New Age Vocational Training Program for Adults with Autism: Integration of Soft Skills Training and Software Testing

Thursday, May 11, 2017: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
M. Baker-Ericzen1, M. Fitch2, M. M. Jenkins2, R. T. Trefas3, E. Velazquez4, M. Kinnear5 and J. Leon6, (1)Child and Adolescent Services Research Center, Rady Children's Hospital San Diego, San Diego, CA, (2)Rady Children's Hospital San Diego, San Diego, CA, (3)Research Resources, Rady Children's Hospital San Diego, La Jolla, CA, (4)Child and Adolescent Services Research Center, Rady Children's Hospital, San Diego, CA, (5)Psychology, Brain Development Imaging Laboratories, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA, (6)Technical Skills Training, National Foundation for Autism Research, San Diego, CA

Longitudinal studies of intellectually able adults with autism have shown consistent and persistent deficits across cognitive, social, and vocational domains, indicating a significant need for effective treatments for these functional disabilities (Howlin, 2000). The cognitive and social skill deficits, "Soft Skills" which predict vocational outcomes, have been identified as major challenges to employment success for these adults (Hillier et al, 2007; Kautz et al, 2014). Additionally, individuals with AS gravitate to technology fields more than general population (Wei et al, 2013), providing a well-suited career choice.


This study tested a novel, community-based intervention that combines a soft skills manualized intervention, Supported employment, Comprehensive Cognitive Enhancement & Social Skills (SUCCESS) with a software testing training program for adults with ASD. An open trial pilot study was conducted to obtain estimates of effects of multiple outcomes: cognitive skills, social skills, technical skills, vocational skills and satisfaction.


A total of 25 adults (μ= 24 SD=4.64 yrs) participated and received the combined SUCCESS & Technical Skills program. Participants participated in the program 3 days a week for 3 hours each day totaling 9 hours a week over 6 months. The SUCCESS curriculum was delivered weekly for 90minutes via active group participation during a work meeting. Skills taught include executive functioning: attention, learning, memory, prospective memory, cognitive flexibility, problem solving, goal oriented thinking and contextual awareness and social cognition: social conversation (giving and receiving compliments, feedback and help), social relationships, initiations, social media and social networking. The technical skills curriculum prepares the participant for a position as an entry level Software QA Tester in the high tech industry, and also prepares the student to obtain a Certificate in Software Testing (from ISTQB). Pre and post assessments include a full battery of assessments with the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function- Adult Version (BRIEF-A) ,Social Responsiveness Scale-2 (SRS-2), technical skills performance (completion rates, accuracy of bug detection, program proficiency), work skills (attendance, dress code, productivity) and vocational outcomes (employment). Data was gathered from standardized measures (participant and parent report), records, computer program reports and program staff ratings. The majority of participants were male (90%), white race/ethnicity (84%) and all graduated with a high school diploma.


Analyses consisted of calculating paired sample t-tests and Cohen’s d effect sizes to measure the magnitude of the effect of the intervention on outcomes. Preliminary findings reveal small to large effects on executive functioning and social functioning (Refer to Table 1 & 2). Reports of tech skills and work skills revealed large gains. Employment rates increased from 20% to over 50% post intervention. Program satisfaction was very high with mean rating of 8.9 out of 10.


This study demonstrates that an integrated program designed to develop technical skills and vocational soft skills positively impacts adults with ASD. These adults were substantially more prepared for the workforce and obtained employment at high rates. This job-training program revealed high satisfaction and promise towards vocational success for adults with ASD.