The transition from school to employment for students with autism spectrum disorder
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Employment is an important occupation for young adults, including those with disabilities such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Secure employment is associated with positive self-esteem and higher quality of life for people with ASD. People with ASD, however, have generally poor employment outcomes. The development of effective school supports is needed to prepare youth with ASD for the transition from school to employment. This dissertation represents a mixed methods study to (1) understand how and what school personnel think about when preparing youth with ASD for employment, and (2) explore how the personal and contextual factors (such as youth’s functioning and academic performance, family background, and parent participation in the youth’s education) predict post-school employment outcomes for students with ASD. To address the first research aim, 20 school personnel were interviewed. Based on the interview data, we developed a conceptual model describing how school personnel provided employment preparation for this population. The model highlights how school personnel view the student’s personal and contextual factors as equally important and indivisible for employment success. As school personnel prepare youth for employment, they also consider how to support the youth to create a meaningful life in the community, including how and where youth will live, remain safe, maintain recreation and exercise routines, and develop social connections. The findings of the first study served as a theoretical basis of the second study and were used to identify contextual factors included in the research aims and to develop a statistical model. To address the second research question, a secondary analysis was conducted with a nationally representative database. By adopting the structural equation modeling (SEM) analysis, we found that school-based transition supports and academic performance were important mediators between parental participation in youth with ASD’s education and employment outcomes. The pathways that predicted employment outcomes for youth with ASD were different for youth with different levels of daily functioning skills. This analysis was the first to identify the important role of school supports in post-school employment outcomes for youth with ASD. The findings of these two studies indicate that preparing youth with ASD for the transition to employment is a highly individualized and contextualized process that involves collaborations among school, family, and the community. This research illustrates the importance of environmental factors in employment outcomes for this population. Whereas current interventions and research often focus on youth’s vocational skills, it may be equally or more important to consider environmental barriers and supports that may be amenable to change to meet youth’s employment needs.
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