Employment is a key issue for autistic people. The series of reports from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reports on Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC) show a massive and ongoing problem with employment outcomes for autistic Australians.

The ABS reported from its 2018 data that:

The labour force participation rate was 40.8% among the 75,200 people of working age (15-64 years), living with autism spectrum disorders. This is compared with 53.4% of working age people with disability and 83.2% of people without disability.

The unemployment rate for people with autism spectrum disorders was 31.6%, more than three times the rate for people with disability (10.0%) and almost six times the rate of people without disability (5.3%).

While reports suggest labour force participation rates improving, this is due largely to harsher and increasingly unreasonable DSP eligibility measures. A decade ago, the same reports indicated:

In 2009, the labour force participation rate for people with autism was 34%. This compares with 54% labour force participation rate for people with disabilities and 83% for people without disabilities.

Tragically, governments ignore these data; they refuse to recognise and do nothing to address the challenge of employment for autistic Australians. The previous National Disability Strategy 2010-20 essentially ignored autism and the well-documented employment problems autistic people endure. The government’s disability employment effort targets people with disability generally, a strategy that ensures autistic people are left behind.

The new Australian Disability Strategy 2021-31 is a plan for another decade of doing nothing to improve employment outcomes for increasing numbers of autistic Australians. We anticipate that the National Disability Employment Strategy that is now in development[1] will also ignore the particular needs of unemployed autistic Australians. Autistic representation and advice on employment is unheeded.

Keep points are:

  • Most autistic people want to work. They prefer and usually depend on the routine of regular employment.
  • Most autistic people are capable workers – in the right jobs, they perform exceptionally well. This is starting to be recognised for some autistic people in parts of the IT sector. There are many other roles where autistic people can perform far better than others if they are given an opportunity and a bit of support.
  • The Australian Disability Strategy 2021-31 and the National Disability Employment Strategy (under development) do not recognise especially poor employment outcomes for autistic Australians – Australia needs a National Autism Strategy to improve outcomes for autistic people in Australia
  • Education does not prepare autistic people for employment – in many cases it does not prepare them for life after they leave school
  • Employers are currently complaining about staff shortages – has disability employment improved? Reports suggest we should soon see Australia’s unemployment with a 3 at the front. What will it be for autistic Australians?

Policy goals

  1. Educate and incentivise employers to employ autistic people
  2. Improve education to help autistic students prepare for autistic students for adult life
  3. Action that improves autistic employment


[1] by DSS, rather than DEEWR.