OTARC Research Update 2017

[DOWNLOAD] OTARC Research Update November 2017



Professor Cheryl Dissanayake

The Dandelion Program is an example of the potential for collaborative work between private companies and governments to provide employment opportunities to individuals with Autism. It is an innovative supported work program designed to provide an alternate pathway to employment, and one that is sorely needed given the established high rates of unemployment amongst people with Autism. These individuals, despite having specific needs and requiring some supports, also bring a set of unique skills that can provide a competitive advantage in the workplace. The Dandelion Program recognizes these strengths.

We are delighted to be working in collaboration Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the Department of Human Services (DHS) who had the foresight to engage the Danish company, Specialisterne, which now has an Australian branch embedded with us at the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre. There is very little evidence based research in this field of employment. Given this, there is even less known about what intervention strategies may be effective and, moreover, what advice should be provided to organisations implementing similar employment programs. Our work is already beginning to chart, for the first time, the outcomes of individuals with Autism employed in the Dandelion Program, and working within DHS across three Australian States. It is these preliminary data that are presented in this report.

Breaking down the barriers to employment is a laudable objective, especially when the labor force participation rate for adults with ASD is just 42% (compared with 53% for all individuals with disabilities). We hope that with the foresight of HPE and other companies who are also adopting alternative pathways to employment (e.g., SAP and Microsoft), these rates will increase. But we first need to quantify the effects of the Dandelion Program, and we are well on our way to doing so, not only at DHS, but with the Department of Defence as well, who have also joined this exciting initiative.

Cheryl Dissanayake, PhD, MAPS
Professor and Director of the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre (OTARC)



The following list of academic publications have been produced as a result of the ongoing research into the Dandelion Program.


“Employment programmes and interventions targeting adults with autism spectrum disorder: A systematic review of the literature” Autism 2016

Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) face significant challenges entering the workforce, yet research in this area is limited and the issues poorly understood.  In this review, we collated high-quality research studies on employment programs, interventions, and outcomes in adults with ASD (i.e., over 18 years of age), both with and without intellectual disability.  Sixty papers were included in the review, which together comprised 58,134 individuals with ASD.  Selected papers were organized into one of several themes (e.g., employment experiences, development of workplace skills, economic impact).  Overall, the results of the studies were limited by methodological issues such as small sample size and/or the use of inappropriate groups against which to compare the adults with ASD.  Future high-quality research that addresses some of the issues highlighted in this review are required in order to advance our knowledge of ASD in the workplace.

This paper can be found on the publishers website, at:

or a full, downloadable PDF version at:


“Transition to work: Perspectives from the autism spectrum” Autism 2017

To improve employment outcomes for adults with autism it is necessary to identify the factors associated with successful transition to work, both from the perspectives of the individual, and from those who work with or support them. This study involved focus groups, in which adults with autism who had been selected for a 3-year employment and training program, as well as their family members, support staff, and co-workers, were gathered to discuss their experiences and perspectives. We aimed to gain a better understanding of the experiences of adults with autism during their transition to work, along with the barriers and also the factors that promote workplace success. The main themes that were elicited from the focus groups included factors that facilitated success at work, factors that were challenging or created barriers to success at work, and program outcomes. Support from an organisation, advice from co-workers, supportive leadership, the allowance of environmental modifications, and the presence of a consultant were identified as factors facilitating success at work. Challenges included task related difficulties, individual factors (i.e., that are specific to the person), social difficulties and distractibility, not managing work related stress, and being perceived to be too frank. Outcomes were rated as positive and encompassed work related outcomes, as well as outcomes related to sense of purpose, achieving personal independence, and improvements in social relationships, both with work colleagues, and within families.

This paper can be found on the publishers website at:

or a full, downloadable PDF version at:


Employment and Living with Autism: Personal, Social and Economic Impact

Book Chapter,  “Inclusion Disability and Culture”  2017

Researchers from the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre at La Trobe University are pleased to announce the availability of their chapter Employment and Living with Autism: Personal, Social and Economic Impact, in Volume 3 of the Springer Series Inclusive Learning and Educational Equity: Inclusion, Disability and Culture. The chapter includes a case study of the Dandelion Program, and the personal and insightful stories from Dandelion Program trainees. The eBook or chapter can be purchased from the links below.

Abstract: Individuals with autism are often faced with significant barriers to entering the workforce, irrespective of their individual level of functioning or capabilities. Research suggests that even in the developed countries adults with autism experience higher rates of unemployment than almost all other disability groups. These findings are concerning if we have in mind the known positive effects of employment on the individual, the family system, and as a means of offsetting the economic costs of autism. Furthermore, unemployment can have devastating impacts on the mental and physical health of the unemployed individual. Despite the importance of improving employment outcomes for individuals with autism, there is a marked lack of research regarding employment supports or interventions for adults with autism. In this chapter we first review the existing literature with regard to what we know about employment and employment programs in individuals with autism. Next we draw attention to the high rate of co-morbid disorders in adults with autism, in particular depression and suicidal ideation, anxiety and the potential impact of sleep disorders. Consistent with the theme of this book, personal narratives are provided in the form of case studies from people affected by autism. Our first case study describes the life of a young man who participates in supported employment and who is actively engaged with his community. We then describe an innovative employment program operating in Australia that has been effective in providing meaningful employment opportunities in the information technology sector to adults with autism. The benefits of employment for the individual and the family unit are then set in the broader context of the net economic gains for society. For a successful transition into employment the economic gains and productivity improvement over the lifetime of the individual are positive and significant, far outweighing the costs of the intervention.


The abstract and link for this chapter or book can be found at the publishers website:

or copy of the chapter at:


“Brief report: Social support, depression and suicidal ideation in adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Autism and Developmental Disorders 2017

Abstract: Adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are at increased risk of suicide compared to the general population. Research has yet to identify the mechanisms underlying this increased risk. This study examined perceived social support as a potential protective factor for depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation in 76 adults with ASD. Twentyfive percent of participants were in the clinical range for depression, and 20% reported recent suicidal ideation. Social support in the form of appraisal and belonging was not associated with depression or ideation; however the perceived availability of tangible (material) support indirectly acted on ideation through depression. The findings suggest that tangible support, but not appraisal or belonging, may act as an indirect protective factor against suicidality in ASD.

This paper can be found at: