Employment Works Canada, a National Program for Young Adults with Autism
In the Canadian Survey on Disability (2012) 83% of respondents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) reported no employment income. The literature suggests vocational supports fail to meet the needs of individuals with ASD and there is a lack of research regarding effective employment interventions for individuals with ASD. EmploymentWorksCanada (EWC), offers employment preparedness training and experiential community-based job sampling for young adults with ASD to improve employment readiness and enhance employment skills. This national program is embedded within the community and is gathering practice based evidence.
Our objects were to determine: (1) Did participants’ perceptions of their employability skills improve as a result of the program? (2) Did participants’ social skills improve as a result of the program?
The 60 hour program consists of 24 sessions, delivered twice per week for 2.5 hours over 12 weeks. The first weekly module comprises structured, yet tailored content aimed at employment and social skill building, while the second module focuses on review of the learned concepts, follow-up on homework, and the application of learning through experiential activities in a real work environment. A cohort is comprised of 8 participants with ASD supported by a Program Coordinator and two Program Facilitators.
Two self-report measures were used to evaluate employability skills. The Work Readiness Inventory (WRI; JIST Publishing), The WRI is a 36-item self-report that identifies six areas crucial to work readiness: responsibility, flexibility, skills, communication, self-view, and health and safety. Higher scores on the WRI suggest increased worker concerns or areas of weakness. The Ansell-Casey Life Skills Assessment - Modified (ACLSA-M; Nollan, Horn, Downs & Pecora, 2002), is a strengths-based questionnaire that assesses generalized life skill ability by rating (No, Mostly No, Somewhat, Mostly Yes, Yes) how accurately statements describe current functioning in seven domains (Daily Living, Relationship and Communication, Career and Education Planning, Self-Care, Housing and Money Management, Work and Study, and Looking Forward). The Social Skills Improvement System (SSIS; Gresham & Elliot, 2008), a parent-report questionnaire that measures an individual’s ability to perform or acquire social skills using standardized scores (M=100, SD=15) was used to evaluate overall social skill improvement.
Eighty-one participants (mean age 22 years) from five provinces completed the EWC program. Paired-samples t-tests (p < .05) were conducted to evaluate the impact of the intervention. Participants concerns on the WRI significantly (p< .05) decreased in all domains by the end of the program suggesting that participation in the program positively influenced participants’ perceptions about their work readiness skills (Table 1). Significantly (p< .05) more positive scores were noted on the ACLSA-M in the domains directly related to the EWC program, Career and Education Planning, Work and Study, and Looking Forward (Table 2). No significant differences were noted on the SSIS.
These findings are encouraging in demonstrating benefits of EWC. Employment readiness and support are critical components of sustained engagement of persons with ASD in the labour market. To that end, EWC offers important benefits and promising outcomes.