DOI: 10.1177/13623613241236110 ISSN: 1362-3613

Career progression for autistic people: A scoping review

Jade Davies, Anna Melissa Romualdez, Elizabeth Pellicano, Anna Remington
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

Many autistic people are unemployed. Of those who are employed, many are in roles that do not reflect their skills, qualifications and/or capabilities, and little is known about how autistic people progress throughout their careers. This study aimed to review and synthesise the existing evidence about career progression for autistic people. In total, 33 studies met the criteria for inclusion, though no study directly aimed to explore the topic. Our findings suggest that underemployment is common within the autistic population. Indirectly, we identified several potential barriers and facilitators of career progression for autistic people. Possible barriers included personal (e.g. gaps in education and employment history), relational (e.g. disclosing an autism diagnosis) and organisational factors (e.g. inadequate employment support). Adequate employment support was the most frequently discussed facilitator. Future research should seek to identify the most successful employment supports for autistic people over the long term to ensure that all autistic people are able to live – and work – in ways that are meaningful to them.

Lay abstract

Lots of autistic people are unemployed. Even when they are employed, autistic people might be given fewer opportunities than non-autistic people to progress in their careers. For example, assumptions about autistic people’s differences in social communication might mean they are not given as many promotions. Indeed, we know that many autistic people are in jobs lower than their abilities (known as ‘underemployment’). We reviewed 33 studies that tell us something about career progression for autistic people. Our review found that lots of autistic people want to progress in their careers, but there are many barriers in their way. For example, when they told their employer about being autistic, some people were given fewer opportunities. Research has also shown that autistic people do not get enough support to progress and that gaps in their employment history can make it difficult to progress. Our review suggested that good employment support (e.g. mentors) might help autistic people to progress in their careers. However, not much research has evaluated employment support for autistic people, which means we do not know how useful it is. Future research should find the best support that allows autistic people to live and work in ways that are meaningful to them.

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