Rachelle Vartanian Interviewed on CBS Detroit

by | Jun 12, 2024

Millions of Americans living with mental illness or neurodiversity face significant challenges in finding employment. This interview with Rachelle Vartanian, President and Founder of the Living and Learning Enrichment Center in Northville, sheds light on these challenges and how our organization is working to support neurodiverse individuals in finding meaningful employment.

Here are some highlights from the interview:

Q: What does neurodivergence mean?

A: Rachelle Vartanian: Neurodivergence refers to variations in the human brain regarding sociability, learning, attention, and mood. This term is often used with conditions like autism and ADD. However, it’s a broad term that can be interpreted differently by different individuals. Some prefer to identify with specific conditions like autism or a disability, while others might not.

Q: What are some challenges neurodivergent individuals face when looking for a job?

A: Rachelle Vartanian: One of the biggest challenges is the interview process. For instance, individuals with autism may find maintaining eye contact difficult, which can hinder their ability to secure employment despite being capable of performing the job.

Q: Are there certain jobs better suited for neurodivergent individuals?

A: Rachelle Vartanian: It really depends on the individual. Just like anyone else, neurodivergent individuals have unique strengths and preferences. Some might excel in quiet environments, while others might thrive in more physical roles. It’s important to match the job to the individual’s strengths and needs.

Q: Can you tell us about the Living and Learning Enrichment Center and its mission?

A: Rachelle Vartanian: The Living and Learning Enrichment Center is a nonprofit located in Northville, Michigan. We opened in 2015 to support teens and adults with special needs through job skills training, vocational work, friendship classes, and life skills. Our focus is on this often-forgotten population because there are limited resources available for them after they finish school.

Q: Why do you describe this group as the “forgotten generation”?

A: Rachelle Vartanian: Many parents have shared that after their children with special needs finish school, they have few opportunities and often end up isolated at home. I experienced this concern personally when my youngest son was diagnosed with autism, which motivated me to create a supportive environment for these individuals.

Q: Are there more organizations like yours, and is there growing awareness?

A: Rachelle Vartanian: Yes, awareness is increasing, and more organizations like ours are emerging. However, the need is still significant. For example, our vocational program partners with over 100 businesses to provide skill-building opportunities. We have a waiting list of over 100 people because the demand for our services is so high.

Q: What impact do your programs have on individuals’ lives?

A: Rachelle Vartanian: Our programs are life-changing for both individuals and their families. We provide a sense of purpose and community, helping neurodivergent individuals gain confidence and independence.

Q: What advice do you have for someone struggling to find employment or their place in the world?

A: Rachelle Vartanian: I encourage them to join supportive communities, whether it’s through our center or online groups with similar interests and mindsets. Being around others who understand and share similar experiences can be incredibly beneficial.

Q: How should someone approach the conversation about neurodivergence with a loved one?

A: Rachelle Vartanian: Start by talking to their teacher and keep the conversation comfortable and casual. It’s important to normalize the need for support, as everyone has something they need help with to be their best selves.

Q: Where can people learn more about the Living and Learning Enrichment Center?

A: Rachelle Vartanian: Visit our website at livingandlearningcenter.org for more information and to join our waiting list.