Neurodiversity as a competitive advantage has begun to receive more attention in the past few years, in large part due to the autism hiring initiatives by companies like Microsoft, JPMorgan Chase and SAP, to name a few. These companies have focused on hiring individuals living with autism in skilled tech positions, namely Q+A and coding. While these efforts are laudable and noteworthy as it relates to changing the perception of employability and reducing the overall unemployment rate of adults living with autism, the conversation is often narrowly focused on rote skills and pattern recognition as it applies to tech. Our experience at Islands of Brilliance is that the talent and skill of this uniquely abled community is far broader, and opportunities around divergent thinking, innovation and creativity are being overlooked.
Islands of Brilliance has begun a collaboration with Dr. Nathaniel Stern, Dr. Celeste Campos-Castillo and Dr. Ilya Avdeev at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to establish the Brilliant Research Lab (BRL) for Neurodiverse Creativity. This partnership will focus on yielding empirical insights into how creativity can serve as a vehicle for preparing individuals on the spectrum for the workforce, while at the same time preparing neurotypical workplaces for people living with autism. Our long-term goal is to become an international hub for modeling, studying, publishing, workshopping and scaling models of creative innovation, entrepreneurship, workforce development and welcoming work environments specifically for people living with autism across fields of art, design and innovation.
The Brilliant Lab will:
- Use both quantitative and qualitative empirical methodologies to analyze and change process and outcomes for both sides of that model: individuals living with autism prepared for work, and work environments (and employers) for neurodiverse populations. This will include members from our team at UWM’s Peck School of the Arts, Lubar Entrepreneurship Center and College of Engineering and Applied Science, incorporating and feeding back best practices from multiple fields.
- Publish the research conducted from the lab in top academic journals and other outlets.
- Organize and sponsor panels and workshops at national and international research convenings.
- Propose and make publicly available methods for traveling and scaling our best practices and models.
- Produce other nontraditional, public-facing outcomes. These may include photo essays of workshops, policy recommendations for neurodiverse-friendly companies, short- and long-form film documentaries, and catalogs of student work.
Our hope for the Brilliant Lab partnership with UWM is to help grow Islands of Brilliance outward (offering our workshops and research internationally), and upward (college programming, job placement, company onboarding, etc.), and for the lab itself to be self-sustaining within 10 years.
I am a strong believer that the Greater Milwaukee community is one of the best areas in the country for individuals and families living with autism due to the support our education and public institutions provide, access to services, and a growing list of innovative organizations willing to partner in order to provide better employment and independence outcomes. The establishment of the Brilliant Research Lab will build on our community’s existing assets and take us to an entirely new level.
This column is part of “25 big ideas for Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin’s future,” a feature included in the BizTimes Milwaukee 25th anniversary issue. To read other contributions, visit biztimes.com/bigideas