Vocational pathways

Research theme leader: Professor Cheryl Dissanayake

Researchers: Darren Hedley, Amanda Richdale, Simon Bury, Rebecca Flower, Josephine Barbaro, Melissa Gilbert, Lauren Lawson

Vocation (e.g. employment, study) can empower autistic adults to become more engaged, active and independent within their communities. The SASLA study found that young autistic Australians were:

  • more likely to NOT be engaged in either study or work,
  • more likely to be studying without working at the same time, and
  • much less likely to study and work at the same time.

We are continuing work on the benefits to autistic individuals, employers and broader society of enhancing rates of autism employment, and on ensuring an individual differences approach to supporting autistic strengths at work.

A growing body of research is studying the barriers and enablers for autism employment.
Social difficultiesCounseling
Work-related stressGuidance
 Job search assistance
 Workplace accommodations

Currently recruiting – Factors Contributing to Higher Education Success

We are seeking volunteer research participants to be involved in a study about the higher education experiences of students in Australia and New Zealand.Please note, you do not need to have a neurodiverse condition to participate.

Task - complete an online survey, using your own computer, which would take approximately 30-45 minutes of your time. You may choose to enter into a one-in-five chance draw to win an AUD$25 (for Australian residents) or US$20 (for New Zealand residents) Amazon gift voucher on completion of the survey.

Click here for further information

La Trobe University researchers and partners have developed a world-first toolkit to assist workplaces to better support the mental health of autistic employees.

Click here to read the article

New research – Social challenges experience by autistic employees

Bury, S. M., Flower, R. L., Zulla, R., Nicholas, D. B., & Hedley, D. (2020). Workplace social challenges experienced by employees on the autism spectrum: An international exploratory study examining employee and supervisor perspectives. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. doi: 10.1007/s10803-020-04662-6

Social challenges in the workplace are often cited as the key barrier to employment for employees on the autism spectrum, but the nature of these challenges are not well researched. In this study, 29 autistic employees and 15 supervisors, provided 128 written examples of workplace social challenges, their interpretation, consequence and resolution. We found:

  1. That types of social challenges were individually focused on or related to the work environment.
  2. Social challenges were frequently credited to internal or personal factors of the autistic employee.
  3. Resolutions were more often targeted toward the individual than the workplace, and hindered employees’ experience of work.

Where to now? Our next step is to further explore social challenges, and to identify key modifiable workplace factors that can increase accessibility to employment for adults on the autism spectrum.

We have also been developing resources to promote mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, and have recently been funded to investigate the links between sustainable employment and wellbeing of autistic adults.

Read more

External Resources

Supporting a neurodiverse workforce - Mental Health Toolkit.

The ‘Supporting a Neurodiverse Workforce: A mental health and well-being resource and training package’ was designed to support the mental health and well-being of employees on the autism spectrum. It presents current, evidence-based information, and strategies about mental health and well-being, with specific information about mental health and autism. This project has been made possible due to the generous support of DXC Technology and the ANZ Bank, in partnership with the La Trobe University Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre (OTARC).

The training package originated from the DXC Technology Dandelion Program. The Dandelion Program has been effective in recruiting, employing and supporting over 100 individuals on the autism spectrum in Information Communication Technology (ICT) roles. The program’s success is demonstrated by the ongoing achievements of candidates in the program, and the processes designed to support individual growth and development. Within the program, supervisors and support staff recognised that mental health concerns presented significant challenges to further achievement and growth. Importantly, they also recognised the absence of targeted and evidence-based information to support the mental well-being of employees on the autism spectrum in the workplace.

Given the lack of specific information to support the mental health of employees on the autism spectrum, this training package provides information for different audiences at different levels of specificity. For example, there is specific information for different end-users: executives, supervisors, mentors/colleagues, and employees on the autism spectrum. The modular training structure has also been designed to be a quick reference guide for mental health information and strategies, an in-depth information source with useful resources, or a full training course that can be used to establish workplace competency in mental health and autism.

Further Developments

With support from Untapped Holdings, this training package has been turned into an in-person training, as well as train-the-trainer training. It is currently being developed into an online course that will provide digital content and learning, to support the wellbeing of employees on the autism spectrum.

For information about the package, or the upcoming online training, please contact Simon Bury (s.bury@latrobe.edu.au).

Current Studies


Understanding the Experience of Autistic Working Mothers in Australia: An Exploratory Study

Funding: La Trobe University

This study aims to understand the benefits and challenges autistic women experience in being a parent/caregiver and being employed. It also aims to identify specific supports that are needed for autistic women who manage caring and work responsibilities.Katherine (Kate) Gore (Masters candidate, clinical psyc)
Josephine Barbaro
Melissa Gilbert
Rebecca Flower

Success in Higher Education for Neurodivergent Students

Funding: La Trobe University

Exploring the higher education experiences of neurodivergent students in order to better support them to complete their studies.

Lyndel Kennedy (PhD candidate)  
Amanda Richdale
Lauren Lawson

Interviewer perceptions of atypical workplace behaviours of an autistic jobseeker under disability disclosed or hidden conditions; evoking attribution and intergroup contact theory

Funding: La Trobe University

Exploring how diagnostic disclosure, attribution and intergroup contact theory might influence employment outcomes for autistic job seekers.

Olivia Corrente (Honours candidate)
Rebecca Flower
Darren Hedley

The Lab: Establishing an understanding of the operation of a technology club for autistic teens.

Funding: La Trobe University School of Psychology and Public Health – Income Growth Grant Scheme

 Rebecca Flower
Amanda Richdale
Cheryl Dissanayake