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Examining Vocational Services for Adults with Autism

Friday, 3 May 2013: 15:45
Meeting Room 3 (Kursaal Centre)
D. B. Nicholas1, L. Zwaigenbaum2, M. Clarke3, J. H. Emery4 and L. Ghali3, (1)University of Calgary, Edmonton, AB, Canada, (2)Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada, (3)Sinneave Family Foundation, Calgary, AB, Canada, (4)Economics, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada
Background:  The Canadian unemployment rate for persons with disabilities including ASD, is estimated at 53.2% compared to 7.9% in the general population.  Redressing this unacceptably low employment rate is of critical importance. 

Objectives:  We examined types of vocational services offered to adults with ASD, and stakeholders' perceptions regarding risk and protective factors to vocational access in ASD.

Methods:  A mixed method design incorporated the following: (i) a web-based environmental scan based on a website review of international ASD vocational resources, (ii) a telephone survey eliciting vocational models in ASD, (iii) inperson interviews with adults with ASD and family members examining vocation-related experiences and needs of adults with ASD; and (iv) interviews with supported employment personnel addressing employment support and employer perceptions and needs in establishing sustained work placements for adults with ASD.

Results:  Within the province of Alberta, Canada which is home to just under 4 million residents, 75 agencies were identified that offer vocational services to adults with ASD. Interviews and focus groups were conducted with 55 participants, including individuals with ASD, family members, other formal or informal caregivers and vocational service providers. Environmental scan, survey and interview data suggest a range of models comprising community programs, pre-employment (job findings) training, job skills training, life skills facilitation, job coaching, and on site training, using various methodologies including technology-based applications. Benefits and limitations of these various approaches are identified; however, overall vocational services are described to be insufficient to meet current need. Participants identified inconsistencies between the aims of support resources versus the actual experiences and needs of individuals with ASD and their families. Generally, support program impact was perceived more favorably by employment support personnel than by the recipients of these services. There is a frequent lack of opportunity for vocational placement, and participants report a lack of protracted support to facilitate employment retention. Proactive contingency planning and ‘in the moment’ augmentative support are recommended for possible crises and challenges that may emerge within the workplace. Participants call for a person-centred, targeted and seamless approach to vocational support than is currently offered by most agencies. They recommend core services in job skills and social/relational elements needed in the workplace via core curriculum as well as a corresponding individualized, tailored menu of support that complements individual needs and is intentionally generalizable to the work setting.

Conclusions:  Vocational supports are needed, as are sensitive and responsive metrics for evaluation.  A ‘wraparound’ approach is recommended in which individuals with ASD receive initial and fading support and training, along with ad hoc services for the employee and employer, in the possible emergence of problematic issues. HR personnel, employer and policy maker involvement is recommended in building capacity associated with inclusive workplaces.  Community advocacy models and periodic assessments of an individual’s needs are recommended.  These findings posit promising models and recommendations that will be discussed in the presentation.  Notwithstanding multiple recommendations, these findings suggest that emerging models offer promise in advancing vocational opportunity for adults with ASD.

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