During my Masters degree, my supervisors and I developed a research study of the experiences of autistic working mothers. This research was recently published, and I wanted to share the results with the Mullum Road community as many of our clients are autistic working mothers.
For the research study, I interviewed 10 autistic working mothers who shared intimate insights about their experiences. The women in my study were aged between 28 to 49 years old, were parents to two or more children, and worked in a diverse range of jobs which included roles such as support worker, business analyst, and truck driver.
What they told us
We identified three common themes in their experiences:
- Wellbeing: Work gives me purpose - Participants described feeling that employment gives them a sense of purpose and supports their mental wellbeing. Some participants linked positive wellbeing to financial independence.
- Challenges: It’s hard being an autistic working mother. In this theme, participants described difficulties juggling the needs of their children and work, being a neurodivergent mother to neurodivergent children, “guilt” accompanying this juggle, and challenges in finding suitable part-time work that enabled them to balance caregiving and financial needs.
“I'm just constantly going to appointments and if I'm not going to the appointments, then I'm arranging the appointments, or I'm following up on what they told me to do in the appointment...”
- The invisible disability: Everyone think I look okay. This theme described the impact of a lack of understanding by health professionals and society of the challenges experienced by autistic women, the burnout that results from having an invisible disability, and the lack of supports that led to some participants becoming “self-sufficient” out of necessity.
“…when we say we’re autistic, people are like, no you’re not…and then we try to tell them that we’re struggling, and they just don’t get it because we look the same as they do.”
Where to from here?
Key insights from this study included that autistic working mothers need access to supports designed for them and they also need greater understanding of their strengths and challenges.
Some of the ways that psychologists and allied health professionals can support autistic working mothers is through educating themselves about the experiences of autistic working mothers; providing a safe and empathetic space; and to support them to make the adjustments they need at home, when advocating for their children at school, and in the workplace.
Link to short summary of the research - https://sway.office.com/N0PTFdH8MHuc5CFc?ref=Link
Link to full research article - https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/aut.2022.0089