Assistive Soft Skills and Employment Training (ASSET) Program for Transition Youth and Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder: An International Comparison Efficacy Study.

Poster Presentation
Thursday, May 2, 2019: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
C. Sung1, K. White2 and G. Leader3, (1)Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Special Education, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, (2)National University of Ireland Galway, Galway, Ireland, (3)National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
Background: Persons with high functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder (HFASD) often have difficulties navigating the social demand in the workplace and face disappointing employment outcomes as they transition from school into the world-of-work. There is an urgent need for empirically-supported work-related social skills interventions that are cost-effective and flexible in order to address these disparities.

Grounded in social cognitive career theory and developed using a developmental iterative process, the Assistive Soft Skills and Employment Training (ASSET) program, consists of ten to thirteen 90-minute sessions offered in a community-based setting. One to two trained facilitators led sessions with 6-8 youth and/or adults. 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, professionalism, mental health and stress management, and awareness of self and others.

The ASSET program was originally developed and piloted for transition youth with HFASD in the United States (ASSET-US). Then, the program was adapted, expanded, and piloted with adults with ASD in Ireland (ASSET-IE), which also included a 10-week work placement that was supported by employment specialists from a vocational rehabilitation agency.

Objectives: This international study compares the program structure, content, and outcomes of the ASSET program for transition aged youth and adults with HFASD designed to improve social skills, social self-efficacy and mental health.

Methods: Twenty-seven American adults (age: M = 20.08; SD = 2.03; range 19-23; IQ: M = 98.21; SD =16.78) and 22 Irish adults with HFASD (age: M = 26.73; SD = 7.07; range = 18-43; IQ: M = 102.73; SD =17.24) participated in the ASSET-US and -IE programs. All participants reported a previous diagnosis of an ASD.

Using a mixed methods design, quantitative data was collected and analyzed to examine participants’ changes in social functioning and social self-efficacy post-intervention, while qualitative data was collected to explore overall satisfaction and feedback for program improvement. Descriptive statistics were used to report participant characteristics and overall experience.

Results: For the ASSET-US program, preliminary findings revealed significant improvements in social functioning (d = 0.44), social self-efficacy (d = 0.93) and empathy self-efficacy (d = 1.50), as well as in secondary outcomes such as self-reported levels of anxiety (d = 0.68). For the ASSET-IE program, preliminary findings revealed significant improvements in job self-efficacy (d = 0.57), as well as secondary outcomes such as self-reported levels of anxiety (d = 0.64) and depression (d = 0.68). Overall qualitative results in the US and IE revealed that all participants observed positive improvements in themselves regarding work-related social skills and knowledge and reported high satisfaction with the program.

Conclusions: This study offers preliminary evidence for an efficacious cost-effective and flexible work-related social skills training on social skills, self-efficacy, and mental health for individuals with HFASD. In addition to its national and international practicality and utility in community-based settings, implications for research and practice, as well as the cultural adaptation of the program will be discussed.