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Monday, March 18, 2024


In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the employment of adults with autism and other developmental disabilities.

Lay abstract:
Lots of autistic people are unemployed. Even when they are employed, autistic people might be given fewer opportunities than non-autistic people to progress in their careers. For example, assumptions about autistic people’s differences in social communication might mean they are not given as many promotions. Indeed, we know that many autistic people are in jobs lower than their abilities (known as ‘underemployment’). We reviewed 33 studies that tell us something about career progression for autistic people. Our review found that lots of autistic people want to progress in their careers, but there are many barriers in their way. For example, when they told their employer about being autistic, some people were given fewer opportunities. Research has also shown that autistic people do not get enough support to progress and that gaps in their employment history can make it difficult to progress. Our review suggested that good employment support (e.g. mentors) might help autistic people to progress in their careers. However, not much research has evaluated employment support for autistic people, which means we do not know how useful it is. Future research should find the best support that allows autistic people to live and work in ways that are meaningful to them.

From the article:
Our review suggests that, while many autistic people desire career progression, they are often underemployed, ‘stuck’ in poorly matched job roles and receive few opportunities and little support to progress in their careers. Several studies included in this review attempted to quantify underemployment in their samples, with estimates suggesting up to 46% of autistic people may be employed in jobs below their capability and/or capacity (Baldwin et al., 2014). Our findings suggest that such underemployment may be exacerbated by external agencies (e.g. disability employment providers) who are motivated to place autistic people in the first job that arises, as opposed to the job that is the most appropriate fit to the individual’s preferences, skills and abilities (Berman, 2022; Ortiz, 2018; Raymaker et al., 2023; Sharpe et al., 2022). This underutilisation of autistic talent is problematic for several reasons. First, underemployment has negative implications for people’s mental and physical health, and the impact of underemployment on mental health is thought to be more pronounced for disabled people (Allan et al., 2022; Friedland & Price, 2003; Milner et al., 2017; Milner & Lamontagne, 2017). This is particularly alarming given that autistic people are already considered more vulnerable to poor health outcomes (Cashin et al., 2016; Croen et al., 2015; Lai et al., 2019). Second, underemployment comes at a significant economic cost to individuals, organisations and society more broadly (Barnichon & Zylberberg, 2019; Lloyd-Cape, 2020). As such, reducing underemployment for autistic people should be considered a key target outcome for future research and practice. To address the issue of underemployment, we must understand its underlying causes. The findings of this review provide important insight into the possible barriers to, and facilitators of, appropriate employment and career progression for autistic people. Next, we map the identified barriers and facilitators on to the three key competencies outlined by Arthur and colleagues (1995, 2017).