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Preparing Autistic Children for the Workforce with DE&I Expert Kerry D. Rosado

neurodiversity in the workforce preparing autistic kids for work

Today we're talking about how to prepare autistic children for the workforce! I am so excited to welcome Kerry D. Rosado to the podcast today.

Kerry is the Latinx Founder of Dyvergent Consulting Group, LLC. As a Leadership & DE&I Consultant, she helps global leaders and organizations in English and Spanish to build stronger teams where people can thrive by cultivating an inclusive culture. Kerry has more than 8 years of experience in tech, healthcare, and education spaces.

Kerry is a proud mother of two boys with autism and neurodiversity advocate. Her new book, Inclusive Leadership: Opening Doors for Marginalized Groups, just came out last November and is available on Amazon.

🎧 Want to listen? This post is based off of Episode 42 of the Neurodiverging Podcast! Listen on Apple Podcasts Google Podcasts | Spotify | Youtube

Today, we’re discussing:

  • what DE&I means, and how that applies to neurodiversity spaces
  • how can we as parents can help to prepare our autistic and neurodivergent kids for the future workplace
  • Kerry's tips for success based on her experience parenting her autistic children

Before I introduce Kerry, I'd like to thank all of my patrons for supporting this episode of Neurodiverging. I hope you’re enjoying all of the new neurodiversity resources that came out this month!

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Show Notes:

Guest Bio:

Kerry D. Rosado is a Latinx Founder of Dyvergent Consulting Group, LLC. As a Leadership & Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity (DE&I) Consultant, she helps global leaders and organizations in English and Spanish to build stronger teams where people can thrive by cultivating an inclusive culture.

Kerry has more than 8 years of experience in tech, healthcare, and education spaces. Her new book, Inclusive Leadership: Opening Doors for Marginalized Groups, just came out last November and is available on Amazon.

Kerry is a proud mother of two boys with autism and neurodiversity advocate. She has worked at top tech companies such as Microsoft and Amazon to advocate for diversity and inclusion. She is a former board member for People Acting in Community Together (PACT), where she empowered the community to solve social issues related to housing, immigration, education, restorative justice, and led community rallies.

Transcript: Preparing Autistic Children for the Workforce with DE&I Expert Kerry D. Rosado

(Thank you to Justice Ross for their beautiful transcription of this episode!)

SULLIVAN: Hi Kerry, welcome to the Neurodiverging podcast! Thank you so much for being here today.

ROSADO: Thank you for having me.

What is diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I), and what does a DE&I consultant do?

SULLIVAN: I'm very happy you're here. So you're a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant. Could you start off by telling us a little bit about what that means and what you do, and how you got into that field? 

ROSADO: Yeah! Let me start by first defining what diversity, equity, and inclusion kind of means, because I know we hear these terms a lot, but sometimes we may not necessarily know what they mean. And there isn't one specific definition, but the ones I like to use—

As far as when it comes to diversity: It's who you are, your identity, what makes you unique, and amazing, and beautiful. So think of all your characteristics, your gender, the way your brain functions, your sexual orientation, your beliefs, whatever that may be. All that is who you are, your whole self, and that's amazing, so embrace that diversity. And we all have something different to provide.

When it comes to equity, it has to do more with creating safe spaces, and kind of leveling the playing field, so everyone has equal access to what they need. And that can vary from each individual depending on their needs. So thinking about someone who has disabilities, [they] may need more of a support system than someone who doesn't have a disability.

When it comes to inclusion, that's more of an action. So think of it as a verb. It's a practice. So because it's a practice that requires action, it takes time to develop. So don't expect to get it right the first time around; it takes time, it can take years to really embrace it.

SULLIVAN: Yeah, yeah.

ROSADO: Because, as a practice, you also want to make sure you're implementing it in all aspects of your life—not just in one area, like just the workplace or just in school, but everywhere that you go. And that will make it a lot easier for you to just adopt more of an inclusive lens.

Going back to your original question, what does a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant do? We support organizations—and it could be an educational institution, or a business organization, government, etc—but essentially, you can break it into different parts. You can start off by providing an assessment, because you want to have a starting point. You want to have that baseline: Where is the organization at, what they've already implementing, what worked, what didn't work. And the only way to really know that is to do that assessment. The assessment consists of doing surveys to kind of figure out how the employees are feeling, what's happening really; how is the management creating a safe space, what's working, what's not. 

And then once you get past that, you get into the strategy. And you start to develop your D&I initiative. And that varies from organization to organization, again, because everyone's at a different part in the journey. Those that are just starting off may need to first identify a champion within the leadership team, create that committee for D&I, start implementing those employer resource groups if they have any, and so forth. Whereas other organizations are a little more established and have already accomplished that, so they're in a better place to really start implementing those best practices. So the consultant comes in as an outsider, kind of helping guide the organization, to kind of help avoid those pitfalls they might fall into if they were doing it on their own.

And then, there's different aspects too. If you're not doing the assessments for the strategy piece, you could be a trainer. And a trainer usually provides a workshop on a specific topic. They come in, and they can either work with the leadership, the employees, or the organization as a whole, and provide different trainings on different topics that they're looking for.

And the reason I got into D&I - So, oftentimes, many people perceive me as not being a Latina; many people don't realize that I'm actually Hispanic. I'm actually an immigrant, I wasn't born in the US. And so growing up, oftentimes people would question whether my mother was my mother, because of the color of her skin; she happens to have a darker tone. And so growing up, I really started to understand the different biases people carry, just based on how quickly we tend to judge individuals just based on what we see and ideas we've developed over time.

When I had my kids, both of my kids are neurodiverse, they both are on the autism spectrum. My oldest is 11, and the youngest is 9. And so learning that side, navigating the world that really isn't prepared to handle someone with autism... Navigating the health system, the educational system, and really starting to advocate for them kind of propelled me to get more into leadership positions. I joined a nonprofit board. Eventually, I got onto the school board. And I've always seeked positions in tech where I had the opportunity to really open doors for people who are in underrepresented groups. I've had the opportunity to work at top tech companies, such as Microsoft and Amazon, advocating for diversity and inclusion, and, most recently, this year, I launched my consultancy, Divergent Consulting Group.

SULLIVAN: Thank you so much. It was really interesting to hear your view of what D&I can do for a company. And also, especially as a white person, you know, I was trained to see white as the default, and I'm still—like, I've been aware of that for many years—but also, it's still in there. It takes forever to get it out. So I really appreciated your focus on: it's an activity. It's something you have to keep doing, and keep doing, and keep learning over the course of your life. And keep making mistakes, and keep learning from those mistakes.

Because I feel like a lot of times it's framed as a thing you should just be. And that feels like one day you'll achieve it, and you'll be an inclusive person. As opposed to a constant effort on your part to include people and make the world a better place to be. So I just really appreciated that, and you saying that.

How can workplaces be more inclusive of autistic and neurodivergent people?

And you did mention that your kids are neurodivergent, so I was wondering if we could talk a little bit about autism in the workplace, because I assume that that's a piece that you've thought of. Because I know, as a parent of autistic and ADHD kids, I think a lot about, "How will my kids function in a workplace in the future?" Especially with sensory processing issues, with different access needs— And I would just love to hear some of your perspective on that. Is there something that workplaces can be doing to help? And how can workplaces adapt to be more inclusive of neurodivergent people of all stripes when they come in the doors?

ROSADO: One of the best places to start off is really implementing an Autism At Work program. This is big step for any organization. And the key is to really, before you start onboarding someone who's neurodiverse, you want to start to prepare the management and the employees—so, the team members—so they know how to communicate effectively with someone on the autistic spectrum, they understand what autism is and how it impacts an individual. That way, they learn to really accept the person as they are, versus trying to fit them into a box and making them function like someone who's not neurodivergent, right? And so that training and awareness needs to happen before they start onboarding people.

And really help embrace and make autism really part of that corporate culture of the organization. And making sure they actually, actively have a program in place—because people come and go from the organization, and so you can't have just a one-time training and consider it done. It has to be ongoing. You can't assume that everyone that's currently at the company will be there forever, right? 

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

ROSADO: And so having that internally. When someone comes onboard they're trained with the autism program, and they know how to communicate effectively and support someone there.

Once you do have someone onboard, you want to make sure you have a good support system for them in place. We know we all have HR, we all have our managers, and oftentimes we get assigned a mentor or a team buddy, right? But that usually gets pulled away after, like, 90 days. So you want to really make sure you're providing additional support for this person to really navigate the team that they're in, but also the organization. So that may require two different mentors, and they may need that for more than just 90 days. So acknowledge that, you know, people on the autism spectrum do take a longer time to process information and to adapt to new situations.

Some organizations that have done a great job include Microsoft, SAP, JP Morgan Chase, just to name a few. And they really do take their time when they're interviewing people, it's not just, like, a typical interview where you go in for an hour and you're done. They actually have longer interview processes that can go on for days, or weeks even, just to give people the opportunity to really adapt to the scenario that they're in.

Something you'll want to work with is also coaches. Think about it: when we step into leadership, oftentimes we seek out someone who can coach us to become a leader. Well, someone who's on the autism spectrum needs coaching on how to function in the workplace. Because typically, that's not something you learn in school, right?

SULLIVAN: Very true.

ROSADO: So they're gonna need that guidance and coaching on how to collaborate in the team environment, because oftentimes - Think about how autism impacts people. And I see it in my kids all the time, you know—yes, they like being around other kids, but when it comes to actual play? They prefer to play on their own, individually. And so, it's a challenge for them to communicate and work in a team environment. So, thinking of a tech organization where engineering teams work collaboratively, it can be a challenge. So making sure that coach is there to really support the team, but also the individual, and how they can communicate effectively and work as a team, so they don't feel so overwhelmed and isolated.

So organizations really do need to do a better job at really connecting with organizations that specialize in this, that can provide that job training and coaching.

SULLIVAN: Mm-hm. Thank you so much, yeah. I think that coaching element is especially interesting and valuable, because I think so many organizations run by neurotypical managers and staff just try to make the autistic person fit into the neurotypical mold. And we just don't function at our best like that, and we aren't as valuable to the company like that. So hearing that it should go both ways seems, to me, a really valuable thing. That both sides should get coaching on communicating with the other side. Yeah.

ROSADO: And it's to the advantage of the management and the team. Because oftentimes, if you really think about it, most of us don't really receive communications coaching on how to collaborate and communicate effectively with others. So we all benefit, even if we're neurotypical or not, so it is to their advantage. They actually learn to become better leaders, and really communicate the needs of the team and their strategy in a more effective and clear way. They will ultimately benefit, and kind of help eliminate a lot of the ambiguity, misunderstandings, that could take place.

How can we support autistic kids now so that they'll be ready for work in the future?

SULLIVAN: Yeah, yeah. And there's so many different communication styles just among neurotypical people that I feel like making it more accepted for everybody to have supports, and different ways of doing things, can only help the team. So that's amazing. And what about for parents who are trying to support kids to go into the workplace? So from the other side - If you have autistic or ADHD children, are there things we can be doing at home to make them more work-ready, or more likely to succeed in a traditional job environment?

ROSADO: Yeah, so I haven't hit that stage yet, because my kids are only 9 and 11, but -

SULLIVAN: (Laughs) Me neither, they're still little, but I worry about it, you know? Yeah, I worry about it!

ROSADO: Yeah, but there are a lot of steps you can start to take. And really start to think ahead of time, from the moment they hit high school. Is your child on the track to receive a high school diploma, or are they on the other track, where they're just going to receive a certificate of completion? And if you know for a fact your kid can perform and do well academically, then fight for them to receive that diploma, and make sure they're on that track, because then they can apply to colleges. And there are some universities, like, for example, the University of Washington, that has a supportive system for people on the autism spectrum. And there's others as well. So definitely do your research as far as which ones in the country offer this, but I know for a fact that UW has that.

SULLIVAN: That's great.

ROSADO: That's something to keep in mind. But also, connect with your regional centers, and really start to look ahead of time, you know - What are some vocational trainings? Do they offer job training or coaching? Like, what if you have a very high-functioning individual who can get into a tech organization, and they don't have the support system they need to function there, what can you do on the outside, too, to kind of help support your child? So think ahead and really start to connect, and don't wait until they hit adulthood, or even high school. Start to look ahead and ask those questions. Really dig deep.

You also want to look at organizations, not just the regional center, but there's a lot of nonprofit organizations, and individual experts and coaches, that specialize in providing training, and they also work with the parents. So they train the parents on how they can support the adult, and also the individual themselves. One of those is actually, I want to mention them by name, Sara Sanders Gardener. Sara's an autism inclusive hiring trainer, so, someone you'll want to look into for sure.

SULLIVAN: That's great. Thank you. I will try to find them and put a link in the show notes.

ROSADO: Yeah, so. Definitely do your research, connect with your regional center. As far as funding goes, I don't know how it works, you might end up having to pay out of pocket—so work with your regional center or with your insurance company to see if that's something they're willing to cover once they become adults. Again, I haven't hit that stage so I don't know, hopefully they'll cover part of it, if not, it's coming out of pocket.

SULLIVAN: Yeah...

ROSADO: That's a challenge for sure we all face.

What are some skills parents can focus on to help children be ready for the workplace?

SULLIVAN: Yeah, yeah, a lot of financial challenges with autistic/ADHD kids, so. Are there specific skills that you think are important in the workplace that parents can focus on, even younger kids? 

ROSADO: Yeah, I think - Right from the moment you find out your child has been diagnosed, really work hard to push their boundaries, because oftentimes, kids on the autism spectrum like to stick to schedules and routines, they want the same food every time, you know. You deviate from that routine, it upsets them. But don't be afraid to challenge them a bit. Introduce them to different things. Take them out into the community, introduce them to the arts, music, art museums, and try to really introduce them to playing with other kids. And that may require, you know, extra effort on your part, communicating with other parents, letting them know, "Hey, my kid is on the autism spectrum, they behave differently." But, you know, they still need that interaction. And kind of work around that, and really start to build that support system. They need that interaction from a young age.

And so, you know, really fighting in the school system, too, to introduce them to general ed courses. So, work with individuals that specialize in those areas for sure, from an early stage.

But definitely, that interaction with other people? The younger they start, the better off they'll be. 

SULLIVAN: Yeah, yeah. The communication, the collaboration, emotional intelligence kind of skill set, is really important in the workplace as they get older.

ROSADO: I also wanted to highlight martial arts. It's great. And it's really - Prior to COVID, I had my kids in martial arts. I really saw their confidence level boost when they felt more empowered, and that's something that, really, martial arts can definitely do for any individual. You know, they're learning self-defense, but they're also learning teamwork and self-control. And so that's something that's really important. Because I know my kids sometimes have major outbursts when they become upset, and so definitely martial arts can kind of help tone it down a little bit, they have a way to kind of release that in a positive way, and at the same time, they're learning those self-defense skills. That's something to look into as well.

SULLIVAN: Thank you, that's great.

And are there any community resources that you'd recommend particularly for neurodivergent families?

ROSADO: I wanted to highlight the Autism Society. I'm a member. So I live in the Inland Empire in California, and so I'm a member of the Autism Society there. And they do a pretty good job, even though we're doing a lot of remote stuff. One thing I really appreciate, they do a lot of storytime and music time with the kids. Something I really like also is they do art classes with the kids. And so, my older one is really artistic, and he likes drawing and sketching, so he really benefits from that. Plus, the school he's in does it, so he gets double the time to do art. So if you find that your child is really into the arts, really harness that, and really help them get into that. So there's something to consider.

SULLIVAN: Thank you. The Autism Society of Boulder County is also awesome, just awesome, I'm so happy that I found it. Because they do so many things, they have a lot of community activities, and - We don't do art classes though, I'll have to recommend that. But I have a little artist too, so, that would be nice. But yeah. But they are great. They offer a lot of support groups, too, for parents, for siblings of autistic kids, for autistic youths, all sorts of things. 

ROSADO: All ages.

SULLIVAN: Yeah, all ages, it's great. It's great. Alright, well thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with us today, I learned so many things! I'm really excited to get this out. Where can folks find you? And also, I hear you have a book coming out, can you tell us a little bit about that?

Learn more about Kerry D. Rosado, her consultant group, and her new book!

ROSADO: Yeah, so you can find me at www.dyvergentCG.com, that's "dyvergent" with a "Y." You can also just Google me, Kerry Rosado, K-E-R-R-Y, and my last name Rosado, R-O-S-A-D-O, and everything pops up. And yes, I have a book coming out this Fall. It's entitled Inclusive Leadership: Opening Doors for Marginalized Groups. So it doesn't just focus on neurodiversity, but I do dedicate a whole chapter to that. It focuses on how leaders can really become more empathetic leaders, and really create those safe spaces where people really feel comfortable, welcome, and accepted, for everyone that falls into a marginalized group. So I go into LGBTQ, race, obviously neurodiversity, and different topics. So definitely check it out, it's coming out later this Fall, around the November, December time frame.

SULLIVAN: So exciting. It sounds really great. I think we just need as many diversity resources as we can possibly get, especially when it comes to the workplace. So, yeah, thank you for all your work there. And folks, show notes will have links to all of Kerry's stuff, so please go check out her website and learn all the things.

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