Activity Employment in Autism: Reflections on the Literature and Steps for Moving Forward



Reflecting an address given at the Autism Challenges and Solutions International Conference in Moscow in April 2019, this paper reviews selected studies within the author’s program of research as well as selected literature addressing pathways to employment for adults with autism. A range of employment support programs are considered, representing promising approaches. Attention is given to environmental elements that appear to have a bearing on individual employment experience and outcomes. These elements point to a person in environment approach which is increasingly supported by emerging evidence. This approach is conveyed as the employment ecosystem, with constituent elements that include the individual (employee or potential employee), family, employer, co-workers, work setting, community services, and embedded labor, health and disability policy. These various components of the ecosystem offer relevance in terms of understanding employment options and experiences of autistic adults. Recommendations for advancing this field are offered.

General Information

Keywords: autism spectrum, autistic, employment, quality of life, ecosystem

Journal rubric: Expert opinion

Article type: scientific article


Funding. Funding is gratefully acknowledged from Autism Speaks, Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada, and the Sinneave Family Foundation

For citation: Nicholas D. Activity Employment in Autism: Reflections on the Literature and Steps for Moving Forward. Autizm i narusheniya razvitiya = Autism and Developmental Disorders, 2020. Vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 5–11. DOI: 10.17759/autdd.2020180301.


  1. Anderson C., Butt C., Sarsony C. Young adults on the autism spectrum and early employment-related experiences: Aspirations and obstacles. Journalof Autismand Developmental Disorders, 2020. Advance online publication. DOI:10.1007/ s10803-020-04513-4
  2. Ecosystem / Oxford English Dictionary Online Edition [Web resource]. URL: (Accessed 25.05.2020).
  3. Hedley D., Uljarevic M., Cameron L., Halder S., Richdale A., Dissanayake C. Employment programmes and interventions targeting adults with autism spectrum disorder: A systematic review of the literature. Autism, 2017, vol. 21, no. 8, pp. 929— 941.   DOI:10.1177/1362361316661855
  4. Howlin P., Alcock J., Burkin C. An 8 year follow-up of a specialist supported employment service for high-ability adults with autism of Asperger syndrome. Autism, 2005, vol. 9, no. 5, pp. 533—549. DOI:10.1177/1362361305057871
  5. Keel H.J., Mesibov G.B., Woods A.V. TEACCH-Supported employment program. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 1997, vol. 27, no. 1, pp. 3—9. DOI:10.1023/a:1025813020229
  6. Khayatzadeh-Mahani A., Wittevrongel K., Nicholas D.B., Zwicker J.D. Prioritizing barriers and solutions to improve employment for persons with developmental disabilities. Disability and Rehabilitation, 2019, vol. 11, pp. 1—11. DOI:10.1 080/09638288.2019.1570356
  7. Levy A., Perry A. Outcomes in adolescent and adults with autism: A review of the literature. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 2011, vol. 5, no. 4, pp. 1271—1282. DOI:10.1016/j.rasd.2011.01.023
  8. Nicholas D.B., Attridge M., Zwaigenbaum L., Clarke M. Vocational support approaches in autism spectrum disorder:   A synthesis review of the literature. Autism, 2015, vol. 19, no. 2, pp. 235—245. DOI: 10.1177/1362361313516548
  9. Nicholas D.B., Zwaigenbaum L. Zwicker J., Clarke M., Lamsal R., Stoddart K., Carroll C., Muskat B., Spolestra M., Lowe K. Evaluation of employment support services for adults with autism spectrum disorder. Autism, 2018, vol. 22, no. 6, pp.  693—702. DOI:10.1177/1362361317702507
  10. Nicholas D.B., Mitchell W., Dudley C., Clarke M., Zulla R. An ecosystem approach to employment and autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 2018, vol. 48, no. 1, pp. 264—275. DOI:10.1007/s10803-017-3351-6
  11. Nicholas D.B., Hedley D., Randolph J.K., Raymaker D.M., Robertson S.M., Vincent J. An expert discussion on employment in autism. Autism in Adulthood, 2019, vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 1—8. DOI:10.1089/aut.2019.29003.djn
  12. Nicholas D.B., Klag M. Critical reflections on employment among autistic adults. Autism in Adulthood, 2020. Advance online publication. DOI:10.1089/aut.2020.0006
  13. Schall C.M., Wehman P., Brooke V., Graham C., McDonough J., Brooke A., Ham W., Rounds R., Lau S., Allen J. Employment interventions for individuals with autism: The relative efficacy of supported employment with or without prior Project SEARCH training. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 2015, vol. 45, no. 12, pp. 3990—4001. DOI:10.1007/s10803-015-2426-5
  14. SeamanR.L., Cannella-MaloneH.I. Vocational skills interventions for adults with autism spectrum disorder: A review of the literature. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 2016, vol. 28, no. 3, pp. 479—494. DOI:10.1007/s10882-016-9479-z
  15. Shattuck P.T., Roux A.M. Commentary on employment support research. Autism, 2015, vol. 19, no. 2, pp. 246—247. DOI:10.1177/1362361313518996
  16. Taylor J.L., Seltzer M.M. Employment and post-secondary educational activities for young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders during the transition to adulthood. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 2011, vol. 41, no. 5, pp. 566— 574.   DOI:10.1007/s10803-010-1070-3
  17. Taylor J.L., McPheeters M.L., Sathe N.A., Dove D., Veenstra-VanderWeele J., Warren Z. A systematic review of vocational interventions for young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Pediatrics, 2012, vol. 130, no. 3, pp. 531—538. DOI:10.1542/peds.2012-0682
  18. Wehman P. Schall C.M., McDonough J., Kregel J., Brooke V., Molinelli A., Ham W., Graham C.W., Erin Riehle J., Collins H.T., Thiss W. Competitive employment for youth with autism spectrum disorders: Early results from a randomized clinical trial. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 2014, vol. 44, no. 3, pp. 487—500.  DOI:10.1007/s10803-013-1892-x
  19. Zwicker J.D., Zaresani A., Emery J.C.H. Describing unmet needs among adults with a developmental disability: An examination of the 2012 Canadian Survey on Disability. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 2017, vol. 65, pp. 1—11. DOI:10.1016/j.ridd.2017.04.003

Information About the Authors

David Nicholas, PhD, professor, Professor of the Faculty of Social Work, Central and Northern Alberta Region, University of Calgary, Canada, ORCID:, e-mail:



Total: 779
Previous month: 10
Current month: 6


Total: 552
Previous month: 1
Current month: 7