Examining Transition and Vocational Pathways in ASD: Perspectives of Individuals with ASD and Parents

Thursday, May 12, 2016: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Hall A (Baltimore Convention Center)
D. B. Nicholas1, M. Clarke2,3, L. Zwaigenbaum4, K. C. Lowe2,5, S. Hodgetts4, W. Mitchell6, C. A. McMorris7, R. Zulla1 and T. M. Jubenville5, (1)University of Calgary, Edmonton, AB, Canada, (2)Sinneave Family Foundation, Calgary, AB, Canada, (3)Uni, Calgary, AB, Canada, (4)University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada, (5)University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada, (6)The Ability Hub, Calgary, AB, Canada, (7)York University, Toronto, ON, Canada
Background: Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are at risk for suboptimal trajectories to and within adulthood, potentially leading to marginalization, underachievement, and an impaired quality of life. Beyond the potential imposition to basic human rights, investments made earlier in development are at risk of misalignment if a successful transition to, and opportunities within, adulthood are not in place. Further straining transitional and vocational processes, supports for adults with ASD are currently constrained.  Despite often having marketable skills, adults with ASD are often deemed unable to gain meaningful employment. 

Objectives: To address these gaps, two complementary studies have explored: (i) the transition from adolescence to adulthood and (ii) vocational support pathways in ASD.  Study objectives include examination of the process of transition to adulthood in ASD as well as employment. Aims of this program of research entail an evidence-informed model for effective transitioning, as well as factors that inhibit or conversely promote effective supports for employment access and retention. 

Methods: Utilizing a grounded theory approach (within a larger study), qualitative interviews were conducted with a sample of youth and adults with ASD and parents. Findings from interviews with adults with ASD (>17 years of age) and their parents will be presented.  Interviews address participant experiences and aspirations relative to their transition to adulthood in ASD and salient issues associated with employment success and barriers.  Recommendations and guidelines are being iteratively developed for enhanced transition and vocation planning in ASD. 


Findings offer a portrayal of impediments and determinants to positive outcome.  Young adults with ASD and their caregivers characterize existing services as insufficient or inappropriate relative to individual need and desire for comprehensive support in adulthood.  Services are deemed to often be inaccessible and/or not well-known.  There is a reported lack of available knowledge about existing services and travel to/from services are prohibitive for some individuals/families.  Services are reported as insufficient for addressing broader social issues that affect employment sustainability and community integration (e.g., social reciprocity, coping skills, mental health, navigation). Parents report multiple challenges including uncertainty and worry about the future of their adult child; difficulty trusting others as part of the ‘circle of care’, and struggles ‘letting go’ regarding the adult child’s transition to greater independence and/or integration in the community.  Adults with ASD similarly describe services they receive as not sufficiently meeting the scope of their support needs and are deemed to be variably inaccessible.

Preliminary results guide transition and vocation planning, and identify these program components as crucial for youth and adults with ASD and their families.  Transition and vocation support emerges as requisite and incremental in nature, with a focus on actual and anticipated need, goal setting, and activity/targeted outcome planning. Recommendations for transition and vocation support delivery will be offered in the presentation, as will implications for program and policy development.

Conclusions: Critically examining and recalibrating aims, methods and outcomes related to transition and vocation are integral to optimizing the developmental trajectory of youth and adults with ASD.