The Lived Experience of Autistic Adults in Employment: A Systematic Search and Synthesis

David Thorpe*, Marissa McKinlay, James Richards, Katherine Sang, Mary Elizabeth Stewart

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Background: Employment is a critical factor contributing to the well-being and quality of life of autistic people of working age. Historically, research has tended to focus on interventions and employment-related outcomes, typically generated without the input of autistic workers. Interventions often work to help the autistic worker fit into the working environment rather than it being adjusted for the autistic worker. However, a growing body of research reflects autistic workers' experiences of employment with consideration given to how the workplace should change to reflect the differences of this historically marginalized group.

Methods: This study is a systematic analysis of existing research that focuses on and prioritizes autistic workers' experiences of employment. Our analysis draws on the social relational model of disability (SRMD), an approach increasingly applied in contexts of autism and employment. We systematically searched five journal databases, resulting in 34 articles that reflect the lived experience of autistic people in employment.

Results: We identified four themes through narrative synthesis: Navigating Social Demands; the Disabling Nature of the Work Environment designed for neurotypical workers; Adapt to Me; and Understanding, Knowledge, and Acceptance. The results draw on the SRMD, revealing nuances to inclusionary and exclusionary employment for the autistic workforce.

Conclusion: Our findings encourage the prioritization of the voice of autistic workers when designing working environments. They also function as a critique of the traditional approaches that placed employers, managers, and human resource professionals as the dominant agents of decision-making. In these traditional practices, the burden of making employment viable was on the worker, rather than the employer. The results of this study framed through the SRMD allowed for enhanced understanding of the barriers and new insights into how to improve the employment experience for autistic adults.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAutism in Adulthood
Early online date8 Jan 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 8 Jan 2024


  • Autism
  • Employment
  • Lived experience
  • Social relational model
  • Systematic review

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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