Submissions List TBI Interagency Conference

The Effect of Project Search and Supported Employment on Employment Outcomes for Adults with ASD

  • Wehman, Paul
  • Schall, Carol
  • Brooke, Vaerie
  • McDonough, Jennifer


Autism and Transition to Employment


This session reviews two studies that measure the effect of employment supports for individuals with ASD.  The first study presents the effect of supported employment for adults with ASD.  The second study presents preliminary results of the effect of Project SEARCH on employment outcomes for high school seniors with ASD.


The purpose of this session is to examine the effect of supported employment in implementing in securing and maintaining competitive employment for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a group that has typically been found to be underemployed or unemployed, despite having the ability and desire to work. In this session, we will present the preliminary results of 2 studies currently underway regarding the implementation of individualized supported employment for adults and the implementation of a Project Search model site at a suburban hospital for high school seniors with ASD.


Research indicates that many persons with ASD are unemployed (Howlin, Goode, Hutton, & Rutter, 2004). Also, for those who achieve employment, follow-up studies suggest that long-term employment outcomes are poor for the majority of this group (Wagner, Newman, Cameto, Garza, & Levine, 2005). It is estimated that 50-75% of adults with ASD are unemployed (Howlin, et al., 2004; Hurlbutt & Chalmers, 2002; Mawhood, Howlin, & Rutter, 2000). Yet many individuals with ASD have the ability and desire to work (Smith et al., 1995; Wehman, Datlow Smith& Schall, 2009).  Although research in a supported employment approach for individuals with autism is limited, there has been extensive research on using the individualized approach to providing support to assist individuals with the most significant disabilities with gaining and maintaining employment (Bond, Drake, Becker, & Mueser, 1999, Inge, Wehman, Kregel, & Target, 1996, Wehman et al., 1995, Wehman, West, Kregel, 1999).  Thus, the results of this research is timely and needed to increase the employment outcomes for individuals with ASD.


Study 1 presents findings from the implementation of individualized supported employment followed and collected data on 23 individuals with ASD as they progressed through a supported employment model, working one-on-one with an employment specialist.  Of the 23 individuals included in the study, 17 successfully obtained competitive employment, with 19 positions secured. The successful results were achieved using a supported employment model and skilled employment specialists who were able to provide a high level of social supports and compensatory training strategies for skill acquisition. Study 2 presents preliminary findings from the implementation of Project SEARCH for high school seniors with ASD in a Suburban Hospital using a randomized controlled trial.  To date, there were 24 high school seniors enrolled in the treatment group and 17 students enrolled in the control group.  Results from the first two years indicate that 13 out of the 14 students from the treatment group are currently employed while 0 of 17 students from the control group are currently employed.  The third cohort is currently underway and results from that cohort will be reported as they become available.