Article Details

Research Database: Article Details

Citation:  Wehman, P., Lau, S., Molinellow, A., Brooke, V., Thompson, K., Moore, C., & West, M. (2012). Supported employment for young adults with autism spectrum disorder: Preliminary data. Research & Practices for Persons with Disabilities, 37 (3), 160-169.
Title:  Supported employment for young adults with autism spectrum disorder: Preliminary data
Authors:  Wehman, P., Lau, S., Molinellow, A., Brooke, V., Thompson, K., Moore, C., & West, M.
Year:  2012
Journal/Publication:  Research & Practices for Persons with Disabilities
Publisher:  TASH
Full text:   
Peer-reviewed?  No
NIDILRR-funded?  Not reported

Structured abstract:

Background:  Individuals with autism spectrum disorder are commonly underemployed or unemployed. Autism spectrum disorder is characterized by difficulty understanding social cues and facial expressions, difficulty expressing emotions, uneasiness with change, and trouble acclimating to new routines. These difficulties with social situations and expectations of everyday life often exist in the workplace as well. While underemployment and unemployment rates are high for individuals with autism spectrum disorder, studies show that individuals with autism spectrum disorder who do find employment, often do not secure long-term employment. Vocational rehabilitation programs can support individuals with autism spectrum disorder in their employment quest. One practice is supported employment, which helps individuals with autism spectrum disorder find and retain competitive employment. Very few programs in the United States use supported employment to assist individuals with autism spectrum disorder find and secure employment.
Purpose:  The purpose of this study was to determine the effects of supported employment for individuals with autism spectrum disorder in obtaining and maintaining competitive employment. Individuals with autism spectrum disorder are commonly underemployed or unemployed.
Study sample:  The sample of this study was comprised of 33 individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Each of the participants were referred by vocational rehabilitation counselors to competitive employment services. Participants were not screened prior to the study for behavioral or social skills, potential for employment, or any other factors. 76% of the participants were men. The median age of participants was 22 years old, with participants ranging in age from 19 years to 59 years. 76% of the participants were Caucasian. 79% of participants were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, 18% were specifically diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, and a diagnosis of a secondary disability was reported by 70% of participants. The secondary diagnosis was in addition to a primary diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. A high school diploma or high school equivalency diploma was held by all of the participants, with 39% reporting some college experience. Either no employment history or short-term work history was reported by 91% of participants. Either some or full support with job training or traveling to work was reported by 85% of participants. 33% of participants reported sporadic work history, but currently unemployed at the time of the study. Having no work history was reported by 58% of participants. Having long-term work history, but needing support due to personal changes was reported by 9% of the participants. High social support needs,
Data collection and analysis:  Participants were referred to the supported employment services by local rehabilitation counselors. No work skill or barrier screenings occurred prior to individuals being accepted to participate in the study. Employment specialists at a Commission in Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF)-accredited supported employment program collected the data. The supported employment program is part of a major university. The three employment specialists had 1-3 years of experience in the supported employment field, and two of the specialists had applied behavioral analysis experience. The following categories were used for the supported employment interventions: the formation of the employment-seeker’s profile and assessment, job development and the search for employment, training at the workplace, and long-term supports to assist in employment retention. A secure server was used to store the data. ColdFusion MX was used to create the database. The database allowed the specialists to enter their data from remote locations and passwords were used. The data was regularly updated and reviewed in order to ensure accuracy. The length of intervention and outcomes of participants were totaled across the participant group and over time.
Findings:  The study found that 82% of the participants achieved competitive employment, as a result of the support. Most of the positions secured by these participants were categorized as entry-level. In each of the cases where employment was secured, participant interest and choice led the job search and selection. Wages and benefits secured by the participants were comparable to coworkers with the same or similar responsibilities. The average wage of participants was $8.86 per hour. Work in the health care field was secured by 42% of participants, while 15% of participants found work in the retail field, 15% found work in the fields of recreation and education, and 6% secured employment in the food service or janitorial fields. Hours worked per week ranged from 8 to 40 for the participant group, with the average number of hours worked 22.53 per week. Intervention time with the employment specialist includes reviewing records, interviews, and observations. Situational assessments are also included in the intervention hours. The average amount of intervention time among the study sample was 8:55, and the range of hours spent was 1:30 t0 50:15 for the participant group. The hospital internship program required a notably smaller amount of hours for this phase. Job development, contacting employers, and interviews/matches for jobs comprised the career search phase of the study. The range of intervention hours for this phase was 4:00 to 77:45, with the mean intervention time 28:43. The hospital internship program required less hours for this phase, as well. The mean of job site training and support was 107:09 hours. These hours include time the employment specialist spent at the employment site training or observing the employee. On the job training and support continued until the employee reached stabilization. Maintaining no more than 20% of intervention by the employment specialist was considered reaching stabilization.
Conclusions:  The study concludes that individuals with autism spectrum disorder were able to achieve competitive employment as a result of supported employment services and the support of employment specialists. The employment specialists assisted the individuals in securing employment through the use of an individualized supported employment model. The individualized supported employment model has four steps: creating a jobseeker profile and assessment, advising the employment development and job search, providing on the job training, and using long-term supports to assist with job retention. The study concludes that further research is needed.