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Project SEARCH with ASD Supports: A Randomized Clinical Trial to Explore Competitive Employment for 18 to 22 Year-Olds with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)

by Carol Schall, Ph.D.

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In the first randomized clinical trial to test the effectiveness of a transition to employment treatment model for youth with ASD, a study from Virginia Commonwealth University reported youth with autism between the ages of 18 to 22 achieved employment at 87% in Project SEARCH with Autism Supports, while a control group only achieved employment at 6%. Previous studies have shown that, despite intensive intervention in special education programs, youth with ASD have poor outcomes related to employment upon graduation from high school. In fact, unemployment and underemployment is a chronic problem for youth with ASD, with unemployment rates varying from 80% to 95%. These findings of poor employment outcomes hold across the spectrum of abilities for youth with ASD. Further, youth with ASD have lower rates of participation in post-secondary education and Vocational Rehabilitation service providers have struggled to provide services to these youth with ASD. Finally, there has been little research to date to provide guidance to high school and adult service providers seeking to assist youth with ASD in acquiring and maintaining employment.