Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Perceptions of Literacy Instruction and Implications for Transition and Employment Outcomes for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Qualitative Study

Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Perceptions of Literacy Instruction and Implications for Transition and Employment Outcomes for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Qualitative Study

Article excerpt

The goal of education for a student with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is to help the person achieve a productive and independent life. This paper discusses the results of qualitative research that examine how educators in some Midwestern school districts describe the development of basic literacy skills by high school students with ASD. Important findings include the school districts' perceptions that (a) legal regulations often hamper the efforts of professionals who wish to impart literacy skills to students and (b) school districts' perceptions that parents have limited interest in literacy skills. Recommendations include suggestions about how laws could be modified and how pairing vocational rehabilitation counselors with professionals who work with students with ASD in public schools could improve the quality of life for students with ASD.

Youth with disabilities take on the challenge of employment as a means of support upon exiting high school; approximately one in seven young adults in the United States is out of school and not working (Jain, Conway, & Choitz, 2016;Shattuck, P. T., Narendorf, S. C, Cooper, B. P., Sterzing, P., Wagner, M., & Taylor, J. L., 2012). The decision to pursue higher education is less common. Although data suggest that youth with disabilities who no longer attend school have more time for work, hold positive attitudes about their current positions, and are earning more than $9.40 per hour, they struggle more than their peers who are not disabled to obtain gainful employment. Additionally, for those with autism, 69% compared to 86-90% for those with hearing impairments or other health impairments, were likely to have been engaged in employment since high school (Sanford, Newman, Wagner, Cameto, Knokey, & Shaver, 2011). Research suggests there is a 7.3% unemployment gap between working-age people with and without disabilities; for youth, the unemployment rate is 11.5 percent (n = 2.6 million), showing little change from the previous year (Erickson, Lee, & von Schrader, 2012; U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016).

While disparities remain across disability types, researchers' contemporary focus is on vocational outcomes for individuals living with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) (Cedurland, Hagberg, Billstedt, Gillberg, & Gillberg, 2008; Howlin, Goode, Hutton, & Rutter, 2004; Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, 2014; Shattuck, P. T, Narendorf, S. C., Cooper, B. P., Sterzing, P., Wagner, M., & Taylor, J. L, 2012). Because of the above-noted unemployment gap, it is important to explore what academic preparation best readies those with ASD for the world of work. Taylor and Seltzer (2010) have noted a decline in students with ASD phenotypic behaviors after exiting school. This may imply that many students with ASD are somewhat prepared for independence through social skills training. Social skills also improve the employment prospects of people with disabilities (Campbell, Hensel, Hudson, Schwartz, & Sealander, 1987; Orsmond, Shattuck, Cooper, Sterzing, & Anderson, 2013). However, Howlin, Goode, Hutton, and Rutter (2004) found that reading and writing skills are also valuable for people with ASD who wish to gain employment, implying that both literacy skills and social skills are valuable for improving employment prospects.

The purpose of this paper is to present results from qualitative research that presents a portrait of what happens to students with ASD who are transitioning to adulthood. The researcher interviewed a number of professionals in several Midwestern high schools to learn how these professionals perceive the development of literacy skills that might best prepare individuals with ASD for the world of work. In knowing what skills students with ASD need when entering the labor market, special education professionals might be well-served if they collaborated with vocational rehabilitation counselors who could help to facilitate the transition to employment. …

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