Oakton hosts over 80 community members for Neurodiversity in the Workplace event

(L-R): The panel included Aspiritech CEO Tara May, Abt Human Resources Manager Stefan Johnson, Oakton’s Senior Workforce and Community Education Program Developer Leah Kintner, Oakton Earn and Learn Hospitality Program Instructor Heidi Hedstrom, and Have Dreams Program Director Andrea Johnsen, and was facilitated by Oakton’s Dean of Counseling, Health and Wellness Services Mark Kiel.

Attendees learned about the new Earn and Learn Hospitality training program at Oakton

Des Plaines, Ill. (April 12, 2023) – Oakton hosted more than 80 community members to network and learn from each other about fostering a neurodiverse workforce. Held during Autism Acceptance Month, Oakton’s second annual neurodiversity event brought together local businesses and nonprofits, April 11.

“At Oakton, we aim to create just and thriving communities, recognizing that collaboration with the community is essential to achieving this vision,” said Teresa O'Sullivan, Oakton’s Access and Disability Resource Center senior manager and ADA coordinator. “Events like these are essential as they not only facilitate mutual learning but also enable us to support one another and the individuals we serve or employ by sharing resources.”

Representatives from various sectors, including local businesses, nonprofit organizations, social services agencies, and higher education institutions, discussed effective strategies for educating, hiring, training, retaining and promoting neurodivergent individuals.

The event featured a panel discussion with Abt Electronics, Aspiritech, and Have Dreams, in addition to representatives from Oakton and District 219, who talked about the new Earn and Learn Hospitality program, which is tailored for neurodivergent individuals. The goal of this new collaboration between Oakton’s Workforce Development and the Niles Township High School District 219 Bridges Adult Transitions Services is to support neurodivergent individuals in the transition from school into the workforce.

Facilitated by Oakton, the program provides Bridges students with an opportunity to earn a certificate by taking a comprehensive course, which includes a work-based, on-site learning experience at the Residence Inn by Marriott Hotel in Wilmette. The inaugural cohort will graduate in early May.

Neurodiversity refers to the concept that brain differences are natural. A “neurodivergent” individual refers to a person with autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia or other neurodiversities. Neurodivergent individuals, accounting for 15-20% of the global population, have unique needs that may require natural accommodations and support in school and work. The group often experiences bias and prejudice, which can lead to discrimination.

Oakton’s new strategic plan, Vision 2030: Building Just and Thriving Communities, includes the commitments to advancing racial justice, strengthening the student experience and enhancing workforce readiness and community engagement. For more information about services available through Oakton’s Access and Disability Resource Center, please visit the Access and Disability Resource Center page, call (847.635.1759) or email (accessdisability@oakton.edu).