An Optimistic Outlook Concerning Employment: High Tech Meets Autism Spectrum Disorder

Poster Presentation
Thursday, May 10, 2018: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
D. Hedley1, J. Spoor2, M. Uljarevic3,4, R. Y. Cai1,5, S. Moss6, A. L. Richdale1,5, T. Bartram2 and C. Dissanayake1, (1)Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia, (2)La Trobe Business School, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia, (3)Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, School of Medicine, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, (4)Stanford Autism Center, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University, CA, (5)Cooperative Research Centre for Living with Autism (Autism CRC), Long Pocket, Australia, (6)Charles Darwin University, Darwin, Australia
Background: Individuals with ASD face some of the highest rates of underemployment and unemployment of all disability groups (Shattuck et al., 2012). When successful at gaining employment, outcomes can still be poor if appropriate workplace supports are not in place (Hedley et al., 2017). However, there are advantages to hiring people with ASD. Many individuals exhibit high intellectual ability (Happe & Frith, 2006), or specific skills and interests that may help them thrive in particular occupations and roles (Donovan, 2008). Employees with ASD tend to be reliable, trustworthy and conscientious, often completing work to a high standard (Hagner & Cooney, 2005; Hillier et al., 2007). Research is needed to better understand strategies that support the success of adults with ASD at work.

Objectives: The present study employed qualitative methodology to examine the work experiences (past and current), expectations, and perceptions concerning a modified recruitment and selection process, of individuals with ASD who were employed in the Dandelion Program. This program is aimed at employing people with ASD in information technology (IT) positions. Work colleagues, support workers and family members also participated in the study.

Methods: Twenty-eight people, including nine employees with ASD (89% male; Mage = 23.97, SD = 3.00), seven support staff (29% male; Mage = 36.83, SD = 8.52), six co-workers (67% male; Mage = 42.21, SD = 6.46), and six family members (33% male; Mage = 43.92, SD = 13.89), participated in the study. Employees with ASD provided written evidence of their diagnosis by a medical professional when they applied for the program, and additionally self-reported a formal diagnosis of ASD and completed the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ). Seven focus groups were conducted using a semi-structured approach with set questions. Data were analyzed following established consolidated criteria for reporting qualitative research to identify themes (thematic analysis).

Results: Four themes associated with work experiences and program implementation were identified: Limitations in Previous Work Experiences (Theme 1), Pessimistic Expectations (Theme 2), Recruitment and Selection Adaptations (Theme 3), and Training and Transition (Theme 4). The themes that emerged from the focus groups demonstrated that individuals with ASD were motivated to work but experienced difficulty finding and maintaining suitable and interesting employment. Previous failures in obtaining meaningful work had led to a mood of pessimism regarding the future. The results indicated specific strengths of the program, particularly the revised human resource protocols and support provided to the trainees. The alternate pathway in to employment provided individuals with an opportunity to demonstrate their abilities over a lengthened time.

Conclusions: This study examined the perspectives of employees with ASD who were participating in a supported employment program. On the basis of these findings we can conclude that alternate approaches to entering the workplace, support when needed, and co-worker training can contribute to workplace success. Our results also suggested improvements to the program, for example, by personalization of support based on individual abilities. Employment programs that include appropriate modifications for people with ASD may help to promote a more optimistic outlook among participants.