Employment program doubles employment for autistic youth

July 1, 2021
Participating in PROMISE project doubled the chances that a teen or young adult found employment and raised their average annual earnings by 65 percent.

A government-funded project meant to help low-income adolescents with disabilities become financially stable adults doubled employment rates in autistic people 18 months after starting the program, according to a new report.

Nearly half of 25-year-olds with autism have never held a paying job, and global estimates range as high as 85 percent unemployment or underemployment.

Promoting Readiness of Minors in Supplemental Security Income or PROMISE works to connect adolescents with disabilities to services supporting their transition to adulthood and finding paying jobs.

“One of our priorities at Autism Speaks is to increase employment and leadership opportunities for people with autism,” said Arun Karpur, Ph.D., director of data science and evaluation at Autism Speaks and a co-author on the study. “Understanding which aspects of transition and job supports have the greatest impact on employment helps us know where to focus our efforts to support autistic teens and adults in reaching their job goals.”

Five U.S. government departments collaborated on this individual and family-centered program. All PROMISE projects offered a mix of these services: case management, benefits counseling, financial education, career and work-based learning experiences, vocational rehabilitation and parent training.

The Department of Education funded a five-year research study that utilized a gold-standard randomized clinical trial design. Starting in 2014, of 11 PROMISE projects in six states to refine the program components and look at its effectiveness for low-income teens who receive Supplemental Security Income disability benefits. Autism Speaks also invested in this study to learn if and how autistic teens specifically benefited from PROMISE.

After 18 months in the PROMISE project, researchers surveyed the 1,588 autistic teens who enrolled in the program and their families on what services they used, work experience and earnings.

Participating in PROMISE project doubled the chances that a teen or young adult found employment and raised their average annual earnings by 65 percent. It also more than doubled job-related training attendance.

Participating in PROMISE project doubled the chances that a teen or young adult found employment and raised their average annual earnings by 65 percent. It also more than doubled job-related training attendance.

The positive impact in autistic teenagers’ prospects could be traced back to PROMISE’s services. Families who partook in the program got more transition services across the board. Benefits counseling and case management services, as well as family supports, were the parts of the PROMISE program that had the largest effect on employment and earnings.

Autism Speaks Workplace Inclusion Now program, built by and for autistic workers, includes evidence-based components from programs such as the PROMISE project. For more information about WIN and Autism Speaks other employment resources for teens and adults on the spectrum, visit autismspeaks.org/employment.

These findings are only the beginning signs of PROMISE’s potential impact on the autistic community. Future research in a 5-year-follow-up study will give researchers an idea of the long-term effect of this unique program.

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