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EmployAble Helps Neurodivergent College Students Succeed

Essential Help During COVID Changes

The pandemic has caused unique challenges for college students and graduates both in receiving their education and in life after college. For students living with invisible disabilities and mental health concerns, these changes made navigating an already difficult transition period in life even more challenging. Luckily for students at Duquesne University and Point Park, JFCS Career Development Center’s EmployAble program has been there to help students with invisible disabilities navigate these changes.

EmployAble was available to students at Duquesne and Point Park long before the pandemic but became an essential tool for many of them during the last two years. While most of the students that EmployAble helps are on the autism spectrum, those with anxiety and depression have increased in the last two years. In addition to uncertainty about the pandemic, students faced disruptions in class routines, increased isolations, and a lack of internships and extracurricular opportunities. Through EmployAble, these students were able to get help with organizational skills, understanding how to navigate online interviews, and planning for the future after college in an uncertain time.

Learning Techniques to Succeed

Career Counselor Bethany Taylor says, “Within the college system, colleges have so many great services for students… But sometimes it can become a big unknown transition after college. We’re helping the students navigate how their strengths and needs carry over into the next phase of getting a job. We’re helping them learn how to conduct a safe job search, showcase their skill sets, and learn the social norms of getting and keeping a job.” She says that much of what they do involves helping students learn organization techniques, time management and other skills related to executive functioning that are necessary for success in college, job searching, and beyond.

“A lot of the challenges our students face are organizational, setting up a system and helping them stick to it,” Career Counselor Lisa Lenhart explained. COVID also brought a lot of changes to the interview and job search process. “In addition to time management and organizational skills, the initial shift from in person to virtual was really hard for some students,” Bethany said. “We taught students how to utilize different online platforms and the social nuances associated with those environments. Students were learning a new skill to add to their toolkit of interacting with employers.”

Help Beyond Traditional Career Counseling

Lisa and Bethany serve anywhere from six to nine students consistently, with many others that are only seen for one-time help or just a few sessions. In addition to one-on-one counseling, they also hold presentations at the colleges to help both students and staff. Point Park held a series of workshops on virtual job searches, which Bethany presented during. Lisa held workshops for Duquesne on motivation and self care. They also help faculty and staff understand more about the autism spectrum and invisible disabilities to ensure those students are receiving the best education and assistance. 

The program is available to students once they have graduated, as well, to help with transitions into the workforce or even planning for further education. This extended help is essential to these students being able to succeed. “Students and alumni tell me that they are able to feel more confident in themselves and disclose when they are struggling,” Bethany explained. “When we have the one-on-one setting, we have a space to have those walls come down— giving students the space to be honest, overcome whatever that issue is. We tailor a plan to fit what they need; building gaps within class schedules to take time for self care, such as prioritizing one’s physical and emotional needs. We really focus on the self care and wellness pieces.”

Lisa expressed, “The program has been extremely instrumental for students. It’s almost like having your own personal, instructional therapy person. You have more eyes on what you’re doing to get you through all the things that happen.”

More than anything, the program aims to helps neurodivergent college students succeed through helping them understand their own needs and advocate for themselves throughout the job search process. Lisa and Bethany hope to see the program expand to other colleges in the future, providing these much-needed services to college students with invisible disabilities throughout the region.


Did you know? The EmployAble program is available to job seekers of any age with invisible disabilities. If you’re struggling with the job search process because of an invisible disability, reach out today to get the help you need to succeed. cdc@jfcspgh.org