Educational and vocational engagement

We determine and promote the best learning and vocational pathways for Autistic people at all levels of education and in volunteer and paid employment.

RESEARCH PROGRAM LEADER: Associate Professor Jennifer Spoor

Researchers: Cheryl Dissanayake, Susan M Hayward, Darren Hedley, Amanda Richdale, Simon Bury, Rebecca Flower, Josephine Barbaro, Melissa Gilbert, Lauren Lawson

Our work aims to benefit Autistic people, employers and broader society by:

  • increasing the rates of Autistic people in high quality jobs
  • ensuring an individual differences approach to supporting Autistic strengths at work.


New Research

“Maybe no one knows we need help” - Explore the Experiences of Autistic Working Mothers in Australia in this online summary presentation by PhD candidate Kate Gore based on her Masters research published in Autism in Adulthood.

View Sway presentation

Supporting neurodivergent students in higher education - Lyndel Kennedy PhD candidate, OTARC

More neurodivergent students are enrolling in higher education than ever, but many don't complete their degrees or diplomas.

Research has focused mainly on Autistic university students, often ignoring students with other neurodivergent conditions. However, many people have more than one neurodivergent condition.

Research may also assume that it is neurodivergence itself that leads to students dropping out. But other factors may also be relevant.

Research questions:

  • What factors contribute to the academic success of neurodivergent students?
  • What supports do neurodivergent students want, and what barriers stand in their way?

We co-designed a survey and interview questions with neurodivergent students to better understand the university and TAFE experiences of neurodivergent students compared with non-neurodivergent students in Australia and New Zealand.

From over 200 survey respondents, we found that:

  • 93% of neurodivergent students had mental health conditions, and a third had multiple neurodivergent conditions.
  • Neurodivergent students had higher rates of anxiety, depression and sensory sensitivities, and lower executive functioning and wellbeing and did not enjoy higher education as much as non-neurodivergent students.
  • Less than half of neurodivergent students had disclosed to their university or TAFE; many delayed disclosing until a crisis occurred as they worried about stigma and discrimination.
  • Only half of neurodivergent students had accessed support, but when they did, they found them helpful.
  • Overwhelmingly, neurodivergent students wanted new supports (e.g., mentoring programs and support groups) to be led by neurodivergent facilitators.
  • For academic success (passing units or subjects), neurotype was not important. Better executive functioning skills and more social support were related to better success for all students in the study.

Success for neurodivergent students can be improved with the right support and better person-to-environment fit. Lyndel will use the information from her research to make recommendations for improving higher education supports for neurodivergent students, contributing to a future where more neurodivergent students realise their full academic potential.

Lyndel is now analysing in-depth interviews with 34 neurodivergent students.

Lyndel Kennedy's profile

MENTAL HEALTH TOOLKIT AND TRAINING - Supporting a Neurodiverse Workforce

This toolkit was designed to support the mental health and wellbeing of Autistic workers. It has up-to-date, evidence-based information and strategies about mental health and wellbeing. These can be used as an in-depth information source with useful resources or a training course to create workplace competency in mental health and Autism. The toolkit provides information for different end-users: Executives and supervisors, mentors/colleagues, and Autistic workers. The toolkit was developed in partnership with DXC Technology (The Dandelion Project) and ANZ Bank.

Download the toolkit [PDF 1.1MB]

OTARC's other Research Programs