A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

The Autism Research Review International is quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

Spring, 2016 | Number 2, Volume 30

Intensive job training, internships prove highly successful

Intensive on-the-job training for high school-aged students with ASD (autism spectrum disorders) can lead to high employment rates, a new study reports. 

Between 2009 and 2012, Paul Wehman and colleagues enrolled 54 individuals with ASD into a program called Project SEARCH plus Autism Spectrum Disorder Supports (PS-ASD). This program is a modification of Project SEARCH, a job training program for individuals with developmental disabilities. In addition to the basic Project SEARCH protocol, PS-ASD incorporates applied behavioral analysis and more intensive social communication skills training. 

Participants, 49 of whom completed the program, were between the ages of 18 and 21. Thirty-one of them participated in PS-ASD rather than attending high school, while the remainder served as controls and continued to attend school. 

The PS-ASD program is an intensive nine-month program that involves embedding participants in job settings. Participants rotate through three 10- to 12-week internships, accumulating around 720 hours of experience. In addition, they participate in 180 hours of classroom activity on-site. A number of agencies collaborate to help participants find jobs when they complete the program. 

During their internships, participants received supported employment services, working with job coaches who helped them determine their goals, prepare for interviews, and train on the job. Coaches also provided long-term support, which was phased out over time. 

The researchers report that 87% of PS-ASD participants were competitively employed 12 months after graduation, compared to 12% of controls. In addition, PS-ASD participants worked longer hours over time, indicating that their employers appreciated their value. The researchers add, “Possibly the most exciting part of these findings is that each year students became increasingly independent at work. They required less help and less support.” 

The researchers say that the internships were a major key to participants’ success. “These intensive internships,” they say, “essentially acted as the vocational training equivalent of intensive early intervention,” allowing participants to repeatedly practice critical work skills.


“Effects of an employer-based intervention on employment outcomes for youth with signifi cant support needs due to autism,” Paul Wehman, Carol M. Schall, Jennifer McDonough, Carolyn Graham, Valerie Brooke, J. Erin Riehle, Alissa Brooke, Whitney Ham, Stephanie Lau, Jaclyn Allen, and Lauren Avellone, Autism, May 5, 2016 (epub prior to print publication). Address: Carol M. Schall, School of Education, Virginia Commonwealth University, Box 842011, Richmond, VA 23284- 2011, [email protected].