New research out of Virginia Commonwealth University shows that intensive job training can benefit youth with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
ASD disorders typically include autism, Asperger syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).
The condition is characterized by social deficits, communication difficulties, stereotyped or repetitive behaviors and interests, and in some cases, cognitive delays. However, people with Asperger syndrome have no significant delay in language development.
It is estimated that just 1 in 5 of those with ASD disorders find employment.
The new study shows that nine months of intensive internship training, in conjunction with an engaged hospital, can lead to high levels of competitive employment in areas such as cardiac care, wellness, ambulatory surgery and pediatric intensive care units.
The study is published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
“This is the first study of its kind to demonstrate the skills and abilities youth with ASD have and the success they can experience at work,” said Paul H. Wehman, Ph.D., principal investigator of the study.
“Previous research in this area showed that youth with ASD were employed at lower rates than even their peers with other disabilities.”
Traditionally, youth with autism between the ages of 18 and 22 remain unemployed after leaving school at rates of over 80 percent. But VCU researchers reported that those who completed a program called “Project SEARCH with Autism Supports” achieved employment at 87 percent.
This study also showed that youth with ASD required less intense support as they became more competent at their work task.
VCU partnered on the study with Bon Secours Richmond Health System St. Mary’s Hospital in Henrico County, Va.; St. Francis Medical Center in Chesterfield County, Va.; Henrico County Public Schools; Chesterfield County Public Schools; and the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS).
“Bon Secours has participated in Project SEARCH since 2010 and each year we find the students add a tremendous value to our team of caregivers,” said Michael Spine, senior vice president of business development.
“Project SEARCH graduates are permanent and important members of our staff, working throughout the hospitals in a variety of areas including labor and delivery, our cardiac units and wellness.”
“Witnessing how these ‘disabled students’ are transformed into valued employees and colleagues during their Project SEARCH year is the best example of how our system can be successful when our collaboration is employed,” said Virginia DARS Commissioner James A. Rothrock.
“Getting a job is the central accomplishment in life for all 20-year-olds,” said study co-investigator Carol M. Schall, Ph.D., of the VCU Autism Center for Excellence and 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.”
In the study, youth with autism were employed in jobs not typically considered for those with disabilities in a hospital setting. They worked 20 to 40 hours per week and were paid 24 percent more than the minimum wage.
The study may be found online at http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10803-013-1892-x.