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Change of autism narrative is required to improve employment of autistic people

Marie Djela (Department of Employment, Neurodiverse Self-Advocacy Partnership, Kington, UK)

Advances in Autism

ISSN: 2056-3868

Article publication date: 24 March 2021

Issue publication date: 24 March 2021




This paper aims to identify common barriers to employment of autistic people and reasonable adjustments that address those barriers; to define autistic strengths and see how the prevailing narrative of autism is affecting employment.


This is a qualitative review of an online consultation amongst a group of 34 autistic adults that took place during April–October 2019. It includes anecdotal accounts and reviews of the themes contained therein.


Key barriers are, namely, deficit narrative of autism; misunderstandings and prejudices amongst senior management and work colleagues; bullying and peer pressure to isolate the autistic employee, leading to anxiety and mental health breakdown in absence of social support; managers making discriminatory choices believing it is the right business decision; the discriminatory nature of provisions, criteria and practices, failing to recognise strengths. Rather than imposing the manner of work, reasonable adjustments should be made to enable the autistic employee to function in his autistic way, achieving results.

Research limitations/implications

Qualitative nature; small self-selecting sample online; functioning and diagnosis not verified, themes derived subjectively.

Practical implications

The need to change the deficit narrative and redefine autistic strengths by autistic people themselves, to legitimise and normalise autistic way of functioning and adjust the managerial provisions, criteria and practices accordingly. Coaching autistic leaders to be the public role models would also help.


Identifying barriers and reasonable adjustments, from the perspective of lived experience. A new framework of assessing autistic competence and suitability for employment is proposed.



Djela, M. (2021), "Change of autism narrative is required to improve employment of autistic people", Advances in Autism, Vol. 7 No. 1, pp. 86-100.



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