Autism Summer Employment Program Improves Job-Readiness and Employment Prospects in ASD Post-Secondary Students

Poster Presentation
Friday, May 11, 2018: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
J. Doidge1, A. Porthukaran2, I. Yusupov1, S. Konanur1, M. Segers1 and J. M. Bebko1, (1)York University, Toronto, ON, Canada, (2)Psychology, York University, Toronto, ON, Canada
Background: Entering the workforce and obtaining employment is an important goal for students in contemporary society, and a challenge for many young students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) who seek to transition into the workforce. Recently, studies have begun to show the effectiveness of supported employment programs for individuals with ASD and have demonstrated that employment programming for ASD participants can raise employment rates up to 35% (Garcia-Villamisar & Hughes, 2007;García-Villamisar, Wehman, & Navarro, 2002; Hillier et al., 2007; Lawer et al., 2009; Morgan & Schultz, 2012). Yet because of the length of time and expenses, these programs are often not feasible for many vocational centers, or student service centers. Similarly, many students with ASD may not utilize these programs since they are looking for summer or short-term employment.

Objectives: We explored a shortened and specialized Autism Summer Employment Program (ASEP) for post-secondary students with ASD with limited or no prior employment experience. We then examined how ASEP affected students' employment success, job-related knowledge and skills, as well as program satisfaction amongst ASEP participants.

Methods: 18 Canadian post-secondary students with ASD who were currently enrolled in university were recruited for the study. The program took place at a Canadian university, and used employment workshops specific to the ASD population for job searching, plus mock interviews with participants that were videotaped, in addition to ongoing job-related support. Job-readiness was evaluated with the Job-Readiness Questionnaire (JRQ).

Results: Overall, a significant increase in students’ post-program scores compared to their pre-program scores, was found on the JRQ, indicating that students perceived an improvement in their job skills (p < 0.001). Students of the ASEP also reported a significant increase in their interview skills (p = .03), and confidence (p = .01), across the two time points, as well as high program satisfaction. Significant gains were also made in terms of employment goals and communication skills from pre- to post-program evaluations. As for employment, 100 percent of the students achieved employment positions; 14 participants accessed paid employment and 4 had volunteer positions. Of the 14 employed students, 100 percent maintained employment for the duration of their jobs. It seemed that smaller size workplaces sites were beneficial to individuals with ASD for several related reasons: such sites may be less intimidating, friendlier, and more flexible than large-scale workplaces.

Conclusions: These results demonstrated that the ASEP was helpful for obtaining and sustaining summer employment, often the first real work experience for the students. The program provided university students with ASD the opportunity to increase their employment skills in a safe and supported setting for a short duration and with limited costs. Students reported a significant increase in their job-related skills, knowledge, and confidence, and had generally positive work experiences during the program. The ASEP may be a viable support for post-secondary students with ASD in finding not just paid summer employment but also better preparation for full-time employment in the future.