Talking Success (Pilot Program): Preparing Young Adults with ASD for Life after Undergraduate Study

Poster Presentation
Friday, May 3, 2019: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)



While college opaquely prepares students for the work force (e.g. study skills equivalent to being prepared for the work day), this is not transparent for students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Taylor and Seltzer (2011) reported individuals with ASD to be gainfully employed between 4.1% and 11.8% of the general population. Adults with ASD experience difficulty maintaining jobs, and acclimating to new job settings (Hendricks & Wehman, 2009; Howlin, 2000; Hurlbutt & Chalmers, 2004; Jennes-Coussens, Magill-Evans, &Koning, 2006; Müller, Schuler, Burton, & Yates, 2003). Adult-based social skills, inclusive of performance on a job interview, must be explicitly taught to individuals with ASD, in order to facilitate gainful employment.


Adelphi University in New York created the Bridges to Adelphi Program, to support students who self-disclose as having ASD. Each student has individualized objectives in the areas of academic, social, and vocational skills. The objective of this work was to report on an effective vocational and communication-based intervention for college students with ASD. The focus of this project was to support pre-employment. That is, how can an interdisciplinary team facilitate success for students who self-identify as having ASD and who desire, and are capable of, gainful employment?


The author developed a pilot program within the Bridges to Adelphi program, called “Talking Success.” Eight students engaged in weekly discussions focused on how to communicate effectively in the workplace. Talking Success was designed as an interdisciplinary transitional program, across speech-language pathology, social work, and vocational domains. During Talking Success meetings, students identified their location of employment, and specific duties (social and vocational) required within that particular aspirational site. Sessions were focused on building specific interview skills for each student’s self-identified goal (e.g., active listening, formulating alternative responses) and were directed by a social worker and two graduate students studying speech-language pathology, who were supported by weekly meetings held by the author. A vocational trainer held supplementary meetings. Student success was monitored by journal entries from students, weekly reports by student clinicians (supervised by the social worker), and ultimately, obtaining a desired externship.


Five of the eight students secured their desired internships, with two now gainfully employed post-graduation, and one showing promise for near future employment. While the 20% success rate for gainful employment may appear minimal, one must consider sample size (n=8). Further, for these two individuals, outcomes had great impact on individuals who participated in Talking Success, showing potential for growth and development of this program. Preliminary findings are practical and immediately replicable and generalizable.


Explicit training on social and vocational skills related to an individual’s aspirational location of employment increases the likelihood of securing an externship in young adults with ASD.