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With Training, Most With Autism Land Jobs

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When offered intensive, specialized training, a new study finds that young people with autism — even those with challenging behaviors — can be highly successful on the job.

Researchers followed a group of high school students, some of whom received traditional special education offerings while others were provided with specialized training and internships through a program called “Project SEARCH with Autism Supports.”

Of the young people who got the extra job training, 87 percent found work in competitive employment situations after graduation compared to just 6 percent in the control group, researchers reported the July issue of the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

“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 Wehman of Virginia Commonwealth University who was the study’s principal investigator.

The findings are particularly significant, Wehman said, since previous research has found that those with autism are employed at even lower rates than others with disabilities.

For the study, researchers looked at 40 high school students ages 18 to 21 with autism, Asperger’s syndrome or pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified. Two-dozen students were assigned to participate in Project SEARCH with Autism Supports while the remaining 16 made up a control group.

Researchers customized Project SEARCH — a nine-month internship program for those with developmental disabilities during their last year of high school — to meet the specific needs of young people with autism. They incorporated applied behavior analysis and relied on an interdisciplinary support team including teachers, employment specialists, a positive behavior support facilitator and other experts.

Students in the program did internships at two different hospitals working in neonatal and pediatric intensive care units, diabetic wellness units and the hospital pharmacy, among other areas. All of the work was high-level, but involved repetitive tasks requiring attention to detail, the researchers said.

Participants were also taught basic employment-related skills like how to get to and from work using public transportation, how to ask for help and how to accept constructive criticism from a supervisor.

Individuals in the program needed less supports as they became more familiar with their jobs, the study found, even in cases where students started out with significant behavioral challenges. What’s more, after completing Project SEARCH, 21 students were able to get jobs in competitive employment situations earning 24 percent more than minimum wage. Meanwhile, just one of the individuals in the control group was employed after graduation, the study found.

“For far too long, youth with ASD have been left out of that elated feeling that adults have when they get their first real (job),” said Carol Schall of Virginia Commonwealth University and the Virginia Autism Resource Center who worked on the research. “Through this study, we were able to demonstrate that youth with ASD can be successful employees.”

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Comments (8 Responses)

  1. Whitney says:

    Finally research in the right direction. Hopefully this study can be service to all People with Autism no matter what the range is. Now to get rid of the stereotypes but I am more interested what the jobs entail like the duties.

  2. Barbara Huyser says:

    I’d like to see a breakdown on disabilities. My niece has autism and severe Intellectual Disabilities. Work isn’t a meaningful concept to her and efforts to get her to do work have typically resulted in someone getting hit.

  3. Vince says:

    Not sure exactly how “new” this study is. As someone who has worked in Supported Employment for years, this has always been known. Was this just a repeat study?

  4. Whitney says:

    To much studies been on cures and how fix people with disabilities not on quality of life for those with disabilities. Autism needs to have break down yes but that fact many want cures and not to encourage people with disabilities to have productive lives.

  5. Andy says:

    I guess I need to share this with my vocational rehabilitation representative that has told us our daughter is unemployable and offered no alternatives.

  6. Suzanne Moran says:

    I am so proud that my daughter Theresa Moran is a Project Search teacher in Coeur d’ Alene, ID. Thanks for this great article.

  7. howard miller says:

    This should strengthen the hand of Disability Rights Oregon in their lawsuit in support of adequately funded supported employment services. While these results may be obvious to effective job developers most research has not shown such positive effects. Good news.

  8. Mario says:

    I find it interesting that there already is this assumption that we all can graduate in some way or another.

    I for one haven’t graduated from anything except for high school, and even that was problematic. And this surely wasn’t because it was an intellectual challenge, since my grades were way above average.

    Furthermore; what’s challenging behaviour? I take it, that if you have challenging behaviour and you actually finish your college and have some kind of diploma, your behaviour is not challenging (enough).

    With extra training when people already graduate (and thus have skills) I feel it’s a no-brainer people can have reasonably decent jobs.

    Try this again with a group with no qualifications in communities where they state “we don’t have funds to offer extra training and support” and see if they magically become good employees. Since I think that this is the reality for some on the spectrum. And if I look at the economic climate, funding for such programs is getting really, really right, and thus will become more prevalent in the future.

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