Article Summary #6: Employment Success in Adults with FASD

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This Article Summary is part of our new CanFASD Connect Top Articles Summary Series. Over the next several months, we will be bringing you summaries of all the recent research papers from our list of the Top FASD Articles of 2019. This is an overview of a recent research paper called Understanding employment success in adults with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.


Successful employment can help individuals to develop a positive identity, self-esteem, and connect with others. Employment can also protect people from experiencing adverse outcomes. However, individuals with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) may experience physical, emotional, and cognitive challenges that impact their ability to get and maintain employment. One specific area of cognitive deficits is executive functioning, which supports goal-directed behaviours. Deficits in executive functioning can impact an individual’s ability to maintain focus, remember instructions, switch between tasks, organize and schedule, work quickly, control impulses, interact socially, and develop social and emotional skills.

However, people with FASD have numerous strengths. Many of these strengths are valued in the workplace, such as their creativity, gregariousness, tenacity, friendliness, and helpfulness, and their ability to thrive with structure and routine. Previous research has looked into the employment experiences of people with disabilities, but very little research has been done on FASD employment specifically.

The researchers of this study surveyed adults with FASD and their caregivers and support workers about their employment experiences. Their goals were to:

  1. Increase understanding of employment experiences among individuals with FASD.
  2. Provide information about supports and strategies for employment success.
  3. Inform FASD employment support groups, professionals, people with FASD, and caregivers of possible ways to achieve employment success.
Main Findings
  • The majority of participants were challenged with maintaining and obtaining employment; 59% had difficulty getting a job and 72% had lost a job in the past
  • Four core themes that contributed to employment success: finding the right fit, relational support, identifying as having FASD, and responding to challenges.
  • Employees with FASD may be especially successful in certain roles, with specific schedules, accommodations, and management styles.
  • Participants are often hesitant to share or talk about their FASD diagnosis due to fear of stigma, a lack of understanding on the part of their co-workers, or because they felt it was not necessary
  • Participants reported several positive impacts of employment such as increasing autonomy through salary, building self-esteem, developing social connections, and becoming advocates for FASD in the workplace.
  • Adults with FASD reported feelings of fulfillment and enjoyment in the workplace
  • Further research is needed to understand the experiences, perspectives, and perceptions of employers, as they are essential in creating positive employment experiences for people with FASD.
  • Further research is also needed comparing employed individuals with FASD to those who are not in order to highlight the key factors that support employment success.
  • Create best practices for disclosing a FASD diagnosis in the workplace to ensure that individuals feel safe and comfortable sharing their diagnosis.
Take-home message

Individuals with FASD often face challenges getting and maintaining employment . The stories from the participants in this study generate messages of hope, possibility, and fulfillment for adults with FASD. Employment success is possible with personalized accommodations, supportive environments and individuals.

Authors: Aamena Kapasi, Marnie L. Makela, Katherine Flannigan, Vannesa Joly, and Jacqueline R. Pei

Journal: Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation

Date: November 14, 2019

Read the full article (not available open access)

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