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Leveraging the Power of Autistic Expertise and Systems Thinking in Employment Services Research

Photo of Dora M. Raymaker with a yellow background and pink circle

April 29, 2024

Employment is a key determinant of physical and mental health and quality of life. Yet, autistic people remain unemployed and under-employed. Dora M. Raymaker, PhD, was the speaker at the AJ Drexel Autism Institute’s yearly Autism in Public Health Lecture (APHL), addressing the complexities of the autistic experience in employment alongside burnout and how to navigate systems. Dr. Raymaker is a Research Associate Professor at Portland State University's Regional Research Institute for Human Services in the School of Social Work, Co-director of the Academic Autism Spectrum Partnership in Research and Education (AASPIRE), and editor of Autism in Adulthood. They conduct intervention and services research in collaboration with disability communities to improve employment outcomes and reduce discrimination and stigma.

Commencing with a stark look at employment statistics—revealing that only 14% of autistic individuals receiving disability services hold paid jobs—the webinar underscored the pressing nature of the issue. Despite numerous initiatives, progress has been minimal. Dr. Raymaker’s talk highlighted the intricacies of the employment challenge, advocating for a systems thinking approach. This holistic method encourages understanding the interconnected components of the employment ecosystem to identify impactful interventions.

Dr. Raymaker illuminated crucial themes such as the importance of disclosure, the potential of unconventional career paths, and the often-underestimated phenomenon of autistic burnout. The work presented in the webinar offers insight into the complex landscape of autism and employment, including actionable next steps for attendees.

Intersectionality emerged as a crucial consideration, especially for those belonging to marginalized communities. Dr. Raymaker highlighted the additional challenges faced by individuals who are transgender and people of color, emphasizing the importance of addressing multiple layers of identity in employment discussions.

Success in employment often involves professional growth, work-life balance, financial independence, and a sense of belonging. Efforts are underway to develop adaptive measures to assess key constructs related to employment experiences for autistic individuals, contributing to a better understanding of their unique needs. The webinar offered multifaceted advice for fostering inclusive workplaces, including aligning job roles with individual strengths, promoting work-life balance, and supporting employee mental health. Non-traditional hiring practices and mentorship opportunities were also explored as avenues for accommodating diverse skill sets.

Addressing broader employment challenges requires a holistic approach, encompassing changes at both individual and systemic levels. Inclusive workplaces where all individuals can thrive become possible by challenging norms and advocating for systemic change. Dr. Raymaker’s webinar provided a thought-provoking exploration of autism and employment, emphasizing holistic approaches and offering actionable insights for driving meaningful change. To view the lecture, visit our YouTube channel: