Are High School Job Programs Effective for Students With Autism?

January 14, 2014
Austin, Texas

Laura Shankland
Communications Associate
Phone: 512-391-6556

Approximately one-half of young adults with autism spectrum disorders have never worked for pay outside the home. Student job programs are sometimes seen as a resource for helping youth transition from high school to the workforce, but researchers are still trying to determine if these programs are effective.

Staff from SEDL’s Vocational Rehabilitation Service Models for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders project sought to determine whether job programs helped transition-age people—approximately 14 to 22 years old—with autism spectrum disorders succeed in the workforce. The team reviewed 85 studies on programs around the world. Of the 85 studies, none linked school-to-work transition programming to the actual acquisition of a post-school job.

“Many of the studies we reviewed provided evidence that programs were effective in helping participants develop job skills or social skills, but they didn’t evaluate participants’ actual transition into the workforce as an outcome of the program,” said SEDL program manager, John Westbrook, who led the study. “Generally, these studies did not use rigorous, comparative research designs.”

Westbrook stressed that the findings do not mean that school-to-work programs serving students with autism spectrum disorders aren’t effective. “At this point, we just don’t have enough evidence one way or another,” he said. “Researchers in this area need to expand their research focus to include employment outcomes.” The findings were published in a systematic review in the Campbell Collaboration Library of Systematic Reviews.

The systematic review highlighted trends that may direct future research. These findings suggest that self-management and behavioral management play a role in a program’s effectiveness. For example, school-based transition programs often teach individuals with disabilities job-related skills and other success-oriented behaviors like good hygiene, appropriate dressing, use of public transportation, and self-advocacy, like reporting abuse. The SEDL team also found that transition programs are likely to be more successful with persons with autism if they address social coping skills like managing anxiety and learning appropriate workplace behavior.

“People with autism spectrum disorders are often more likely to lose their jobs for reasons related to inappropriate behavioral and social interaction rather than their inability to do the work,” says Westbrook. “Appropriately addressing specific behaviors and educating employers about the benefits of employing people with autism can greatly increase their success in workplace.”

About SEDL

SEDL (formerly Southwest Educational Development Laboratory) is a nonprofit corporation based in Austin, Texas. SEDL is dedicated to solving significant education problems and improving teaching and learning through research, research-based resources, and professional development. For more information about SEDL, visit

About Vocational Rehabilitation Service Models for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder Project

The Vocational Rehabilitation Service Models for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder project focused on improving vocational rehabilitation and transition services for persons with autism. The project was a partnership between SEDL, a private, nonprofit education research, development, and dissemination corporation based in Austin, Texas, and the University of Central Florida Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (UCF-CARD).

This national initiative was funded by a 5-year grant. The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research in the U.S. Department of Education covered 99% ($1.75 million) of the costs, and non-governmental sources covered the remaining 1% ($17,500) of the costs.