Adolescence and ASD

Hughes, C. (2013). A peer-delivered social interaction intervention for high school students with autism. Research & Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 38(1), 1-16.

This study examines the role of peers in a social intervention program for students with ASD. What makes this particular study unique is that it did not rely on social training for the student with ASD, but rather, allowed typically developing peers to decide when and how to interact with the student with ASD. In this study, general education teachers in three different classrooms (P.E., Guitar, and Art) selected three different typically developing peers, or partners, to work with three different students with ASD, or participants. Both partners and participants were asked if they wanted to participate and were given information about the project. As stated, peers were given information about the project, some information about the student they would be interacting with, and then allowed to set their own goals and initiations for interactions. Each type of class had its own pros and cons for facilitating social interactions (guitar had instructor led portions of the class, art had individual work, and P.E. had many more opportunities for interactions but often didn't require conversation). The study demonstrated that many interactions between partners and participants happened in more natural times of the day than if they had been adult-led. Partners were also observed interacting with participants outside of the project classroom such as in the hallways or in other classes. At the end of the study, partners reported getting to know participants as friends and did not report feeling 'stigmatized' for the interactions. All participants reported having a friend where they previously reported having none. Some limitations include broad definitions for 'interactions,' peers were allowed to set their own goals and social iniations, observers were present and possibly 'prompted' partners to interact, and it also appears that partners were not given any training on ASD specifically. Future research is in this type of social intervention will need to address these issues and determine the quality of interactions.

Rossetti, Z.S. (2011). "That's How We Do It": Friendship work between high school students with and without autism or developmental disability. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 36(1), 23-33.

Social skill development is a crucial intervention for individuals with ASD. There is a great amount of emphasis on social skills groups, friendship clubs, peer to peer groups, lunch groups, and a variety of other activities designed to improve social skills for students with ASD while also providing opportunities for social interaction between those with ASD and their neurotypical peers. However, the types of relationships found in these groups cannot always be considered the same type of friendship as other people experience. Often, the 'friendship' ends when the session is over. This study examined voluntary relationships between neurotypical individuals and those with ASD and other disabilities. Rather than focusing on the barriers to friendship, the questions asked in this study focused on what made the friendships successful and what this might mean for future research into developing friendships for those with ASD and other disabilities. The author of the study observed and interviewed three different friendship groups: one between a senior male with ASD and two neurotypical senior females, one between a nondisabled senior female and a young adult woman with ASD, and one between a sophomore nondisabled female and a sophomore male with Menkes syndrome who is a wheelchair user. During observation, the author noted that while there were barriers to friendship including processing / communication speed, a lack of initiation, and transportation issues, what made the friendships successful was the friendship work done by the neurotypical individual. Rather than being a 'helper,' this friendship work was considered to be simply support, and prompts that were given to facilitate interactions were thought of more like a natural support such as opening a door for a friend. In all the observed relationships, there was respect between all parties and an insistence on the nondisabled individual's part to insist on respecting the belief and opinion of their partner with ASD or other disability. While a small study, the author suggests that future studies should focus on the notion of friendship work that can be modeled by educators and to research ways to educate typically developing peers on aspects of the disability that might need support.

Schall, C. & McDonough, J. (2010). Autism spectrum disorders in adolescence and early adulthood: Characteristics and issues. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 32(2), 81-88.

Much has been written about the diagnostic characteristics that distinguish autism spectrum disorders (ASD) from other disorders of childhood for toddlers and elementary school age children. There is a paucity of description of the characteristics and needs of youth and young adults with ASD. This paper presents a description of the characteristics of ASD in adolescence and young adulthood and presents three case studies to illuminate the issues confronting individuals with ASD, their families and support providers.

Schall, C., Wehman, P. & McDonough, J. (2012). Transition from school to work for students with ASD; Understanding the process and achieving better outcomes. Pediatric Clinics of North America, 29(1), 189-202.

A large number of children diagnosed with ASD will soon be moving into adolescence and adulthood, and ultimately, into communities and places of employment. Unfortunately, the majority of research continues to focus on causation, diagnosis, and early intervention, and there is little focus on employment preparation. According to data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2 (NLTS2), of the 922 individuals with ASD in the study, the competitive employment rate for those with ASD was only 6%. However, some of the characteristics of ASD such as need for routine, attention to detail, and a preference for visual order, could potentially make this population highly employable if social communication and behavioral skills are properly addressed, especially during transition. This study suggests that more favorable transition outcomes include implementing evidence-based practices that increase independence, increasing social competence, developing self-determination and self-advocacy, utilizing parent involvement, implementing school and community inclusion, and encouraging postsecondary education. Supported employment approaches also improve employment for young adults with ASD and may include business partnerships (such as those found at Walgreens, Bank of America, and Cincinnati Children's Hospital Project SEARCH), customized employment that utilizes a job coach, or self-employment that draws on the individual's strengths and interests. The study also suggests more transition and employment models are needed and health professionals, as well as school staff members, should be aware of the above factors that improve transition outcomes and be able to articulate that to family members early on.

Wehman, P., Schall, C., McDonough, J., Molinelli, A., Riehle, E., Ham, W. & Thiss, W. (2012). Project SEARCH for Youth With Autism Spectrum Disorders: Increasing Competitive Employment On Transition from High School. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 15(3), 144-155.

As more and more children with ASD age into adolescence and adulthood, teachers, parents, and community members must prepare for and identify appropriate supports in order to improve outcomes and quality of life. Due to high percentages of unemployment or underemployment for those with ASD, the authors of this study recommend that those involved in transition planning utilize parent involvement, increase functional independence / social competence, provide access to vocational experiences, teach self-management / self-determination, and use evidence-based practices to improve outcomes. Given the lack of transition models or programs for those specifically with ASD, the authors note that the Project SEARCH High School program has been proven as an effective school-to-work transition model with 78.3% of students placed in competitive employment situations. The components of the Project SEARCH model include program-wide employment goals, an internship model, and collaboration between schools, rehabilitation agencies, employment agencies, various staff members, students, and families. Project Search utilizes a problem-solving model that implements antecedent, instructional, and consequential strategies to reduce problem behavior and to increase, generalize, and strengthen positive behavior.