Examining the Efficacy of a Community College Program Supporting Transition to Adulthood for Individuals with ASD

Oral Presentation
Friday, May 3, 2019: 1:54 PM
Room: 518 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
L. G. Klinger1, K. M. Dudley2, R. K. Sandercock3, G. Osborne4, T. Dawkins5 and M. R. Klinger6, (1)TEACCH Autism Program; Psychiatry, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, (2)Department of Psychology & Neuroscience, UNC Chapel Hill; TEACCH Autism Program, Carrboro, NC, (3)Department of Psychology & Neuroscience, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC, (4)UNC TEACCH Autism Program, Greensboro, NC, (5)The University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, Carrboro, NC, (6)UNC TEACCH Autism Program, Chapel Hill, NC
Background: The dramatic increase in the rate of individuals with ASD graduating high school with a general education diploma has created challenges for higher education professionals and employers who are seeking evidence-based supports. Few interventions exist that target the employment readiness “soft skills” that are often associated with poor outcomes (e.g., executive function, social competence, emotion regulation). The TEACCH School Transition to Employment and Post-secondary Education (T-STEP) program was designed to target these skills. Community colleges represent an ideal location to provide transition interventions as many adolescents with ASD continue their education in community colleges. The T-STEP was offered in community colleges through a statewide Vocational Rehabilitation Pre-Employment Transition Services program.

Objectives: We implemented an open trial, community college version of the T-STEP across 3 community college campuses. The objectives of this open trial were to (1) provide initial efficacy data for this community-college intervention; and (2) create a behavioral observation measure (the Job Skills Assessment Profile) to assess meaningful outcomes associated with successful transition to adulthood.

Methods: Across three community colleges (7-12 students per semester), 31 adolescents and young adults (16-21-years old) with ASD completed a 24 session (90 minutes each) T-STEP course at their local community college. Students had completed or were completing a general education high school diploma. In addition to the T-STEP class, students received academic and career counseling services. Two measures of employment readiness were evaluated at pre- and post-assessments. The JSAP consists of two simulated work experiences (each 20 minutes) with a series of presses that prompt for organization skills, social skills, and emotion regulation skills. A total score is computed along with subdomain scores for each area. Two versions of the JSAP were created to avoid practice effects; versions were counterbalanced across time; videos were coded by blind raters. Caregivers completed an employment readiness measure, the Becker Work Adjustment Profile (BWAP) measuring 4 domains, Work Performance, Interpersonal Relations, Work Habits, and Cognitive Skills. Finally, during one semester (N = 18) self-report measures of self-advocacy (AIR Self Determination Scale) and symptoms of depression (Center-for Epidemiological Studies – Depression) were evaluated.

Results: Employment readiness skills improved on both measures (see Table 1). On the JSAP, participants showed a significant decrease in total workplace behavioral difficulties, improving from a score of 13.00 at baseline to 7.03 post-intervention [t(28) = 4.80, p < .001], with significant improvements across all domains (Organization, Social Skills, and Emotion Regulation). On the BWAP, a significant 17.3 point increase in scores from baseline to post-intervention was seen [t(30) = 5.52, p < .001] with significant improvements across all domains. Significant reductions in depression symptoms and increases in self-determination were also reported.

Conclusions: Results provide promising efficacy evidence for the T-STEP in a community-college environment targeting meaningful outcomes of employment readiness, self-determination, and symptoms of depression. The JSAP also appears sensitive to the employment readiness skills taught during the T-STEP and is a promising measure for other transition intervention studies. Next steps include an RCT and long-term measures of postsecondary and employment outcomes.