The Job-Train Program: A Community-University Employment Preparation Initiative for Youth with ASD
Objectives: To implement a “Proof-of-Concept” project for the Job Training Program in a sample of secondary school students with ASD.
Methods: This mixed-methods study used a pre-post design to examine the program outcomes in 12 secondary school students with ASD, and gather insights from parents, job coaches and employers within the JTP. Quantitative data for outcome evaluation were analyzed using either parametric or non-parametric analyses, depending on whether data followed a normal distribution. Primary measures included the Canadian Occupational Performance Measure (COPM; youth completed) and the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL; parent report). Qualitative data were also collected from youth, parents, job coaches and employers regarding their perspectives on the JTP. Qualitative data were analyzed using content analyses of the transcripts from audio-recorded focus groups and individual interviews.
The sample consisted of 12 youth with ASD (83% males; mean age 17 years). JTP job placements involved the following university departments: housing and conference services, health sciences library, faculty services, and several health science academic departments and research centres.
The total issues identified by youth in the COPM (self-care, work and leisure) ranged from 1-7. Based on the Wilcoxon Signed Ranks test, pre- and post-JTP COPM weighted mean ratings for performance and satisfaction were z= -2.67, p=.008 and z=-2.60, p=0.009, respectively. For the CBCL, there were no significant differences for paired t-tests of pre-post scores for both internalizing and externalizing behaviours, t(8)=.583,p=.576 and t(8)=.629, p=547, respectively.
Qualitative data from parents revealed the following themes:
(1) Perceived benefits of JTP - “fitting in with peers,” “improved self-perception,” and “motivation for more responsibility at home and in the community.”
(2) Valuable attributes of JTP – “relevant curriculum,” “independence skill opportunities supported outside JTP,” and “importance of ‘real’ and ‘paid’ work.”
(3) Future JTP considerations – “job placements outside of university,” and “increase length of work day as placement progressed,” “include parent education for support/advocacy.”
Conclusions: This study successfully implemented a job training program with the essential elements of individualized supports and programming, weekly coached group sessions and strong community partnerships (agency, school board and university). This study provides useful preliminary results that, despite a small sample size, suggest improvement in issues related to employment skills and independence. Results of this “Proof-of-Concept” study will guide the refinement of the JTP protocol and future work on involving a large-scale study examining its utility and effectiveness in youth with ASD.