This talk provides an overview of the work at Vanderbilt University’s Frist Center for Autism & Innovation to engineer new technologies and to build pipelines to meaningful employment for autistic adults and other neurodivergent individuals. We show video demonstrations of some of the assistive technologies we are developing, and we describe partnerships with major employers to increase good job opportunities for these individuals. We also describe curricula and other trainings available for support professionals to become better equipped to support individuals in the journey to employment.


Keivan G. Staussun, PH.D., Stevenson Professor of Physics & Astronomy, Professor of Computer Science, and Director, Frist Center for Autism & Innovation at Vanderbilt.

Keivan Stassun is an astrophysicist whose research on stars and exoplanets has been published more than 500 times in academic journals. He also holds two patents – for a data visualization platform and an asteroid mining system – both invented with a team of neurodiverse students. The parent of an autistic teenager, and with the generous endowment support of the Frist family, in 2018 Stassun launched the Frist Center for Autism & Innovation at Vanderbilt, focused on engineering technologies and transforming workplaces, in support of and inspired by neurodiversity.

The Frist Center brings engineers, business scholars, and disabilities researchers together with experts in neuroscience and education to understand, maximize, and promote neurodiverse talent. From a strengths-based – as opposed to deficit-based – understanding of autism and neurodiversity, the Center sees opportunities for innovation in technology and in workplace practices.