Examining Vocational Services for Adults with Autism

Friday, May 16, 2014
Atrium Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Atlanta)
D. B. Nicholas1, L. Zwaigenbaum2, M. Clarke3, K. P. Stoddart4, P. Mirenda5, I. M. Smith6, C. Carroll7, W. Roberts8, B. Muskat9, M. Spoelstra10, T. Jackman11, S. Duhaime4, H. Emery12, L. Ghali13, D. Barrett14 and L. Parakin15, (1)University of Calgary, Edmonton, AB, Canada, (2)University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada, (3)Pediatrics, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada, (4)The Redpath Centre, Toronto, ON, Canada, (5)University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada, (6)Pediatrics; Psychology & Neuroscience, Dalhousie University / IWK Health Centre, Halifax, NS, Canada, (7)Autism Nova Scotia, Halifax, NS, Canada, (8)Pediatrics, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada, (9)Social Work, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, ON, Canada, (10)Autism Ontario, Toronto, ON, Canada, (11)Autism Society Canada/Autism Society Newfoundland and Labrador, St. John's, NF, Canada, (12)University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada, (13)The Ability Hub, Calgary, AB, Canada, (14)Autism Society of Edmonton Area, Edmonton, AB, Canada, (15)Autism Calgary Association, Calgary, AB, Canada
Background: N/A


The Canadian unemployment rate for persons with disabilities including ASD, is estimated at 53.2% (HRSDC, 2009) compared to 7.9% in the general population (Statistics Canada, 2010).  Addressing this unacceptably low employment rate, we examined types of vocational services offered to adults with ASD, perceptions of vocational service quality, and related experiences of adults with ASD, caregivers, employers, and employment support personnel, regarding vocational services in ASD.


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 survey eliciting vocational models in ASD, (iii) in-person 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 and employers addressing employment support personnel and employer perceptions and needs in establishing sustained work placements for adults with ASD. 


A total of n=126 senior personnel from Canadian employment support agencies were surveyed.  Interviews and focus groups were subsequently conducted with 188 participants, including individuals with ASD (n=51), family members or other formal/informal caregivers (n=71), employers (n=22), and vocational service providers (n=44). 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.  Participants consistently report insufficient opportunities and supports for persons with ASD in the workplace.  In terms of agency survey results, findings suggest that service agency personnel are generally satisfied with the vocational support offered within their agency given the resources they have available.  However, the majority of respondents indicate dissatisfaction with the availability of vocational support resources within their region.   Qualitative interview findings identify the following themes:  having an ASD diagnosis can serve as both a challenge and a blessing in seeking employment; negative attitudes towards the inclusion of persons with disability impact vocational experience; positive or negative employment experiences have a corresponding impact on employees’ confidence in subsequent vocational pursuits; substantial difficulties are encountered in transition to adult resources; and workplace cultural shifts can enhance the vocational experience of individuals with ASD.  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.  Participants call for a person-centred, targeted and seamless approach to vocational support.  More engagement with employers in building capacity is strongly recommended. 


Greater employment access is needed, as are models, capacity-building tools, and evaluation metrics to guide vocational support practices. Practice, research and policy implications will be offered. This includes advocacy and action at multiple levels including support resource development for the individual with ASD (employer) and family as well as the vocational support personnel and employer.