How Age of Diagnosis Influences Working Adults with ASD

With more accurate autism diagnoses taking place across the U.S., the rate of total diagnoses has risen in recent years. As a result, it has become commonplace for companies to anticipate applicants on the spectrum, creating a need for initiatives that help them transition into their workplace.

As evident in many reporting and press releases over recent years, many organizations understand the need for programs that accommodate young professionals with autism, and have even set goals to have a certain percentage of their workforce be on the spectrum. Although these initiatives have been great breakthroughs for the autism community, it has been less common to hear the perspectives of those working with autism.

ASDAccording to a new release from the Journal of Applied Psychology, the age that one is diagnosed plays a major role in how they feel about their place in the workforce. Those diagnosed later in life often do not feel like they identify with the ASD community, and therefore their perspectives of their job performance are very different from those diagnosed as babies or toddlers.

Tiffany Johnson and Aparna Joshi, researchers at Pennsylvania State University, recently conducted in-depth interviews with 30 adults with an autism diagnosis, discussing their experiences at work. They then surveyed a group of over 200 working on the spectrum, primarily men, and the majority in their twenties and thirties. They were contacted through an autism network, working through a variety of industries, including education and finance.

Their findings showed that individuals working in jobs requiring high social ability differed greatly on how they felt about their job performance; individuals who were diagnosed early in life felt much less capable and more discriminated against than their later-diagnosed counterparts. Those diagnoses later in life felt more comfortable in their roles, and for the most part agreed that their performance matched that of their neurotypical peers. Researchers found that those diagnosed early had a firm idea of their place in the ASD community.

Furthermore, the survey showcased that those with early diagnosis much preferred jobs that offered organizational support for those on the spectrum, while those with a late diagnosis were more comfortable with less attention and differentiation. Those with early diagnosis also felt anxious about disclosing their condition to colleagues, however they did not feel discriminated against and appreciated any extra assistance or input. On the contrary, those with later diagnosis felt that disclosing their condition resulted in discrimination, and therefore caused low self-esteem.

As the research shows, having ASD while being a part of the workforce is far from simple; each person’s experience is rather complex. Identity management at work has been given little attention to those with ASD and other developmental disabilities, so it is increasingly critical to help support those on the spectrum when they express their need for it, or know when to step back when they feel uncomfortable.

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