April 28, 2017

Vocational Training for Youth with ASD

Evaluating a job exploration program for youth with developmental disabilities

A research chat with MSc graduate Amanda Smith-Demers

Tell us about your research project.

The main purpose of my masters research, was to explore the effectiveness of the Practical Assessment Exploration System (PAES). The PAES program is a program that was designed to enhance the job-related skills of adolescents and adults with a developmental disability. Specifically, I wanted to know about its effectiveness with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), including program strengths, limitations, and potential areas for improvement.

I decided to explore this topic, as research in this area of ASD has, until this point, been largely dedicated to exploring early intervention in infancy and early childhood. With this limited focus, there has been concern expressed by families surrounding limited services and developmentally appropriate interventions as their children transition into adulthood. 

Twelve adolescents and young adults with ASD participated in this study. Participants were required to have a diagnosis of ASD made by a licensed professional prior to participating. All participants were registered to attend the PAES program and subsequently were recruited to participate in this research study upon giving consent. This research sample represented two adolescent cycles and two adult cycles of PAES with data collected over a six-month time period. 

What did you discover? 

Overall, my work provides some preliminary support to suggest that the PAES program helps to enhance and build job related skills for adolescents and adults with ASD. I also found four major overarching themes within my work: program strengths, benefits derived from the program, program limitations, and program suggestions.

The development of the four themes is significant as attendees, parents, and program facilitators reported on benefits of the program, including personal growth, belonging/engagement, and anxiety reduction achieved by the attendees because of their participation in PAES. A major strength of the PAES program also appeared to be the overall positive experience and enjoyment that it provided to attendees and their families. Although, there were many benefits highlighted within my work, participants also identified some limitations to the PAES program: participants wished that the program was longer, as to provide continual learning and development in job related skills. 

The results from this study provide a significant contribution to the overall experience of vocational "job-related" training in the ASD community, as the data provides insight into firsthand experiences of the effectiveness of the PAES program with an ASD population. This research can be considered an encouraging step towards future research in the area of vocational ability for individuals with ASD. The current research has implications for vocational intervention for individuals with ASD. When programs such as these are validated, individuals with ASD can be provided with specific programming, which in turn helps to increase the employment success for individuals with ASD.