Study shows job training results in competitive employment for youth with autism

A Virginia Commonwealth University study¹ shows intensive job training benefits youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), one of the most challenging disabilities in the world where only 20 percent find employment. Published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, the study demonstrates that nine months of intensive internship training, in conjunction with an engaged hospital, can lead to high levels of competitive employment in areas such as cardiac care, wellness, ambulatory surgery and pediatric intensive care units.

"This is the first study of its kind to demonstrate the skills and abilities youth with ASD have and the success they can experience at work," said Paul H. Wehman, Ph.D., principal investigator of the study and Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and Director of the VCU Autism Center at the VCU School of Education. "Previous research in this area showed that youth with ASD were employed at lower rates than even their peers with other disabilities."

Traditionally, youth with autism between the ages of 18 and 22 remain unemployed after leaving school at rates of over 80 percent. But VCU researchers reported that those who completed a program called "Project SEARCH with Autism Supports" achieved employment at 87 percent. This study also showed that youth with ASD required less intense support as they became more competent at their work task.

VCU partnered on the study with Bon Secours Richmond Health System St. Mary's Hospital in Henrico County, Va., St. Francis Medical Center in Chesterfield County, Va.; Henrico County Public Schools; Chesterfield County Public Schools; and the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS).

"Bon Secours has participated in Project SEARCH since 2010 and each year we find the students add a tremendous value to our team of caregivers," said Michael Spine, Bon Secours Health System Senior Vice President of Business Development. "Project SEARCH graduates are permanent and important members of our staff, working throughout the hospitals in a variety of areas including labor and delivery, our cardiac units and wellness."

"Witnessing how these 'disabled students' are transformed into valued employees and colleagues during their Project SEARCH year is the best example of how our system can be successful when our collaboration is employed," said DARS Commissioner James A. Rothrock.

"Getting a job is the central accomplishment in life for all 20-year-olds," said study co-investigator Carol M. Schall, Ph.D., Director of Technical Assistance for the VCU Autism Center for Excellence and Virginia Autism Resource Center. "For far too long, youth with ASD have been left out of that elated feeling that adults have when they get their first real employment. Through this study, we were able to demonstrate that with ASD can be successful employees."

Youth with were employed in jobs not typically considered for those with disabilities in a hospital setting. They worked 20 to 40 hours per week and were paid 24 percent more than the minimum wage.

More information: Wehman PH et al. (2013). Competitive employment for youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Early results from a randomized clinical trial. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders DOI 10.1007/s10803-013-1892-x

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