Development of the Postsecondary Resilience Education Program (PREP): An Interactive, Web-Based College Readiness and Resilience Skills Building Program for Students with High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder

Friday, May 13, 2016: 10:00 AM-1:30 PM
Hall A (Baltimore Convention Center)
D. Childress, K. Melillo, K. Adkisson, A. Sam, I. Eremeev, B. Cassell, P. Allen and S. Rothman, 3C Institute, Durham, NC
Background: Despite cognitive strengths, individuals with high functioning autism (HFA) pursue college at much lower rates than their typically developing peers with approximately 24% of individuals with ASD without intellectual disability reporting no regular educational or employment activities following high school (Taylor & Seltzer, 2011). Further, when these intellectually capable students pursue college, they tend to drop out prematurely (Glennon, 2001). A growing literature underscores the crucial role of resilience strategies for academic and social-emotional adjustment as well as persistence in postsecondary education (Walton & Carr, 2012). The lack of well-designed and accessible interventions to support students with HFA transitioning to postsecondary education contributes to the marked under-education and under-employment experienced by these individuals, thereby, negatively impacting their overall quality of life.

Objectives: To iteratively develop and conduct testing of a dynamic, customizable college readiness and resilience program. The Postsecondary Resilience Education Program (PREP) is keyed to the unique learning and social-emotional characteristics of students with HFA.

Methods: Usability and feasibility testing of PREP and semi-structured interviews were conducted. High-school students preparing for the entry to postsecondary education and their parents (n=13 pairs), as well as educators (n=25) reviewed PREP in their homes for 2 weeks. The online platform allows the user to view each unit addressing a specific skill domain with instruction provided through a combination of video presentation styles, including motion graphics, animation, illustration, and video modeling. Interactive exercises provide individualized feedback and reports based on user responses. Following the review of the program, participants met with research staff individually or in small groups to give feedback on the usability of the program, online delivery platform, and their understanding of issues related to the successful transition to college. Data sources included Likert scale responses about the program design, usability, qualitative responses on the usefulness of the program and the family’s and educator’s experiences with PSE transition.

Results: Overall, parents and students found PREP to be of high quality and value as well as a highly usable software (5-point Likert scale, 1=Strongly Disagree to 5=Strongly Agree; mean ratings > 4). Parents reported that they thought PREPwould likely be effective in facilitating the transition from high school to postsecondary education for students with HFA (M=4.64, SD=.50). Students rated the program as likely to enhance the transition and preparation skills of students who are transitioning to college (M=4.27, SD=.65). Professionals reported the program fills a need for helping high school students with HFA transitioning to college (M=4.53, SD=.61). Qualitative comments supported Likert ratings.

Conclusions: These data provide preliminary evidence for the usefulness of the PREP program for students with HFA considering postsecondary education. Gathered data from the usability and feasibility testing was used to create a blueprint of course content and interactive styles needed to key the intervention to the needs of students with HFA (e.g., new instructional elements and methods, tailored activities). A subsequent pilot efficacy study of PREP for enhancing resilience and transitioning skills needed for successful transition to postsecondary education is underway in regional high schools.