Report on Study of Employment Experiences of People With Aspergers Syndrome

This is a preliminary notification of reports on a study which was advertised on this website during the months of January and February 2015. The study related to the employment experiences of people with Aspergers Syndrome (hereafter referred to as “AS”) and included an online questionnaire which some of you reading this will have answered (thanks for those responses). In line with the ideals of participatory research, this series of short reports is meant to give basic information on the results and a flavour of the findings to those who participated.

The aim of the research was to highlight the employment situation of adults diagnosed with AS by means of answering the question, “What are the barriers and facilitators to employment for people with Aspergers Syndrome?”

The study itself consisted of three types of research: a systematic review of relevant literature; interviews with representatives of employability organisations charged with helping people with AS into work; and the online questionnaire.

In conducting the systematic review of the literature it was found that of the studies that already existed, a high proportion treated employment as one of a number of life-outcomes to be investigated, many related to the transition period from school to working life and only a relatively few studies examined the employment experiences of adults who had a diagnosis of AS. Of those that did that, most were assessments of particular employment programmes and few reported the actual thoughts of the adults concerned.

However, twelve studies were found that did use research methods that allowed the voices of these adults to be heard and once duplicate methods and findings had been eliminated, six were chosen to “synthesise” for the systematic review of the literature. After this synthesis, four themes emerged for further investigation: types of barriers (sensory, social and cognitive); facilitators of good employment; discrimination; and “Aspergers as a Difference or a Disability”. These themes were explored in the interviews and the online questionnaire and those, as well as the themes of “media representation of AS” (which was raised frequently in the interviews) and “improving future employment prospects”, will be the subject of future reports on this website.

The second research method – the semi-structured interview – was used with representatives of ten employability organisations in Glasgow and Edinburgh in the months of January and February of 2015. The aim of the interviews was to determine the thoughts of those currently working in the employability field on major and contentious issues such as: AS as a disability or difference; barriers and facilitators of employment; discrimination; and on the idea a best-fit (or “stereotypical”) employment type. Another aim was to get their recommendations on how to improve the employment prospects of people with AS.

Themes were pursued as they arose in the course of the systematic review and of the whole series of interviews. As noted above, the main themes became apparent and these were pursued to the point where no new information was being obtained from the answers given.

The last research method used was the online questionnaire, the main purpose of which was to give a public voice, on employment issues, to adults who had an actual or synonymical diagnosis of AS. The questionnaire garnered information about 53 different employment experiences from 39 respondents. The majority of respondents were at least 25 years of age and there was an almost equal split between male and female respondents. Strikingly, none of those who responded were currently in “open employment” (i.e. employment without support from any organisation) and approximately half were not in any type of employment or education. The questionnaire explored the issues noted above and answers will be reported on at a future date.

The Dissertation

In Part One, the theoretical issues that framed the study were identified. In essence these issues were: disability; autism and AS as a disability or a difference; employment in general; employment and disability; and employment and AS. The focus of the discussion moved from the general to the specific in that issues relating to wider disability theory were addressed before those relating to autism and Aspergers per se; and subsequently, the focus of the discussion was on theory related to employment in general, before shifting to an exposition of employment issues related to disability and AS.

The findings from the research conducted for this study were discussed in Part Two of the dissertation, i.e. the findings from, the systematic review, the semi-structured interviews of representatives of employability organisations and from the online survey of people who have an actual or synonymical diagnosis of AS.

In Part Three, there was a discussion about the research findings and their relationship to the theory, and some conclusions about future research were reached.

The information in the three Parts of the dissertation will be discussed in future reports on this website.

It is my intention that these reports will be completed and posted here by the end of 2015.