Stakeholder Insights on Supporting Neurodiversity at Work and School
The number of individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders has increased (CDC, 2013) with worldwide prevalence estimated from 1% (Elsabbagh, Divan & Koh, 2012) to 2.6% (Kim, Leventhal & Koh, 2011). Research tends to focus on children, and while there remains much to be done for autistic children, one certain outcome is that autistic children become autistic adults. Limited research exists on educational and employment activities of autistic adults (Taylor & Seltzer, 2012). Research suggests autistic adults can and want to work or continue education (Hendricks, 2009), but in the UK, 16% of autistic adults are employed full-time (National Autistic Society, 2016). Rates are likely similar in the US where 16.8% of disabled persons work full-time (Autism Society, 2015). Many factors contribute, however research in Germany found 94% of autistic adults had worked and 53% had pursued higher education (Frank et al., 2018). Thus, understanding the challenges faced by autistic adults at school and work may be crucial to improved outcomes.
To gather stakeholder insights about the best supports for autistic workers and students.
To create an instrument assessing importance and feasibility of implementation of stakeholder-authored approaches to supporting neurodiversity.
An open-ended prompt presented via social media platforms and tagged to reach autistic populations asked, “what are some of the best tools, supports and strategies you have used or been provided in work or at school?” Twenty-seven people responded to this prompt generating 48 ideas. These 48 items were analyzed for themes and used to create a survey tool asking autistic workers and students to rate the importance of each item from and how feasible they perceived implementation to be. The survey also asks about educational/employment statuses, qualitative experiences in work and school, and basic demographics (e.g., country, gender, age).
In line with Autism Spectrum Conditions, most of the 48 ideas generated by stakeholders were aimed towards social communication (31.25%) and sensory processing (25%) differences However, many items spoke to independence (20.83%), respect and understanding of autism (10.42%), and ability to be open about being autistic (6.25%). Two respondents detailed how hiring practices often require face-to-face interactions that can be exclusive for autistics. Table 1 provides example ideas by topic.
All 48 ideas were included in the survey which has been shared with stakeholders, organizations, and prominent researchers for further dissemination. The survey has been shared widely across six countries.
Results suggest that autistic adults have important insights into their own communication, sensory and needs and routines that work for them at work and school. These results are also promising in that most of the ideas generated appear to be feasible for many employers and educators (e.g., walking breaks, direct feedback). The next stages of this study include collecting survey responses, surveying employers and educational institutions about their current practices to support neurodiversity and comparing the fit between these two stakeholder groups. It is well documented that diversity can be a positive force if and when institutions provide an environment where diversity can thrive (Dos Reis et al., 2007).