Absence of conflict of interest.
- The study's objective was to examine the impact of Project SEARCH plus Autism Spectrum Disorder Supports (PS+ASD) on employment and earnings outcomes.
- The study was a randomized controlled trial. Using interview data, the authors conducted statistical models to compare the outcomes of treatment and control group members at graduation and one year after graduation.
- The study found that PS+ASD program participants had significantly higher rates of employment after program completion than the control group.
- This study receives a moderate evidence rating. This means we are somewhat confident that the estimated effects are attributable to PS+ASD, but other factors might also have contributed.
Project SEARCH plus Autism Spectrum Disorders Supports (PS+ASD)
Features of the Intervention
Project SEARCH was a transition-to-work internship program that applied a supported employment approach to help young adults with developmental disabilities gain vocational skills. Project SEARCH plus Autism Spectrum Disorder Supports (PS+ASD) provides customized supports to address common ASD-related barriers to employment, such as social communication training and self-regulation strategies. The PS+ASD program served young adults (ages 18-21) with ASD in Virginia who displayed the ability to engage in independent self-care, were eligible for funding through the state Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agency, and were still enrolled in public schooling. The program provided participants with three 10- to 12-week unpaid internships during their last year of high school. The goal of each internship was to help participants develop and practice socially acceptable and professional behaviors and marketable vocational skills. At the end of the three internships, it was expected that participants would be able to effectively manage their own behavior in the workplace and move independently between job tasks and site locations. The program participants received direct classroom instruction and employment planning support over the course of the 9-month school year. They also received continued supports after high school graduation.
Features of the Study
The study was a randomized controlled trial. Of the 156 eligible young adults with ASD, the authors randomly assigned 81 individuals to the treatment group and 75 individuals to the control group. Participants in the treatment group attended the PS+ASD program during their last year of high school. Participants in the control group attended their regular high school courses where they received the usual accommodations, modifications, and services outlined in their Individualized Education Plan (IEP). They also received some vocational or community-based employment training through school staff.
Study participants were young adults with ASD between the ages of 18 and 21 enrolled at a public high school in four school districts in Virginia between 2013 and 2016. The four school districts were within a 100-mile radius of the four hospitals delivering the PS+ASD program. The primary data sources were in-person interviews with the participant, their parents/guardian, and/or their educator. The interviews were conducted at three time points: at baseline, at graduation, and at one year after graduation. Interviews collected information such as participant demographic information, current employment status, nature of employment, and hourly wage. The authors used statistical models to compare the outcomes of treatment and control group members.
- The study found that PS+ASD program participants were significantly more likely than control group participants to find employment at graduation (5.84 times more likely) and at a 1-year follow-up (4.5 times more likely).
- The study found no significant differences between the groups in the number of hours worked per week and being employed in the community with or without supports.
Earnings and wages
- The study found no significant differences in earnings outcomes between the treatment and control groups.
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
Although this study was a randomized controlled trial, the study had high attrition in the control group throughout the study. Additionally, 20 control participants migrated to the treatment condition. These participants were not included in the analysis. Therefore, the study is not eligible for a high evidence rating. However, the authors did account for preexisting differences between the groups before program participation.
Causal Evidence Rating
The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is moderate because it was a randomized controlled trial with high attrition, but the authors ensured that the groups being compared were similar before the intervention. This means we are somewhat confident that the estimated effects are attributable to PS+ASD, but other factors might have also contributed.