Supported employment for young adults with autism spectrum disorder: Preliminary data

Authors: Wehman, P., Schall, C., McDonough, J., Molinelli, A. Riehle, E., Ham, W., & Thiss, W.
Year Published 2012
Publication Research & Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities
Volume 37
Number 3
Pages 160-169
Publisher Tash Publishing

There is extremely limited information about using a supported employment approach to assist individuals with autism with gaining and maintaining employment in the community. Among the few studies that do exist, most are descriptive in nature. More research is needed.


This study took a close look at the work histories of individuals with ASD over a 23 month period of time. The purpose was to examine the effects of supported employment in assisting them with employment.


The setting included a variety of different workplaces. This included: health care field, retail, recreational and educational field, food service and janitorial industry.


Thirty three individuals with ASD were included in the study. Each was referred for supported employment services by a vocational rehabilitation counselor. The majority were white (76%) and males (76%). The average age of participants was 22 years old. Seventy percent of the individuals reported a secondary disability. All participants had received a high school diploma or equivalency diploma. Around 40% had some college. Over 90% had either no or short intermittent work histories. More than three fourths had high social interaction support needs. Notably close to a third or 13 individuals had participated in a extended work internship at a hospital that was modeled after the Project SEARCH approach.

Data Collection

Employment specialist traced actual time spent either directly or indirectly working for the person with ASD across various types of supported employment interventions. This included developing a vocational profile about the person served, developing a job, job site training, and long term supports to enhance job retention. All data were stored in password protected database. The employment specialist's intervention time and participant outcomes were aggregated across the group of participants and over time.


There was no control. Due to the exploratory nature of the study no comparison group was used.


Twenty seven or 82% of those served went to work in an entry level occupation. They earned between $7.25 and $10.50 per hour.Mean hours worked was 23 per week.The average intervention time for various interventions was as follows:completing a job seeker profile was about 9 hours; job development around 30 hours (notably some of the individuals went to work where they interned which reduced the hours needed to develop a job); job site training and support 107 hours; and long term support 27 hours.


An individualized supported employment approach can assist individuals with ASD with gaining and maintaining employment. More research is needed.

Disabilities Autism Spectrum Disorder
Populations Black / African American | White / Caucasian | Male & Female
Outcomes Employment acquisition | Full-time employment | Part-time employment | Wages
Research Design Single group, Observational, Quasi-experimental
Peer Reviewed Yes