Celebrating Neurodiversity at Work

Cait R Headshot

Cait Rosica (UNC ’18) is committed to increasing employment access for all people. “We’re hoping to get to a point in the job application process where neurodivergent candidates can ask employers for a different type of interview and have that request easily met – or where it’s so commonplace to universally design for neurodivergence that a candidate doesn’t even have to ask.” It’s part of her initiatives to increase access for neurodivergent individuals and build a network of support amongst employers.

“I was exposed to disability later in life,” she recalls. “As I went through business school and learned about diversity, equity, and inclusion in organizations, I realized that disability was very often left off of every diversity, equity, and inclusion conversation, which made no sense to me. And that’s what calls me to this work – that there’s blatant inequality, especially when I think of the Autism community. Many times, such brilliant people just have different ways of communicating and being, and that precludes them from getting their dream job.”

Now Cait has earned her doctorate in Occupational Therapy, with a focus on employment and inclusive practices in higher education for people on the autism spectrum. She’s the Director of the Philadelphia Chapter at Neurodiversity at Work, where she is sparking creative collaboration amongst organizations to promote equity in hiring practices. “Diversity is important, and disability and neurodivergence are an integral part of diversity. It’s crucial to recognize all that neurodivergent people and people with disabilities bring to organizations, bring to schools, and bring to communities. It’s important that people recognize that value and intentionally design for inclusion.”

She credits the Robertson with helping her explore this particular area of industry, “My second summer, I really got to create an experience that was aligned with my interests. So, I decided to travel to London and work with an organization called Mencap, while simultaneously creating a photo series on the accessibility of historic places. It was so interesting to see that cross-cultural approach to disability. I specifically chose London because they were known for being quite progressive in disability topics. This was really one of the first times I was introduced to competitive integrated employment in the intellectual/developmental disability community, which was just emerging as more commonplace at the time.”

When she returned to campus, Cait was inspired by her experiences during Exploration Summer. “From there, I went on to complete an Independent Study with the Business School where I was specifically looking at inclusive practices for neurodiversity in the workplace. That was one huge perk with the Robertson – that I had the flexibility to add courses and credits that interested me. One class in particular I remember was called the, “Anthropology of Disability,” and is still my favorite course to date. Having that flexibility academically was an invaluable opportunity to explore this field on my own terms.”

After undergrad, Cait was torn on which graduate programs to focus on. “I knew that I wanted to be in this unique space that didn’t quite exist yet, and straight from school, I was really looking at ways I could position myself well for when these types of jobs would be available so that I’d really be able to make an impact. Occupational Therapy has a reputation for being extremely person-centered, out of the box thinking, and focused on empowering people with disabilities. We focus heavily on the social model of disability, where we look at disability in terms of environmental match. With the social model of disability, the question is not ‘how can we change you as a person’ but rather becomes, ‘how can we change the environment to better match your needs?’ I thought pursuing a degree in Occupational Therapy was a great next step to prepare me to help create more inclusive workplaces.”

It’s systems change work. For Cait, she focuses on the small steps to enact big change. “I think coming into the program I had these big ideas of “I myself am going to start this huge thing and it’s going to change everything,’ but I think as I went through the program I learned that transformational leadership is really a lot more about small steps, engaging in systems work, and being an ally in different communities. Being a transformational leader is a lot more about listening and engaging with others than I anticipated, but also being willing to be the spokesperson when you can be, and when it’s the right place to be. There are so many inequalities that we can address, but mostly they fall into these larger systems of racism, ableism, sexism, and more. – all of which aren’t easily dismantled in a short period of time. I think recognizing that, and being willing to keep showing up day after day to keep putting in the small work can really lead to transforming these systems little by little.”

Cait credits the Robertson Alumni community with helping her narrow her focus on creating transformational change, “I joined one of the alumni calls a few years ago and the question we discussed was: ‘So often in our professional paths, we feel caught in a certain trajectory. But we may find ourselves daydreaming about off-beat, interdisciplinary, fantastical pursuits. Should we listen / nurture those impulses or focus on the work ahead of us?’ I talked about this particular field and how it’s what I’ve always wanted to do, but how the job didn’t exist yet. Thankfully by the time I graduated with my doctorate, the field had shifted to have more opportunities as the neurodiversity movement gained momentum, but having that alumni community to share their experiences of when they took risks or when they played it safe gave me a better platform to be able to judge my own situation. I continue to reflect back on that conversation often.”

“The best part of the Robertson program is that everyone is doing something awesome in their specific niche; being able to know what those things are and what Alumni and Scholars are up to – there’s always something new and innovative going on. I’m constantly learning from the work of others in the community.”