Evaluation of a Certified Autism Peer Support Service Model: Implementation Challenges and Successes

Poster Presentation
Friday, May 3, 2019: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
L. Shea1, K. Croce2, K. Jackson3, K. Kaplan3, M. Y. Wong2 and V. Paradiz4, (1)A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, Philadelphia, PA, (2)Drexel University, Policy and Analytic Center, A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, Philadelphia, PA, (3)Community Behavioral Health, Philadelphia, PA, (4)Valerie Paradiz LLC, Boulder, CO
Background: The growing and underserved population of adolescents and young adults with autism faces a need for innovative, effective service models and employment opportunities. To meet this need, Philadelphia is implementing a new peer support model for transition-aged youth and young adults with autism. Certified peer support service models utilize individuals with ‘lived experience’ who receive training to support their peers in navigating services and other daily living activities and needs. Certified peer support service models have a robust evidence base in veteran1-3 and mental health4-6 populations, and a limited evidence base has found initially promising results from peer support services implemented for children and adults with autism. One study reviewing peer support among young children with autism found that, across single-case experimental design studies, young children with ASD across a range of presentations benefited from peer autism-specific support.7 Published research has also focused on the use of peer support for children with autism in school settings among children, and found that it was effective in promoting peer engagement.8 No research has been conducted on peer support services among adolescents and young adults with autism. The launch of peer support services in Philadelphia represents an opportunity to evaluate this service model in a large, diverse US city.

Objectives: The evaluation of the certified peer support service in Philadelphia will focus on changes in employment status, social and communication measures, and self-reported quality of life measures. A secondary outcome of the evaluation to shape policy and programs moving forward will be qualitative feedback from certified peer specialists with autism delivering the peer support services on their experience.

Methods: A battery of instruments capturing self-reported demographic information, employment status, social responsiveness, and quality of life measures will be completed pre- and post-service implementation by both the certified peer specialists delivering the service and the individuals receiving the peer support service. A focus group of individuals delivering the 12-week peer support service will also be conducted after completion.

Results: Certified peer support services are scheduled to launch in Philadelphia in early 2019. Certified peers will receive required training and complete both the pre- and post-service measures. Individuals receiving the peer support service will also complete both pre- and post-service measures. Immediately following the conclusion of service delivery, certified peers will also participate in a focus group to inform continuing service design and delivery. Results from these efforts will be presented from both quantitative and qualitative analysis.

Conclusions: Certified peer support services offer an innovative opportunity for individuals with autism to receive needed support through service navigation and the life course trajectory. Certified peer support services also present new opportunities for employment, and initial research suggests these services are effective in children and adults. The application of certified peer support services to youth and young adults in Philadelphia represents a potentially replicable service model implemented through Medicaid.