Dark clouds or silver linings? A stigma threat perspective on the implications of an autism diagnosis for workplace well-being

Tiffany D. Johnson, Aparna Joshi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

27 Scopus citations


This article unpacks the stigma associated with a developmental disability at work, specifically autism spectrum disorders (ASD), by presenting findings from 2 studies-one interview-based and the other survey-based. Drawing on in-depth interviews with individuals on the autism spectrum, the first study showed that a clinical diagnosis of autism is a milestone event that triggered both positive (silver linings) and negative (dark clouds) responses to work. These positive and negative responses were shaped by the age at which the diagnosis occurred as well as specific work-related contingencies-identity management (disclosing or not disclosing), the importance of the social demands imposed by the job, and organizational support polices for autism. The second study developed and tested propositions derived from the qualitative data by using survey data gathered from working adults with ASD. Results showed that, compared with individuals diagnosed later in life, individuals who were diagnosed at an earlier age experienced greater organization-based self-esteem and lower perceived discrimination when they disclosed their disability, worked in jobs that placed lower social demands on them, or were employed in organizations that offered policies to support workers with ASD. We conclude that, depending on the age of diagnosis, attributes of the employment context can trigger stigma-related threat in different ways and we outline important practical implications of these findings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)430-449
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Applied Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Applied Psychology

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