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Understanding vocational functioning of autistic employees: the role of disability & mental health

Updated: Aug 8, 2022

Employment rates for autistic people are still low, despite a growing number of employment- focused programs. Autistic people report multiple challenges in finding suitable roles and thriving in the workplace. More research is needed to understand how best to help employers accommodate autistic employees.

The research

We assessed 88 employed autistic adults, without intellectual disability. We examined whether disability levels and mental health symptoms reported by autistic adults were associated with two types of vocational functioning: 1) the number of days off work due to disability and and 2) how well they can complete work on a day-to-day basis ('overall vocational disability').

The results

Nearly half (47%) of autistic adults in the study reported at least one day off due to disability in the previous month.

There were no links between either type of vocational functioning and autism characteristics or IQ.

Higher levels of self-reported disability and self-reported mental health symptoms were linked with both types of vocational functioning. This association was greatest for levels of depression, rather than levels of anxiety or stress.


The findings suggest that employment-focused programs may need to focus more on addressing the mental health concerns that autistic adults face, particularly rates of depression, to help improve their workplace experiences.

This could also be achieved by supporting autistic people on an individual level, so that they feel more able to attend work and complete their workplace activites.

Organisations should encourage autistic employees to use workplace mental health services and adapt the workplace environment to better meet the needs of autistic employees.

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