Barriers and Enablers to Success at Work: The Dandelion Program

Thursday, May 11, 2017: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
D. Hedley1, R. Y. Cai2, M. Uljarevic3,4, M. Wilmot1, J. Spoor5, A. L. Richdale6 and C. Dissanayake2, (1)School of Psychology & Public Health, Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia, (2)Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia, (3)Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre, Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre, Melbourne, CA, (4)Cooperative Research Centre for Living with Autism (Autism CRC), Long Pocket, CA, (5)Department of Management & Marketing, La Trobe Business School, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia, (6)Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre, Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre, Bundoora, Australia
Background: Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are overrepresented when it comes to both unemployment and underemployment (Shattuck et al., 2012). Organizations can potentially improve employment opportunities for individuals with diverse needs by making reasonable adjustments and creating supportive workplace environments (Cavanagh et al., 2016; Yang & Konrad, 2011). However, there has been sparse research to date specifically aimed at identifying the factors associated with success at work from both the perspectives of the individual, and those who work with or support them.

Objectives: Our aim was to gain a better understanding of the factors that promote workplace success, the barriers to success, and program-related outcomes, for individuals with ASD participating in the Dandelion Program. The program is a three-year traineeship for adults with ASD developed by Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), Australia, which provides an alternate pathway into employment in the information technology sector. Participants work within the Australian Federal Government. The program provides additional workplace supports to accommodate participants’ diverse needs.

Methods: We used qualitative methodology (focus groups) to identify barriers and enablers to success at work in the context of the Dandelion Program. Participants comprised 28 adults: nine adults with ASD (89% male; Mage= 23.97 years, SDage= 3.00) who were employed as software testers within the Dandelion Program; six of their family members (33% male; Mage= 43.92 years, SDage= 13.89); seven support staff (29% male; Mage= 36.83 years, SDage= 8.52); and six coworkers (67% male; Mage= 42.21 years, SDage= 6.46). Focus groups were recorded, transcribed and coded. We adopted an inductive approach to content analysis (Thomas, 2006) conforming to COREQ guidelines (Tong, Sainsbury, & Craig, 2007) to analyze the data. From this process we developed a framework consisting of three main themes and 10 subthemes.

Results: The main themes identified were barriers, enablers, and general work outcomes. Overlapping themes were identified between all participant groups; however there were also subtle differences that emerged between them. For example, family members noted improved relationships at home that were not identified by the individuals with ASD themselves. Organisational support, advice from co-workers, supportive leadership, environmental modifications, and, in particular, the presence of an autism consultant, were identified as factors that facilitated success at work. Barriers to success included task related difficulties, individual factors, social difficulties and distractions, not managing work related stress, and being blunt (‘too honest’). Overall, the program was positively appraised by participants. Positive outcomes of the program included trainees having a sense of purpose, financial and personal independence, and improved social relationships.

Conclusions: One of the most significant outcomes of this study was the identification of the positive attitudes of co-workers who worked closely with the trainees. The findings from this research provide evidence for the feasibility of implementing employment programs to support individuals with ASD, and identification of factors that promote, and also impede, workplace success, from the perspectives of the individuals involved.