"[I] Don't Wanna Just Be Like a Cog in the Machine": Narratives of Autism and Skilled Employment.

Dora M. Raymaker, Portland State University
Mirah Sharer, Portland State University
Joelle Maslak, Academic Autism Spectrum Partnership in Research and Education
Laurie E. Powers, Portland State University
Katherine E. McDonald, Syracuse University
Steven K. Kapp, University of Portsmouth
Ian Moura, Portland State University
Anna Furra Wallington, Academic Autism Spectrum Partnership in Research and Education
Christina M. Nicolaidis, Portland State University


Autistic people are less likely to be employed than the general population. Autistic people with skilled training (e.g. training for jobs in acting, plumbing, science, or social work) might be even less likely to get a good job in their field. Little is known about the experiences of autistic people in skilled employment or what employment success means to them. We interviewed 45 autistic people with skilled training in a wide range of fields, 11 job supervisors, and 8 topic experts. We asked them about their experiences, what they felt helped them to be successful at work, and what employment success means to them. Participants talked about the high stakes of disclosure, taking unconventional pathways to careers, disconnects with service and support systems, mental health challenges from trauma and burnout, the autistic advantages in the workplace, and complex dimensions of discrimination. Participants said success meant opportunities for growth, good work/life balance, financial independence, sense of community, and feeling valued, accepted, and like their work had meaning. Things that helped them be successful included flexible, accepting workplaces, supportive and respectful supervisors, and direct communication. What we learned suggests that an individualized, wholistic approach to autism employment intervention that considers both employers and employees and employee mental health could be useful. We also recommend more research into disclosure and destigmatizing disability at work.