Employment and Living with Autism: Personal, Social and Economic Impact

  • Darren HedleyEmail author
  • Mirko Uljarević
  • David F. E. Hedley
Part of the Inclusive Learning and Educational Equity book series (ILEE, volume 3)


Individuals with autism are often faced with significant barriers to entering the workforce, irrespective of their individual level of functioning or capabilities. Research suggests that even in the developed countries adults with autism experience higher rates of unemployment than almost all other disability groups. These findings are concerning if we have in mind the known positive effects of employment on the individual, the family system, and as a means of offsetting the economic costs of autism. Furthermore, unemployment can have devastating impacts on the mental and physical health of the unemployed individual. Despite the importance of improving employment outcomes for individuals with autism, there is a marked lack of research regarding employment supports or interventions for adults with autism. In this chapter we first review the existing literature with regard to what we know about employment and employment programs in individuals with autism. Next we draw attention to the high rate of co-morbid disorders in adults with autism, in particular depression and suicidal ideation, anxiety and the potential impact of sleep disorders. Consistent with the theme of this book, personal narratives are provided in the form of case studies from people affected by autism. Our first case study describes the life of a young man who participates in supported employment and who is actively engaged with his community. We then describe an innovative employment program operating in Australia that has been effective in providing meaningful employment opportunities in the information technology sector to adults with autism. The benefits of employment for the individual and the family unit are then set in the broader context of the net economic gains for society. For a successful transition into employment the economic gains and productivity improvement over the lifetime of the individual are positive and significant, far outweighing the costs of the intervention.


Autism spectrum disorder Competitive employment Economic impact Family Supported employment Vocational training 



We acknowledge the intellectual contribution of Professor Cheryl Dissanayake, Associate Professor Amanda Richdale, Professor Timothy Bartram, Dr. Simon Moss and Dr. Jenifer Spoor to the ideas and themes presented here, and thank the many individuals at Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the Department of Human Services who have also contributed to our research endeavours and attempts to document the Dandelion process. We would like to especially thank the contributors to the case studies presented in this chapter for so freely sharing their very personal stories.

Funding Sources

Dr. Hedley is funded by Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the Australian Government Department of Human Services. Dr. Uljarević is funded by an Autism CRC Postdoctoral Research Fellowship.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Darren Hedley
    • 1
    Email author
  • Mirko Uljarević
    • 1
  • David F. E. Hedley
    • 2
  1. 1.Olga Tennison Autism Research CentreLa Trobe UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.Independent Economic ConsultantMelbourneAustralia

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