Richmond, Va.
Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014

VCU Study: Job Training Improves Employment Chances For Youth With Autism

Monday, July 29, 2013

A Virginia Commonwealth University study shows intensive job training benefits youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), one of the most challenging disabilities for job placement with an employment rate of approximately 20 percent.

Published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, the study demonstrates that nine months of intensive internship training, in conjunction with an engaged hospital, can lead to high levels of competitive employment in areas such as cardiac care, wellness, ambulatory surgery and pediatric intensive care units.

“This is the first study of its kind to demonstrate the skills and abilities youth with ASD have and the success they can experience at work,” said Paul H. Wehman, Ph.D., principal investigator of the study and professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation and director of the VCU Autism Center at the VCU School of Education. “Previous research in this area showed that youth with ASD were employed at lower rates than even their peers with other disabilities.”

Traditionally, youth with autism between the ages of 18 and 22 remain unemployed after leaving school at rates of more than 80 percent. But VCU researchers reported that those who completed a program called “Project SEARCH with Autism Supports” achieved employment at 87 percent. This study also showed that youth with ASD required less intense support as they became more competent at their work tasks.

VCU partnered on the study with Bon Secours Richmond Health System St. Mary's Hospital in Henrico County, Va., and St. Francis Medical Center in Chesterfield County, Va.; Henrico County Public Schools; Chesterfield County Public Schools; and the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS).

“Bon Secours has participated in Project SEARCH since 2010 and each year we find the students add a tremendous value to our team of caregivers,” said Michael Spine, senior vice president of business development for Bon Secours Health System. “Project SEARCH graduates are permanent and important members of our staff, working throughout the hospitals in a variety of areas, including labor and delivery, our cardiac units and wellness.”

“Witnessing how these ‘disabled students’ are transformed into valued employees and colleagues during their Project SEARCH year is the best example of how our system can be successful when our collaboration is employed,” said James A. Rothrock, commissioner of the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services.

“Getting a job is the central accomplishment in life for all 20-year-olds,” said study co-investigator Carol M. Schall, Ph.D., director of technical assistance for the VCU Autism Center for Excellence and Virginia Autism Resource Center. “For far too long, youth with ASD have been left out of that elated feeling that adults have when they get their first real employment. Through this study, we were able to demonstrate that youth with ASD can be successful employees.”

Youth with autism were employed in jobs not typically considered for those with disabilities in a hospital setting. They worked 20 to 40 hours per week and were paid 24 percent more than minimum wage.

The study is published online at http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10803-013-1892-x.

It was funded by the Disability and Rehabilitation Research Project (DRRP) grant #H133B080027 from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), and by the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services.

About VCU and VCU Medical Center

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 223 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Sixty-eight of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. MCV Hospitals and the health sciences schools of Virginia Commonwealth University comprise VCU Medical Center, one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers. For more, see www.vcu.edu.

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About Bon Secours Virginia Health System

Bon Secours Virginia provides good help to thousands of Virginians through a network of hospitals, primary and specialty care practices, ambulatory care sites and continuing care facilities across the Commonwealth of Virginia. The not-for-profit health system employs about 12,000 people, including nearly 300 physicians as part of the Bon Secours Medical Group.

The fourth largest and only faith-based health system in Virginia, Bon Secours Virginia offers a full range of services including cardiac, women’s, children’s, orthopaedics, oncology, neurosciences and surgery at seven award-winning hospitals.

  • Bon Secours Richmond is St. Mary’s Hospital, Memorial Regional Medical Center, Richmond Community Hospital and St. Francis Medical Center.
  • Bon Secours Hampton Roads is Maryview Medical Center, DePaul Medical Center and Mary Immaculate Hospital.

About Project SEARCH

Project SEARCH is an employment training program where youths with disabilities spend their senior year in high school working three internships in a community business. It was launched in the private sector in 1996 and currently has over 140 sites in 42 states with both private and public employers, as well as the UK and Australia.