“[I] don’t wanna just be like a cog in the machine”: Narratives of autism and skilled employment

Dora M Raymaker, Mirah Sharer, Joelle Maslak, Laurie E Powers, Katherine E Mcdonald, Steven K Kapp, Ian Moura, Anna “Furra” Wallington, Christina Nicolaidis

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Autistic people experience disparities in employment which may be exacerbated for individuals in skilled employment. Little is known about the experiences of autistic people in skilled employment or how they define success. We used a community-based participatory research approach to conduct a thematic analysis with an inductive approach at a semantic level through a critical realist paradigm. We interviewed 45 autistic people with skilled training, 11 supervisors, and 8 key informants. We purposively sampled to maximize variation. We addressed trustworthiness through multiple coders and peer debriefing. Common themes included high stakes of disclosure, unconventional pathways to careers, disconnects with service and support systems, mental health challenges from trauma/burnout, autistic advantages in the workplace, and complex dimensions of discrimination. Participants defined success as opportunities for growth, work/life balance, financial independence, sense of community, and feeling valued, accepted, and like their work had meaning. Strategies to facilitate success suggested a multi-faceted and wholistic approach including attention to the role of supervisors. Our findings suggest a highly customizable, systems-focused, multifaceted approach to autism employment intervention could be useful in improving skilled employment outcomes. We recommend further work particularly in the areas of disclosure and destigmatizing disability in the workplace.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65–75
Number of pages11
Issue number1
Early online date1 Apr 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2023


  • adults
  • autism
  • community based participatory research
  • employment
  • employment services
  • qualitative research
  • vocational/labor force participation


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