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Young Adults on the Autism Spectrum and Early Employment-Related Experiences: Aspirations and Obstacles

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In the United States, employment outcomes for young adults with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are poor, with many unemployed, underemployed, or otherwise unable to achieve their potential regardless of cognitive ability. To explore employment expectations and experiences, qualitative interviews were conducted with 12 young adults with ASD and 28 parents. Transcripts were analyzed using the constant comparative method associated with a grounded theory approach. Three major themes emerged: Employment Aspirations and Potential, Challenges of Job Finding and Keeping, and Differing Parent and Young Adult Work-Related Roles and Views. Issues discussed include the need to foster meaningful pre-employment opportunities, acknowledge the role of families in employment issues, provide ASD-focused workplace support, and effectively coordinate intersecting systems (e.g., schools, agencies, employers).

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We would like to express our gratitude to the families and young adults with ASD who made this research possible by sharing their experiences with us. We would also like to thank Towson University, the A. J. Drexel Autism Institute, and the Organization for Autism Research (OAR) for their generous funding of this project. In addition, we would like to thank Alexis Lupfer for her contribution to data analysis during an earlier phase of the project, and Cheryl Cohen and Dr. Jennifer Hillman for their discerning comments on the final draft of this paper.


This study was funded by Towson University, the A. J. Drexel Autism Institute (#U0022482), and the Organization for Autism Research (#5060002).

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CA conceptualized the study; conducted all interviews; performed coding and qualitative data analysis; and drafted the final manuscript. CB and CS performed coding and qualitative data analysis and contributed to the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Connie Anderson.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. The Towson University Institutional Review Board (IRB) approved both parent (#15-X015) and young adult with autism spectrum disorder (#1611009343) study protocols.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Anderson, C., Butt, C. & Sarsony, C. Young Adults on the Autism Spectrum and Early Employment-Related Experiences: Aspirations and Obstacles. J Autism Dev Disord 51, 88–105 (2021).

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