Youth with autism gain, keep jobs after employer-based skills program, research finds

March 30, 2017 by Brian Mcneill

Nearly all high school youth with autism spectrum disorder who participated in an intensive job skills program gained and maintained meaningful part-time employment after graduation, according to a forthcoming study by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Three months after graduation, 90 percent of the young people with autism who took part in the program acquired competitive, part-time jobs that paid between $9.53 and $10.66 an hour. A year after graduation, 87 percent of the participants still had their jobs.

Meanwhile, a control group of young people with autism who did not take part in the job skills program saw only 6 percent employed three months after graduation and only 12 percent employed after a year.

"This is the first randomized clinical trial to show that if young people with significant autism, who have historically been unemployed at a very high level after high school (greater than 75 percent), receive a combination of nine months of immersion in a business setting internship, plus supports such as applied behavior analysis, that their chances for becoming competitively employed are much better than those who do not receive these services," said Paul Wehman, Ph.D., director of both the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Successful Business Practices Leading to Employment of Persons with Disabilities and the VCU Autism Center for Excellence, who led the study. "The 90 percent retention rate of all of the employed persons at 12 months or longer is extremely encouraging."

The study, "Effects of an employer-based intervention on employment outcomes for youth with significant support needs due to autism," will be published in the April 1 edition of the journal Autism.

Wehman, a professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in the School of Medicine and in the Department of Counseling and Special Education in the School of Education, said the study shows definitively that there is a clear pathway to competitive employment for youth with autism who have traditionally been chronically unemployed.

"Jobs were found in many different health care [fields] and other settings," Wehman said. "Furthermore, this study shows the clear-cut employment potential of youth with autism and also the receptivity of employers to hiring and retaining young individuals with autism."

The researchers also found that the young people with autism who took part in the program found that the work provided them with an important therapeutic medium that helped make them more independent, and improved their social skills and self-esteem.

The program, called Project SEARCH plus Autism Spectrum Disorder Supports, was a nine-month, employer-based intervention that modified an existing high-school-to-work program called Project SEARCH that supports individuals with disabilities. The researchers built on Project SEARCH by incorporating the use of applied behavior analysis, which helps meet the extensive social, communication and behavioral needs of with autism.

"Each week, a behavioral consultant from our staff met with the onsite contact to debrief on specific situations/behaviors exhibited by the interns and assisted with developing plans to support those interns to minimize the interference of those behaviors in the workplace," Wehman said. "Applied behavioral analysis techniques played an extremely important role in teaching new work behaviors and developing appropriate social skills."

The study's participants were 49 high-school-aged people between the ages of 18 and 21 years old who had been diagnosed with an , and were eligible for supported employment.

Graduates of the program now hold jobs at a number of employers in the Richmond area, as well as in south Hampton Roads. Locally, employers that have hired the graduates include Bon Secours, Lowe's, Henrico County Public Schools, Hanover County Public Schools, Red Door Salon, Great Harvest, Kroger, Marriott, Gold's Gym, Mango Salon and Hobby Lobby.

The Virginia Department of Rehabilitation Services and Aging provided support throughout the study, which laid the groundwork for a larger study, funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research. That larger study aims to replicate the earlier findings with a larger sample, with more hospitals and school districts, and to develop a manual that would allow others around the country to replicate the findings.

The larger study is slated to finish later this year, Wehman said.

"We are extremely interested in seeing the efficacious impact of a nine-month (900 hours total) internship on the overall employment and social development of youth with autism coming out of school," he said. "The implications are powerfully supportive of providing more and more employment type opportunities in the community when these youth are 15 to 17 years old."

"We have found that most of these students have much more capacity than many people thought," he added. "There are implications, not only for special education teacher practices, but also rehabilitation counselors and physicians who are examining the long-term work potential of youth with autism. Finally and perhaps most important, individuals with and their families should feel validated that their true skills, abilities and human potential is being displayed with the right help and support."

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

More information: Paul Wehman et al. Effects of an employer-based intervention on employment outcomes for youth with significant support needs due to autism, Autism (2017). DOI: 10.1177/1362361316635826

Related Stories

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

July 29, 2013
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 ...

Job services lacking for young people with autism

July 22, 2015
As autism becomes more prevalent, the need grows for services that help young people with the disorder to find and keep jobs, indicates new research led by Michigan State University education scholars.

Tapping into the unique skills of students with autism

September 29, 2016
In what's believed to be an Australian first, Curtin University is tapping into the unique skills of students with autism to help them find careers in the software testing industry.

Researcher identifies autism employment resources, tips for people with autism spectrum disorders

October 12, 2011
Statistics show that the number of people diagnosed with autism has increased steadily over the past 30 years resulting in a surge in the number of adults with autism graduating from high school. However, preliminary employment ...

Young adults with autism found to have difficulty transitioning into employment

September 5, 2013
A study published in the September 2013 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that young adults with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have more difficulty transitioning into ...

Planning a better future for people with autism

August 27, 2014
In the world of special education, transition is the move from school to adult life. For most of us that move can be awkward, but for people with disabilities—particularly autism—it is especially complex.

Recommended for you

Signaling pathway may be key to why autism is more common in boys

October 17, 2017
Researchers aiming to understand why autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are more common in boys have discovered differences in a brain signaling pathway involved in reward learning and motivation that make male mice more vulnerable ...

Whole genome sequencing identifies new genetic signature for autism

October 12, 2017
Autism has genetic roots, but most cases can't be explained by current genetic tests.

Mum's immune response could trigger social deficits for kids with autism

October 10, 2017
The retrospective cohort study of 220 Australian children, conducted between 2011-2014, indicates that a "an immune-mediated subtype" of autism driven by the body's inflammatory and immunological systems may be pivotal, according ...

Largest study to date reveals gender-specific risk of autism occurrence among siblings

September 25, 2017
Having one child with autism is a well-known risk factor for having another one with the same disorder, but whether and how a sibling's gender influences this risk has remained largely unknown.

Faulty cell signaling derails cerebral cortex development, could it lead to autism?

September 20, 2017
As the embryonic brain develops, an incredibly complex cascade of cellular events occur, starting with progenitors - the originating cells that generate neurons and spur proper cortex development. If this cascade malfunctions ...

Predicting atypical development in infants at high risk for autism?

September 12, 2017
New research from the Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) identifies a potential biomarker that predicts atypical development in 1- to 2-month-old infants at high ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.