A Mixed Methods Study of Employment Perspectives of Youth and Young Adults on the Autism Spectrum

Friday, May 13, 2016: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Hall A (Baltimore Convention Center)
L. A. Crabtree1 and B. B. Demchick2, (1)Towson University, Lutherville, MD, (2)Occupational Therapy & Occupational Science, Towson University, Towson, MD
Background: Participation in employment experiences in the community is a rite of passage to adulthood. A majority of transition-aged individuals with autism have identified goals to obtain gainful employment, although fewer than 20% are able to obtain employment after exiting the educational system (Wehman et al., 2014). Furthermore, those who are employed are typically under-employed, and they face higher rates of poverty, obliging many to be financially dependent on their families (Lindstrom, Kahn, & Lindsey, 2013). However, barriers to employment participation have not been fully explored, and it is unclear how perceptions of individuals with autism may contribute to poor employment outcomes.

Objectives: The purpose of this pilot study was to explain perspectives of youth and young adults with autism regarding employment participation in order to support improved methods of employment preparation. Specifically, two research questions were identified.

  1. What are the perspectives of youth and young adults with autism regarding employment?

  2. How do perspectives help and hinder success in preparation for, transition to, and participation in the workplace?

Methods: An explanatory sequential mixed methods design was used to identify patterns of perceptions, followed up with qualitative data collection to explain identified patterns. Researchers used a recently piloted and revised instrument based on items from the Career Maturity Inventory(Crites and Savikas, 2011) to survey 29 individuals with autism aged 16-28, followed by interviews with 8 young adults with autism. Descriptive statistical analysis was used to identify patterns of perceptions regarding employment, comparing those with and without employment experiences. Qualitative coding and thematic development, with constant comparative methods were used to analyze transcribed interviews.

Results: Survey results indicated that nine youth with employment experience (EE) identified positive perceptions of employment, but 56% of those in this group identified difficulties in the workplace. Twenty without employment experience (WE) indicated perceptions of worry about employment and lack of knowledge about employment constructs, although they indicated a desire to pursue employment opportunities. Themes from qualitative analysis of interviews with individuals from both groups (EE and WE) identified motivating factors of money and participation, as well as challenges of sustainability, social interactions, and transportation. Through comparative analysis of both data sets, two consistent patterns that restricted the employment opportunities for transitioning youth with autism were identified.  1) Lack of knowledge and 2) limited experiences. Youth in this study had limited knowledge of the constructs of employment, including knowledge of what entailed full-time employment. At the same time, they described very limited employment experiences.

Conclusions: With significant increases in both the number of youth with autism entering adulthood and the rising cost of vocational services, it is important to ensure that program supports lead to positive outcomes for both individuals with autism and for society at large (Burgess & Cimera, 2014). Preliminary results of this pilot study identify two key aspects of programming to support better employment outcomes. Specifically, by providing explicit knowledge and practical experiences related to meaningful employment opportunities for youth with autism, vocational programs can become more effective.