get a job, and to keep a job, which they'll need to do independently. It starts with something as simple as refraining from creating resumes or writing emails for an adult who is applying for a job. By allowing the adult to create their own resumes and to write their own emails, they get IRL practice with how to present themselves and shape other soft skills that are necessary for the workplace.

Oh yeah, there's one more boat. That's the partnership with the Department of Rehabilitation and companies who are vendored with the Regional Center. When talent isn't ready for competitive employment yet, services from these organizations can be helpful to close the gap. The Spectrum Works keeps close tabs and builds relationships with these organizations if their talent needs a little more prep. 

According to Jessica, when everyone is engaged and in partnership, the tide is raised and when the tide is raised, all boats are raised.

Own it!

Preparing adults for the workplace is a major factor in The Spectrum Works' model. The technical aspects of applying for and getting a job are the easy parts. It's shaping self-narratives, promoting confidence, and practicing self-compassion that are the hard parts. Jessica often finds herself in the role of therapist, cheerleader, or mentor because individuals come to her without much success under their belts. It is estimated that over eighty percent (80%) of autistic adults are unemployed and fifty percent (50%) of autistic adults with jobs are underemployed. Meaning, adults with college degrees are working in jobs that don't require a college degree. Jessica wants all of the talent that she works with to own their unique gifts, to communicate how they can be valuable to a corporation, and to advocate in all of their environments. She wants them to have self-compassion so that they don't take failure personally, reframing this process as human. When individuals have the self-awareness to know how they do their best work AND are willing and motivated to build skills to close gaps, a win-win outcome is achieved (for the corporation and the talent).

Knocking down barriers

This may be the best part of The Spectrum Works' model - Their service is free for adults who are applying for jobs. Yup. Jessica's organization really puts their money where their mouth is. They want to remove barriers to get more autistic adults employed and are acutely aware that resources are probably running thin, especially when families have probably been funding interventions for decades. Also, they know that this untapped population has a lot of value to offer our world. Their abilities bring diversity to stagnant systems. 

It's not charity

Jessica doesn't rely on tugged heartstrings to fuel The Spectrum Work's business model. There is an inherent belief that their talent is capable, creative, and valuable and that they are assets unlike any other. Connecting gifted adults with autism to corporations who are ready for unique talent is just sound business strategy. 

Check out my interview with Jessica for juicy tidbits. The Spectrum Works is necessary and Jessica is a refreshing addition to our tribe.  

To find out more about The Spectrum Works, check out their website:

For a copy of the transcript of this interview, click here


Let's do this!