Communityworks Canada® (CWC): A Volunteer, Pre-Employment Program for Youth with ASD

Oral Presentation
Saturday, May 12, 2018: 3:16 PM
Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
W. Mitchell1, C. Dudley1, D. B. Nicholas2 and R. Zulla3, (1)Sinneave Family Foundation, Calgary, AB, Canada, (2)University of Calgary, Edmonton, AB, Canada, (3)University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada

Evaluation of interventions that foster vocational skills in conjunction with social skills to prepare youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) for employment are needed (Walsh, Lyndon & Healey, 2014). CommunityWorks Canada® (CWC), a federally funded, peer supported program for youth aged 15-21 years aims to improve employment prospects through pre-employment training and exposure to volunteer work experiences. The 12-week program, delivered once per week for 2.5 hours is modeled after a volunteer training program developed by the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center (SARRC) in Phoenix, USA.


Does the program influence the work readiness skills and social skills of participants?


A convergent parallel mixed methods design (Creswell, 2014), involving in-depth interviews and quantitative data from questionnaires was used to complementarily examine outcomes and perceptions of participants involved in CWC. Qualitative data were transcribed verbatim and analyzed using NVivo 10 (QSR International, 2012) and questionnaire data identified pre/post differences. Questionnaires included:

  1. The Work Readiness Inventory (WRI; Brady 2010), 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 suggest increased concerns or areas of weakness.
  2. The Social Skills Improvement System (SSIS; Gresham & Elliot, 2008), a parent-report questionnaire, measures behaviors that may interfere with an individual’s ability to perform or acquire social skills using standardized scores (M=100, SD=15).

Fifty-one participants from six Canadian provinces were included in the preliminary data analysis (Table 1) and X participants, x participant’s parents completed an interview.


Qualitatively, gains by participants were primarily noted in work preparedness and social skills, the primary foci of the program. Participants and parents indicated that the program enabled participants with ASD to explore employment particularly by learning about different types of jobs, learning about work preferences, and differentiating between work and leisure. Gaining work experience provided affirmation to individuals with ASD about their ability to complete job tasks and work with others, and increased self-confidence was a recurrent topic. Employment related gains were noted on the WRI (Table 2) that corroborated qualitative data. Social skills gained, as reported by participants with ASD and observed by parents, peer mentors and community partners, included: learning to interact (e.g. how to approach people), building communication skills (e.g. learning to listen quietly and take turns), fostering co-operation (e.g. learning to build motivation among others) and learning the value of social cues (e.g. understanding the importance of personal space). Results from the SSIS approached significance (p= .062; Table 2).


Overall, findings demonstrate benefits from engaging youth with ASD in employment-oriented, inclusive efforts fostering individual skill building and employment exposure. Program outcomes include core skill acquisition and constructive experiential gain toward youth proficiency and comfort within work settings.