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Dr. David O. Black is a pediatric neuropsychologist, director of the Center for Assessment And Treatment, and an internationally recognized expert in autism spectrum and related disorders. He provides ongoing individual and family consultation and support with an emphasis in assisting families navigate the transition to adulthood. In addition to his work with individuals who have social communication challenges, Dr. Black provides comprehensive neuropsychological assessment and consultation services to children, adolescents, and adults with learning differences, attention disorders, and medical conditions such as epilepsy, traumatic brain injury, and genetic disorders. Prior to founding the Center for Assessment And Treatment, Dr. Black was a researcher in the Pediatrics and Developmental Neuroscience Branch at the National Institute of Mental Health, NIH. 

Interview with Dr. David O. Black

BF: This year, BroadFutures is highlighting different voices for change within the neurodiverse community. Our focus for May is Mental Health Awareness and learning more from mental health professionals like yourself. Can you talk to us more about what interested you in pursuing a career that serves neurodivergent young people and their families? 

DB: I have always been fascinated by how the mind works and the way people view and interact with the world. Everyone deserves the opportunity to thrive and to reach their full potential.  As a neuropsychologist, I have the honor of helping people, including neurodivergent young people, better understand the unique way their brain works - their ways of learning, relating with others, processing language and information, and understanding the world.  Society needs people who process and see things differently, have different strengths, and unique approaches to tackling complex problems. I believe neurodivergence makes the world a better place for us all.  

BF: How did you become involved with BroadFutures, and how do you see your work overlapping with the work we do? 

DB: Carolyn and I first met at the early stages of BroadFutures when the organization was just getting started. We immediately recognized we had a common purpose of supporting this community and have worked together since. I've had [a] focus on post-secondary transition, folks that, anywhere from 10th or 11th grade on through mid-20s, transition to, ‘how do I take charge of my life?’ ‘How do I make my way into the workforce?’. It's enormously challenging making that switch from even at the college level, [and] I [have] spent so much time with folks that were enormously, exquisitely capable and couldn't get a job, or they were grossly underemployed.

I think one of the things BroadFutures does is it recognizes the importance of a diverse workforce, not just from the standpoint of diversity…[but the] range of cognitive abilities that are out there as our society gets more and more complex, as the work needs get more and more complex. We desperately need different kinds of minds, people with different strengths, different abilities, and a lot of folks are sort of frozen out of that process because they can't get through the front door…I think BroadFutures does a nice job of acknowledging that, supporting that on both ends.

BF: What are some common misconceptions about neurodiversity in the context of mental health, and how can we challenge those misconceptions in society? 

DB: I think a key misconception is that somehow these categories are non-overlapping. Virtually every human trait is on a continuum, [and] each person is a unique combination of traits. None of us are defined by diagnoses or our conditions. It is critical to take the time to get to know each person individually and to be extremely cautious about sweeping generalizations, [as] neurodivergence is just one aspect of a person’s identity. 

BF: What advice would you give to neurodiverse young people navigating new, and sometimes stressful work and life transitions?

DB: 

  1. Self-advocate. Understanding and advocating for what you need to succeed is important. Allow others to support you by letting them know what your talents are and what you need to be successful.
  2. Know your limits and respect them. All of us have a limited capacity to cope – knowing what they are and respecting them allows us to succeed.  
  3. Have a person in your life that is your point-person to support you through life transitions and in the workplace. This could be a mentor, therapist, family member, or a partner.
  4. Your success is your responsibility – it is up to you to self-advocate and do the work necessary to achieve your goals.   
  5. Have realistic expectations of work - no job is perfect. In all jobs there are things that are uninteresting, undesirable, but still have to be done. Work to find a job and career path where the interesting parts of the job outweigh the other parts.
  6. Understand the importance of relationships in the workplace.  How you interact with your coworkers and supervisors matter. Forming good relationships at work will enhance your work experience and success.   

BF: How can we better support neurodivergent people’s mental health in the workplace, or as they prepare for the workplace?

DB: 

  1. Understand and acknowledge that social, sensory, and communication needs vary from person to person. Strive to provide a work environment that works for everyone.
  2. Clear communication – explicit expectations help.
  3. Be curious – when there is a problem with meeting expectations, be curious about why and work collaboratively to problem solve.
  4. Regular check-ins (weekly, biweekly, monthly), lots of structure and accountability. 
  5. Explicit feedback – what are the expectations and how will the employee know if they are being met.
  6. As young people are transitioning to the workforce, it helps a lot if the immediate supervisor has a relationship with the employee and their mentor (point-person) to support them in developing the range of skills needed to navigate the workplace and work duties successfully. 
  7. If you invest in your employee and provide the support they need, that will be paid back 10-fold. Feeling valued will increase productivity and loyalty.   

BF: Looking ahead, what do you hope to see in terms of advancements in mental health awareness for neurodiverse people and support in general?

DB: The biggest thing that I run into with mental health providers that don't routinely work with people that are neurodivergent, is they have presumptions about why they're struggling, presumptions about sources of stress, sources of anxiety, sources of depression. And when those preconceptions aren't challenged, then you end up working superficially. If, as mental health providers, we can be more curious about what [each] individual brain-based difference might [be], how that might be contributing to [someone’s] lived experience in a work environment, [then] there's opportunities to make a bigger difference. 

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17 May 2024

Dr. David O. Black is a pediatric neuropsychologist, director of the Center for Assessment And Treatment, and an internationally recognized expert in autism spectrum and related disorders. He provides ongoing individual and family consultation and support with an emphasis in assisting families navigate the transition to adulthood. In addition to his work with individuals who […]

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About AJ Link

AJ Link (he/him) is openly autistic. He received his JD from The George Washington University Law School and his LL.M in Space Law at the University of Mississippi School of Law. AJ serves as a research director for the Jus Ad Astra project, the Accessibility Team Lead for AstroAccess, the Space Law and Policy Chair for Black in Astro, and a cofounder of the Palestine Space Institute. He is the founding president of the National Disabled Law Students Association and the National Disabled Legal Professionals Association. AJ also works as a policy analyst for the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and is a fellow at For All Moonkind’s Ethics Institute. 

AJ shared with us what autism acceptance means to him and how he built a career around neurodiversity and disability advocacy. Read some of the highlights from the conversation below.

Interview with AJ Link

BF: This year, BroadFutures is highlighting different voices for change within the neurodiverse community. Our focus for April is Autism Acceptance and learning more from self advocates like yourself. Can you talk more about what Autism Acceptance means to you and what this has looked like in your life? 

AL: I think Autism Acceptance is going beyond mere acknowledgement and awareness and moving towards building a more inclusive and accessible world for autistic people, and really all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and all neurodivergent folks. 

So, the acceptance part comes in making sure that people aren't too judgmental when they meet individuals who think differently than them or process things differently. It’s about being really open-minded about the different ways that brains can exist. 

BF: What was your pathway to finding a sense of belonging within the autistic community? 

AL:  I think for me, as an adult who didn't find out I was autistic until I was an adult, one of the ways that I found community was meeting other autistic people, making friends with openly autistic people, and learning more about the autistic community, as someone who grew up outside of the community because I didn't know I was autistic. 

I didn’t really have those ties to the community until I started doing autistic advocacy and meeting more autistic people and being able to be around them, communicate with them, and become friends with them. 

BF: In many ways, your professional career focuses have been around neurodiversity advocacy. For those who aren't familiar with your work, you're the President of the National Disabled Legal Professionals Association and also the Policy Analyst at the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network. Why was it important for you to highlight neurodiversity in your professional career? 

AL: I don't know that it was important. It was just where I was doing the most work in advocacy and where my path took me. When I was in school, I did a lot of advocacy for other students and that looked like doing on-campus advocacy, off-campus advocacy, [and] advocacy around the country. So, I don't know that I intentionally picked [neurodiversity as a focus area] it's just that I kept doing advocacy work and that led to more work and more opportunities in the advocacy space. And I've just continued to do that work. 

BF: You mentioned that even when you were in college you have always acted as an advocate for others. How have you advocated for yourself?

AL: Oh, that's really interesting. I honestly don't have to do that much self-advocacy in the workplace or my professional life now, mostly because I'm pretty open about the things I need in order to work best in an environment. I was always focused on communicating what I needed in order to thrive in an environment. So, whether that was different working hours or a quiet working space or lunch at a different time or by myself. For me, it wasn't so much thinking about it as being a self advocate and advocating for myself, more so protecting myself and being able to communicate my needs in order to be the best person in whatever environment I was in. 

BF: What is one way that you practice self-acceptance in your life? 

AL: I really try not to force myself into situations I know I won't like, or have expectations of myself that I [should] do things like other people do or how society says they have to be done. It's not so much that I struggle to accept myself; I fully accept myself. I think the tension in my life is getting other people to accept that I know who I want to be. I know what I want to do and I'm okay with the consequences. I'm okay with it being different from the norm. 

BF: Is there anything that you wish people knew more about autism?

AL: It's really complicated and multifaceted and everyone's experience being autistic and people's relationship to autism is different. There are people who have different support needs, not everyone who's autistic has the same support needs or goes about life in the same way. 

And it's really the diversity of human experience just like any other identity. I wish more people understood that it's okay to not fully understand what it means for a singular individual to be autistic, but rather be accepting of the multitude of experiences that come with being autistic. 

BF: Can you name one thing that you love about being autistic? 

AL: I think the ability to be really certain about what I want. I’ve always been that way. I didn't always understand or connect it to being autistic, but for me, it's great being able to just say, “I like this” or “I don't like this” and not have to debate with myself [or try] to convince myself to like or dislike things. For me, I feel like that's amazing. I feel really fortunate because I know that not everyone has that opportunity or that ability.

BF: Is there any piece of advice that you would give to autistic young professionals just starting out on their careers? 

AL: Don't be afraid to be yourself. I know that a lot of times the world says you have to be a certain way, or do things a certain way, or be a specific type of person, but there's a lot of reward in moving through the world as your unique self without apology. Sometimes it's difficult and frustrating and sometimes there are negative consequences to that, but overall, I would say it's worthwhile and fulfilling to not compromise who you are to try to fit in with the rest of the world. 

BF: Thank you so much for sharing your story and all of your insights with us, AJ!

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25 April 2024

About AJ Link AJ Link (he/him) is openly autistic. He received his JD from The George Washington University Law School and his LL.M in Space Law at the University of Mississippi School of Law. AJ serves as a research director for the Jus Ad Astra project, the Accessibility Team Lead for AstroAccess, the Space Law […]

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In honor of Women’s History Month, BroadFutures interviewed  Samantha “Sam” Martin, a guest on our 2023 Intern Lived Experience Panel. Sam is a driven and passionate self-advocate and young professional who will be graduating from Gettysburg College this spring with a degree in Political Science, Public Policy, and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She is looking forward to starting her Political Science Ph.D. program at Syracuse University in the Fall. Sam interned at the National Women’s Political Caucus and Public Religion Research Institute here in DC.

Sam reflected on her experiences as a neurodivergent woman in the workplace in an insightful conversation with BroadFutures. Read some of the highlights from their conversation below.

BroadFutures (BF) : This year BroadFutures is focusing on uplifting and supporting the many diverse voices within our community. Could you share more about what that means to you and what community looks like from your perspective?

Sam Martin (SM): [Community] is something that is very important to me. Something I've realized about community is that it can be really hard to find when you have autism, especially in these formalized settings like in school and in the workplace. 

I've struggled a lot with [finding community] historically; I struggled all throughout high school [but] when I got to college there was a really big change in that regard. I started meeting people that I had more in common with and I was able to grow a network beyond what I could ever imagine.

BF: You mentioned the power of community when you were finding it on your own through college; can you talk more about your experience finding community in the workplace? 

SM: When I got to DC I worked a number of internships that really helped me build my professional network. [During] my internship with the Public Religion Research Institute [I met] another neurodiverse person in my workplace. Meeting someone with those same neurodiverse traits [as me] who was interested in the same thing I was was so important. It's been really special finding people, especially other neurodiverse people.

That's something that I've really noticed about BroadFutures and that I really appreciate. The ability to create this neurodiverse network of people who are interested in politics, hospitality, and human social services fields and creating this network of people from across the country [is] such an important thing because connecting with other neurodiverse adults is really hard [...] because there aren't many formal resources. It's important to build those kinds of networks regardless, but especially among women and non binary people. 

BF: You shared that in the past year you interned at the National Women's Political Caucus and the Public Religion Research Institute. What helped you navigate the workplace as a neurodivergent woman at these internships?

SM: My internship with the Public Religion Research Institute was completely in person and my internship with the National Women's Political Caucus was completely virtual, so I had to adopt two very different sets of strategies for it. Finding an alliance [and] friendship with [my coworker] was really important and having an employer that understood neurodiversity and was willing to be accepting of it was also super important. 

Being able to ask for help and being able to ask for the accommodations was something I had to learn how to do. Also with my boss who was remote, it was a little bit more difficult because I wasn't [seeing] her on a daily basis, so one of the strategies that I really had to adopt was reminding myself it's ok to ask for help. It's ok to ask if you don't understand something. 

Another strategy was my excessive planning and alerts. I often forget when things are due especially when I get into these perfectionist cycles. I really like my work a certain way [and] I want it to be as detailed as possible. And because of that, I sometimes forget about deadlines so I set those reminders so that I can look at my schedule and know exactly how much time I'm going to have to work on something.

BF: Can you share more about your perspective on intersectionality and how you feel that your identity as a neurodiverse person and as a woman have intersected?

SM: I found out [that I had autism] when I was 13 and prior to that, I had only heard of like one or two women who had ever been diagnosed with autism. I honestly saw it as a thing that primarily affected boys and men. That's how the media represents it, to be frank. It’s represented in a very specific way like we all have the same interests and the same affect. 

I saw autism as this very specific diagnosis [before] finding out that it can also look the way I do and the way that a lot of other women and nonbinary people that I’ve met do. 

BF: Is there anything that you wish people knew more about neurodiverse women?

SM: We have this very specific stereotype of autism that was the norm for a really long time. This idea of the very “unemotional”, “straight faced”, “logical” man who is either completely non verbal or a brilliant science genius.

I've met a lot of autistic people in my life and to say that that is not representative of most of them is an understatement. It's such a diverse community. We all have such diverse interests and we have diverse passions and we have diverse ways of communicating with other people.

There is no one kind of autistic personality. 

And so I'll describe things that worked for me as an autistic woman in politics and while it might be useful to some people who are also autistic women in politics, it might not be as useful [for others]. Autism is not like a one size fits all personality, it's something that impacts all aspects of your life, but not in the same way for everybody.

BF: How would you say you practice resilience at work and what's made you feel empowered to advocate for yourself?

SM: Realizing that I need help and realizing that I can't be [perfect] all the time is something that I had to learn. You are not going to be perfect all the time especially in a world [that] is not set up for you. And also realizing you are not going to meet everyone's expectations all the time; that is so important. If you keep on working, if you keep on meeting new people, and you keep on making those connections, you're going to eventually meet somebody whose expectations fit you and you're going to find a company where you fit in well with the work atmosphere. 

BF: Thank you so much for sharing that wonderful piece of advice. In honor of Women's History Month, can you share any particular women leaders or trailblazers that have been influential to you in your personal and professional lives?

SM: This is perfect timing actually because I'm visiting my friend, Grace, right now and I want to talk about this story because it's a really special one. As I said earlier, I got to college at the height of the pandemic and it was very weird because I had spent so much of my life in isolation, and then to be [in college] after that was a weird time, but I had this professor, her name is Professor Douds. She wrote one of my recommendations. She's one of the reasons I'm going into the field of Public Policy and Political Science; she's amazing. 

I was in her class my first semester and she noticed that I was very talented in the classroom, but that I might struggle a little bit [socially] and she wanted me to be more connected with campus life, so she approached one of the older students, [Grace], and she gave her my phone number and was like “text this girl and go out to lunch with her.” 

I started hanging out with her and she introduced me to all of her friends. We would just sit around the table and talk about current events, musical theater, and just whatever we were thinking about. For the first time, I connected with a group of people and Grace really helped me [do that]. 

I had some really difficult times my sophomore year of college, but that's another thing about resilience: having support. It's so important to have support, and I had this incredible support in Grace and she helped me get through some of the hardest times of my life, and I will always be grateful. 

BF: What's one thing that you love about being neurodiverse? 

SM: My ability to [delve into] my special interests. I like being able to be really passionate about something and just being able to whip out random information about different social movements. Honestly, it's helped me connect with people.

BF: If you could sum up one piece of advice that you would give to other young neurodiverse women starting out in their careers, what would you want them to know?

SM: Don't put yourself in a box and don't ignore what your brain needs. You will find somebody who will connect with you over [your special interest]. They're always out there. And, even if you have to do it over the internet, you will find someone who you can connect with, so don't ignore that aspect of yourself. 

Listen to your brain, listen to what your brain needs, ask for help, and ask for those accommodations. Every time you listen to your brain, you only grow stronger. You become a stronger individual, you become a stronger employee, and you become a stronger student.

BF: Thanks so much for sharing your insights and experience with us, Sam. We loved speaking with you and sharing your story!

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26 March 2024

In honor of Women’s History Month, BroadFutures interviewed  Samantha “Sam” Martin, a guest on our 2023 Intern Lived Experience Panel. Sam is a driven and passionate self-advocate and young professional who will be graduating from Gettysburg College this spring with a degree in Political Science, Public Policy, and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She is […]

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10 March 2023
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Image shows numerous hands holding a white cutout of a face with brain waves on a purple background.
Image shows numerous hands holding a white cutout of a face with brain waves on a purple background.

Who We Are: 

BroadFutures believes in the power of employment to change lives. Our entire mission is focused on creating access, opportunity and support for neurodivergent young people, as well as employers looking to diversify their workplaces. 

Our innovative program combines internships with a supportive mentor/coach model and an interactive curriculum that incorporates the arts, stress reduction techniques, individualized support and peer empowerment. 

Instrumental to our program is developing the right partnerships. We endeavor to create lasting connections with employers that will be fruitful for future interns as well as the employer partners themselves.

We know that workplaces are enriched when a diversity of perspectives are nurtured. Employers benefit when they look to new avenues to recruit talent. At BroadFutures we are passionately focused on ensuring that employers become aware of the significant value that neurodivergent talent brings to the workplace. 

Neurodivergent people embody the concept of “thinking outside the box.” By linking employers to neurodivergent interns they may otherwise not connect with, BroadFutures is helping change the workplace and creating awareness of how disability is a part of the diversity conversation. Most importantly, we are helping employers to understand how neurodiverse talent is an asset to business. With proper training and support, our employer partners feel empowered to recruit, support and promote neurodivergent talent.

Our Employer Partners:

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), a longtime partner of BroadFutures, and one of our 2022 Champion Award Recipients (join us to celebrate their commitment to disability at our Fall, New Opportunities, New Impact Gala on 10.22 HERE) has consistently proven to be an employer dedicated to creating a more accessible workplace. IHG has hosted 12 interns since 2018!!! 

When asked to reflect on her work with BroadFutures thus far, Kathryn Markey, Director of Human Resources at The Intercontinental Washington D.C. - The Wharf remarked that, "The Wharf values its partnership with BroadFutures as part of our ongoing commitment to building a diverse and inclusive workplace. The Summer 2022 BroadFutures interns made a positive impact at our hotel – not only did they show up ready to work and eager to learn, but they consistently demonstrated a strong work ethic consistent with the level of service that we portray. We look forward to continued opportunities to work more closely together." 

Another long term partner and 2020 BroadFutures Champion Award recipient, The Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), is passionately committed to our mission and recognizes the value and talent that neurodiverse individuals bring to the workplace. 

When asked to reflect on her experience with BroadFutures, Megan Zsorey, the former program manager for The CSIS Economics Program states that "[we] have had a phenomenal experience with BroadFutures. We are fortunate to be able to host such talented individuals interested in our work, and ourBroadFutures interns have contributed to our program in meaningful ways. We always receive tremendous support from the BroadFutures staff and look forward to partnering with them each time they have a candidate interested in the world of foreign policy." 

National Disability Employment Awareness Month:

Although October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, our work on behalf of disability employment is something we are committed to every month. BroadFutures currently partners with over 60 employers and is always looking for new employer partners who are committed to working with neurodiverse talent. If interested in our employer programs, learn more about our work HERE and/or contact Carolyn Jeppsen at cjeppsen@broadfutures.org.

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11 October 2022

Who We Are:  BroadFutures believes in the power of employment to change lives. Our entire mission is focused on creating access, opportunity and support for neurodivergent young people, as well as employers looking to diversify their workplaces.  Our innovative program combines internships with a supportive mentor/coach model and an interactive curriculum that incorporates the arts, […]

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