Workplace Social Skills Program Evaluation for Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Friday, May 13, 2016: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall A (Baltimore Convention Center)
H. Thomas and T. P. Gabrielsen, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT
Background:  Social skills are among the primary deficits of young adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The outcome of such social impairments not only hinders peer and familial relations, but also creates a difficulty in obtaining and maintaining employment. Those with ASD find it difficult to interview for job positions, socialize appropriately with coworkers and the public as well as adapt to changes in normal work environments. A wide range of studies have focused on interventions to improve social skills; however, very few have specifically addressed social skills in the workplace. Located in Utah, Easter Seals Goodwill Northern Rocky Mountains (ESGW) has created a nine-week transition program called Peer Connections, designed to help young adults with disabilities gain skills and independence, as a direct response to individual needs in the disability community. Peer Connections seeks to improve workplace social skills of individuals with high functioning autism or other social communication disorders who are transitioning to adulthood in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA).

Objectives: This study examines the effectiveness of Peer Connections’ supported experience with peers, adult coaching, feedback, and self-evaluation in a volunteer work environment. Participants were paired with typical peers as “co-workers” and assigned a work site (e.g., Museum of Natural Curiosity) to combine natural social supports with instruction and practice in working with the public and meeting the demands of a job. Because ESGW is not a research institution, Peer Connections has never been evaluated and therefore partnered with BYU to obtain objective evidence regarding its effectiveness.

Methods: Participants in the program were predominantly male between the ages of 15-24. Participants underwent eight hours of extensive preliminary assessments, provided by ESGW, before the interventions were implemented.  These assessments were used as baseline data and were compared with end of program assessments. Both a peer and site facilitator observed participants during their public interface time each week and completed an ESGW feedback form. Additional social skills assessments and self-reported inventories were used on a weekly basis to guide skill development goals. Participant performance was measured periodically using the SRS-2, SRSS, and self-report (SRS-2) in addition to weekly on-site observations. Participant assessments from past years were also analyzed. Follow-up measures and observational generalization probes were performed.

Results: Preliminary results suggest observable changes in coping skills, conversation initiation, maintaining conversations, and eye contact. Post-intervention assessments by self-report typically declined compared to pre-intervention, possibly an indication of increased insight into areas for improvement. Social validity assessment indicates that participants liked the intervention, felt they had improved, would recommend it, and would do it again. Generalization probes are ongoing to determine maintenance effects outside of the training environment.

Conclusions: Peer support, adult coaching, feedback, and self-evaluation in a real work environment may positively increase social skills in the workplace for individuals with ASD. Separate from vocational training, this study will fill a gap in the literature and in practice on social skills intervention for workplace conditions.