“I met a software engineer who I had no idea was neurodiverse,” said Isabella He, a junior at Mission San Jose High School in Fremont. “After finding out her story, I realized the adversities and challenges that talented neurodiverse individuals have to face to join the workforce.”
Neurodiversity, according to the Stanford University Neurodiversity Project where He interns, “is a concept that regards individuals with differences in brain function and behavioral traits as part of normal variation in the human population.”
Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, who have unemployment rates of about 85 percent, are considered neurodiverse.
“I connected back to my research [for a paper] on Career Technical Education and realized CTE would be extremely useful for neurodiverse individuals. From there, SN Inclusion was born,” explained He, the founder (in 2020 while still a sophomore) and president of the nonprofit.
SN (Special Needs) Inclusion (https://sninclusion.org/) offers free CTE courses to neurodiverse individuals seeking job skills. The online courses are developed by high school volunteers on the SN Inclusion team. They tap into the knowledge of professionals in the field of Neurodiversity.
SN Inclusion collaborates with businesses that train and hire neurodiverse individuals: Turtleworks in Campbell, which custom embroiders fabric items, and Friends Coffee and Tea, 1029 S. Bascom Ave., San Jose.
Since Dec. 2020, more than a dozen SN Inclusion high school chapters have been established in California, Shenzhen (China), and Hong Kong, where He once lived and first learned about CTE.
“It’s amazing to see how fast we’ve grown,” said He, already planning to expand to other states.
A native Californian and English speaker, He also speaks Mandarin, some Cantonese, and French. She has traveled to Chengdu, China, with her family to visit her grandmother.
While in Chengdu, she created an internship for herself at Chengdu’s Hospital for Women and Children, where she taught classes to neurodiverse children.
He’s advocacy of the neurodiverse goes beyond founding SN Inclusion. She coordinates more than 200 special needs tutors plus youth reporters for Friends of Children with Special Needs (FCSN). She established a FCSN chapter at her high school and assists chapters at other schools.
He is a co-founder of AUesome (https://www.auesome.co/), a social enterprise that provides parents of special needs children with at-home therapy kits and developmental programs.
After high school He, who plans on a career in neurodiversity, hopes to expand SN Inclusion to universities and the professional world.
“It’s definitely challenging to balance my work, but my efforts with neurodiversity give me a break from my school work while still being productive,” said He, the older of two children of high-tech parents.
“It’s so rewarding to work on… neurodiversity. It doesn’t feel like work in the same sense as school.”
He’s volunteer work benefitting the neurodiverse is all the more impressive and inspiring considering her youth and the constraints of a world health pandemic.