Assistive Social Skills and Employment Training (ASSET) Program for Transition Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Poster Presentation
Friday, May 11, 2018: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
K. White1, C. Sung2 and G. Leader3, (1)National University of Ireland, Galway, Galway, Ireland, (2)Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Special Education, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, (3)National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
Background: Youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) face disappointing employment outcomes, including high unemployment and underemployment rates, following high school. This holds true for individuals with ASD without intellectual disability (ID) who have average intellectual abilities, but often have significant difficulty navigating the demanding social interactions in the workplace. While interventions targeting social skills in the larger ASD population have become increasingly prevalent, the majority of studies are atheoretical and focus on the needs of children. Research has not systematically examined work-related social skills interventions as evidence-based practices for transitioning youth with ASD. In addition to this area of need, recent legislative initiatives, including the Workplace Innovation and Opportunity Act in U.S., which mandates significant emphasis on pre-employment training for transition youth with disabilities, highlight the need for work-related social skills interventions to promote successful transition outcomes.

Grounded in social cognitive career theory and developed using a developmental iterative process, the Assistive Social Skills and Employment Training (ASSET) program, consists of ten 90-minute sessions offered in a community-based setting. One trained facilitator led sessions with 6 to 8 transition youth. Using multidisciplinary collaboration and community-based participatory design, curriculum was developed to meet the end-users needs, while emphasizing its appropriateness for practical and clinical utility. Topics covered included: communication, attitude and enthusiasm, teamwork, networking, problem-solving and critical thinking, and professionalism.

Objectives: This study aims to contribute to the evidence base by validating a work-related social skills training intervention, namely ASSET, for transition age youth with ASD (without ID) designed to improve social skills and social self-efficacy.

Methods: Twenty-seven transition youth with ASD participated in the pilot study of the ASSET program between 2014 and 2016 in the U.S. Preliminary findings included 17 high school and college students ranging from 19 to 23 years (M = 20.08; SD = 2.03) with ASD without ID (IQ M = 98.21; SD =16.78). All participants reported a previous diagnosis of an ASD according to DSM-IV-TR criteria.

Results: Findings revealed that 90% of a sample of 17 transition youth with ASD demonstrated significant improvements in social skills (d = .69) and social self-efficacy (d =1.58), as well as in secondary outcomes such as adaptive skills (d = .21) and self-reported levels of anxiety (d = .49) (Sung et al., in preparation; Connor & Sung, in preparation). Qualitative reports indicated that more than 80% reported that overall satisfaction rate was very high (rating between 8 to 10) on a 10 point-Likert scale with 10 being the highest satisfaction.

Conclusions: This study offers preliminary evidence for the efficacy of a work-related social skills training on social skills, self-efficacy, job readiness, adaptive functioning, and mental health for transition youth with ASD. The ASSET program is currently being piloted as a multi-site randomized control trial in two U.S. states, as well as being adapted and implemented in Ireland highlighting its potential for broader national and international collaboration, as well as its practicality and utility in community-based settings. Implications for research and practice, and lessons learned will be discussed.