For the first time, researchers have demonstrated that the right supports can help young adults with autism achieve high rates of quality employment. The encouraging results appear this week in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
The findings are particularly encouraging in light of earlier research showing that autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a particularly challenging disability when it comes to making a successful transition to employment or higher-education. That research found that only 20 to 50 percent of young adults with ASD find employment or go to college – a much lower rate than seen with other handicaps including intellectual disability.
By contrast, 87 percent of participants in an intensive, autism-tailored job internship program remained employed after high-school, with earnings 24 percent higher than minimum wage.
“Lack of employment is among the biggest contributors to autism’s economic challenges for our society as well as our families,” comments Michael Rosanoff, Autism Speaks assistant director for public health research. “Studies like this show us that when afforded the opportunity – in this case with focused job training – individuals with autism can apply their skills and play an important role in today’s competitive workforce.”
Project SEARCH with Autism Supports
Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University tracked forty 18- to 21-year-olds with autism as they completed an internship program called "Project SEARCH with Autism Supports." The year-long program included intensive support from job coaches and behavioral therapists. The young adults were all capable of independent self-care (dressing, eating, personal hygiene).
The students worked 20 to 40 hours per week at participating medical centers in their communities. Their jobs, not typically considered for those with disabilities, included filing, stocking, cleaning equipment and similar support-service tasks. Their work environments ranged from nursing and surgical units to doctor’s offices and physical therapy clinics.
"Project SEARCH graduates are permanent and important members of our staff,” says Michael Spine, senior vice president of business development at Bon Secours Health System, in Henrico County, Virginia. "We find the students add a tremendous value to our team of caregivers."
"Getting a job is the central accomplishment in life for all 20-year-olds," says study co-investigator Carol Schall, director of technical assistance for the Virginia Autism Resource Center. "For far too long, youth with ASD have been left out of that elated feeling that adults have when they get their first real employment. Through this study, we were able to demonstrate that youth with ASD can be successful employees."
The Autism Speaks Employment Toolkit and Autism Speaks Transition Tool Kit are filled with resources to assist with a successful transition to a fulfilling adulthood. Download them free of charge here.
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