Worktopia: Perspectives of a Job Readiness Program for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Saturday, May 13, 2017: 12:00 PM-1:40 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
D. B. Nicholas1, W. Mitchell2, M. Clarke3 and C. Dudley4, (1)University of Calgary, Edmonton, AB, Canada, (2)The Ability Hub, Calgary, AB, CANADA, (3)Sinneave Family Foundation, Calgary, AB, CANADA, (4)Sinneave Family Foundation, Calgary, AB, Canada
Background: Employment opportunity for youth and adults living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is unacceptably low. Without the opportunity to enter the work force individuals with ASD may be at greater risk for poverty and isolation. This issue calls for attention to developing capacity and improving opportunity for employment among persons with ASD. Worktopia is a new, nationally funded project in Canada designed to improve the employment futures of youth and young adults with ASD, ages 15 -29 as they transition from high school into independent living. Worktopia is an initiative that offers programs to enhance employment readiness at different ages and for varying levels of ability levels. Worktopia includes Employment Works Canada (EWC) and Community Works Canada (CWC). These programs are delivered by 13 different community agencies across 5 regions of Canada. These agencies are contracted to implement and evaluate these pre-employment training programs.

Objectives: To illuminate aspects of the EWC and CWC programs that promote work readiness; to identify program outcomes including benefits and barriers to participants and families.

Methods: Utilizing a grounded theory approach, qualitative interviews were conducted with a sample of participants with ASD and parents from both EWC and CWC programs across Canada. Findings from the interviews will be presented.

Results: Participants highlight the importance of continuity in relationships between support persons (e.g. program facilitators) and individuals with ASD. Key qualities of support included workers who built relational ‘bridges’, used humour, demonstrated respect, had previous experience with ASD, and were approachable. Parents also highlighted the importance of ongoing relational ‘bridges’. Central teaching approaches embedded in adult learning principles such as structured learning, video modeling, and role play were found to enhance employment readiness. Challenges to program participation were transportation to the varied work sites and scheduling for persons with ASD in combination with their other life commitments (e.g. medical appointments). Successful outcomes included increased self-confidence, improved self-recognition, feeling part of the community and lowered fear of social interactions.

Conclusions: The experiences of participants and parents in the Worktopia employment program give direction for service providers and researches who are creating programs to enhance skills and increase work readiness for persons with ASD.