Competitive employment for youth with autism spectrum disorders: Early results from a randomized clinical trial.

Authors: Wehman, P., Targett, P., Yasuda, S., & Brown, T.
Year Published 2014
Publication Journal of Autism and Developmental Disabilities.
Volume 44
Number 3
Pages 487-500
Publisher Springer US

Unemployment rates for individuals with autism after existing secondary education are high. Rates for individuals with ASD are between 4 to 12 percent. They also have low rates of participation in vocational or technical education, and post secondary education as compared to individuals with speech and language impairments, learning and intellectual disabilities. Furthermore, state vocational rehabilitation programs are experiencing difficulties responding to the employment service needs of transition aged youth with ASD. The employment outcome rate reported by VR for individuals with ASD has declined much in recent years. Research is limited on intervention to assist adults with ASD with gaining and maintaining employment. Project Search is an intensive internship program that has been replicated with modifications and has shown some degree of success with assisting transition aged youth with gaining and maintaining real work for real pay in their communities.


This study had two hypotheses. First, higher number of individuals who participate in an employer based employment training and placement program will be employed than those in the control condition at a)completion of intervention and b) 3 months post completion of the intervention.Second, those who participate in the program will require less work support as measured by the Support Intensity Scale Employment Activities Subscale than those in the control condition at a) completion of the intervention and b) 3 months post completion of the intervention. The study was continuing at this writing and this analysis presents results from the first 3 years of cohorts who have completed one school year in Project SEARCH plus ASD Supports.


The students worked in a variety of internships in two suburban hospitals.


A total of 40 students participated in the study. 16 were assigned to the control group and 24 were in the treatment group. The two groups were equivalent on a number of demographic variables including gender, race, medical diagnosis, and Individualized Education Plan category. There was a significant difference between the ages of the treatment and control groups. The age range for both was between 18 and 21.5 years old.

Data Collection

Information was collected from the application process and a brief interviews at scheduled times to gain insight into the person's employment status, wage earned, hours worked, and employer paid benefits. The Supports Intensity Scale was also used to assess adaptive behavior and intensity of support needs. The six subscales used were: home living, community living, lifelong learning, employment, health and safety, and social. The SIS allowed the examiners to identify the types of work supports individuals required and provided a measure of the overall adaptive behavioral support needs of participants at baseline. Data collectors were trained in the administration of the instrument and inter-rater reliability was high 92.5%.Preliminary analysis included frequencies, means, standard deviations and distribution of scores.


The control condition was traditional transition service.


The treatment group attained employment at a rate of 87.5% after completing Project SEARCH internship and the ASD program compared to the control group at 6.25%. The treatment group also experienced an increase in weekly hours worked and wages.Three months later there was a significant difference between the treatment and control group mean standard scores on the Employment Activities Subscale of the SIS.


This study provided preliminary results.Twenty one out of 24 or 87.5 percent of the treatment group acquired employment. While only one in 16 or 6.25 percent of the control group went to work.Employment after graduating from high school is an attainable goal for youth with ASD who display challenging behavior and who have a comorbid medical diagnoses.

Disabilities Autism Spectrum Disorder
Populations Male & Female | Asian | Black / African American | White / Caucasian
Outcomes Employment acquisition | Increase in hours worked | Increase in tenure | Wages
NIDILRR Funded Yes
Research Design Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs)
Peer Reviewed Yes