What helps adults with autism get and keep a job?

May 9, 2018 by Serena Gordon, Healthday Reporter

(HealthDay)—Adults with autism face many challenges, and one of the biggest is finding and keeping a job.

More than two-thirds of adults with are unemployed or underemployed, and a new survey identifies some of the most significant barriers—and benefits—to work.

People with autism reported that "the most important factors in being able to get a job are past work experience and vocational training. It helps people get a sense of the norms and expectations," said study author Matthew Lerner, a professor of psychology, psychiatry and pediatrics at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, N.Y.

"For maintaining a job, focusing on individual strengths—like attention to detail and accuracy on work tasks—is important," Lerner said.

"Factors that were less important were increased or modified pay rates, and a one-to-one work coordinator or mentor. Many people felt they were being shadowed or stigmatized, rather than had a supportive boss," he noted.

The bottom line is that "people with autism are people, and often their needs don't differ so dramatically from people without autism," Lerner said. "If we can better accommodate their needs in ways that are easy and low-cost, they can be phenomenal contributors when given the right opportunity."

Dave Kearon is director of adult services for Autism Speaks, an autism advocacy organization. He agreed that it's important to "have a good fit for each individual."

Kearon said most people with autism are capable of working. "There are certainly people with challenges, but with the right supports, most people can work," he explained.

And, he added, it's important not to pigeonhole folks with autism and assume they would only be good in, say, technology-oriented jobs.

"You can't generalize. A heavily client-facing position like sales might not be a good fit for most people on the [autism] spectrum, but I knew a museum docent on the spectrum who gave me the best tour of an art museum I've ever had because that's what he's interested in. I'd caution against painting folks with autism using broad brushes," Kearon said.

Interestingly, though technology companies are often seen as a good fit, adults with autism are more likely to work in other places, according to Lerner. The top five industries where adults with autism are employed include (in order):

  • Administrative and support services.
  • Education and training.
  • Health care and social assistance.
  • Retail.
  • Scientific and technical services.

Within any industry, there are jobs where many people with autism can excel, Lerner said. For example, in human resources, there is a lot of detailed paperwork that needs to be processed. Food service and prep companies that make specialty products have had success capitalizing on the strengths many people with autism have—attention to detail and accuracy on work tasks—by employing them in quality-control positions.

Almost 70 percent of people with autism said that staff education was important before being hired for a job. But 45 percent of the survey respondents didn't feel the need for all employees to receive comprehensive training about autism.

Kearon said, "This is just an educated guess, but I think some people with autism prefer not to be singled out as special or different. Basic education of [autism] is important and effective, but we don't want it to further isolate people. People with [autism] want to be accepted as part of the team."

That might also help explain why just two-thirds of those surveyed said increased or modified pay was valuable. Offering someone with autism different pay for the same job that others are doing can also make people feel singled out.

About 40 percent of the survey respondents said that working decreased their life satisfaction. And both experts said there could be a number of reasons why.

"The idea that work is the golden path to satisfaction and happiness may not be shared by all people, and it seems to definitely not be shared by all on the spectrum," Lerner said.

Kearon said: "What I think is a plausible explanation is that we haven't gotten it right in enough places. People with decreased life satisfaction probably aren't working at a place that has a fully developed autism support program. We need more autism-friendly environments."

The study findings were scheduled for presentation Wednesday at the annual meeting of the International Society for Autism Research, in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Findings presented at meetings should be viewed as preliminary until they've been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Explore further: US adults with autism may face housing crisis

More information: Matthew Lerner, Ph.D., professor, psychology, psychiatry and pediatrics, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, N.Y.; Dave Kearon, director, adult services, Autism Speaks; May 9, 2018, presentation, International Society for Autism Research meeting, Rotterdam, the Netherlands

Read more about autism and employment at Autism Speaks.

Related Stories

US adults with autism may face housing crisis

November 13, 2013
(HealthDay)—Adults with autism face a shortage of housing and support services in the United States, according to a new survey.

Autism traits increase thoughts of suicide in people with psychosis

December 14, 2017
People with autism traits who have psychosis are at a greater risk of depression and thoughts of suicide, new research has found.

How it feels to be diagnosed with autism later in life

March 7, 2018
"He is wired differently to you and me, this child of mine. He doesn't like loud noises, or dark spaces, or strangers touching his head". These are the first lines from a poem a mother penned about her son 11-year-old son ...

Program helps young adults with autism find jobs

May 11, 2017
(HealthDay)—When kids with autism graduate high school, they may need adult services to help them find a job or live on their own. And parents may need a helping hand in navigating the new and confusing system, researchers ...

Time between pregnancies may affect autism risk

November 22, 2017
Investigators have found a link between the amount of time between pregnancies and Autism Spectrum Disorder in children. The findings are published in Autism Research.

Researchers examine social functioning in middle-aged adults with autism spectrum disorders

December 20, 2017
A new Autism Research report describes the social functioning of 169 adults with autism spectrum disorders in mid-life who were first identified with autism in childhood in the 1980s. Participants spanned all levels of cognitive ...

Recommended for you

Brain activity shows development of visual sensitivity in autism

December 11, 2018
Research investigating how the brain responds to visual patterns in people with autism has shown that sensory responses change between childhood and adulthood.

Study connects the genetic background of autistic spectrum disorders with stem cell dysfunction

December 4, 2018
Disorders of the autistic spectrum have been associated with hundreds of genetic variations, which have helped in identifying disturbed intracellular signalling pathways and molecular mechanisms typical to autism.

Home videos of children can be scored to diagnose autism, study says

November 27, 2018
Short home videos can be used to diagnose autism in children, according to a new study from the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Brain responses to language in toddlers with autism linked to altered gene expression

November 26, 2018
An international team of scientists, led by researchers at the University of Cyprus and University of California San Diego School of Medicine, have identified a previously unknown, large-scale association between molecular ...

How many kids have autism? US government measures three ways

November 26, 2018
How many American children have autism? The U.S. government answers that question at least three different ways and says the latest estimate—1 in 40 kids—doesn't necessarily mean the numbers are rising.

Mutation that causes autism and intellectual disability makes brain less flexible

November 19, 2018
About 1 percent of patients diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability have a mutation in a gene called SETD5. Scientists have now discovered what happens on a molecular level when the gene is mutated ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.