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Vocational Rehabilitation Service Models
for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders
R.1 Research Study Print E-mail

R1: Systematic Review on Adult Employment Assistance for Persons with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Effects on Employment Outcomes

This systematic review was published in The Campbell Library of Systematic Reviews in March 2012. The full-text of the review is available in the Campbell Library.


This research study consists of a systematic review of empirical literature describing the effectiveness of adult employment assistance services for persons with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The Campbell Collaboration (C2) data collection and analysis guidelines were used for this study. Outcomes from this study have increased awareness of current effective practice in promoting successful employment of people with ASD.

What is the objective of this study?

Adult employment assistance services for persons with autism spectrum disorders: Effects on employment outcomes, sought to determine the effectiveness of adult employment services for persons with ASD.

What is a systematic review?

Systematic reviews are considered the highest standard of research. The rigorous process of a systematic review begins with an explicit search strategy that collects all published and unpublished research on a particular topic. The research that is collected then undergoes coding for inclusion/exclusion into the findings by at least two independent reviewers. Peer review and editorial review ensure that the published systematic review is necessary and no other systematic review has answered the posed question(s) and that bias is minimized.

How do systematic reviews differ from traditional literature reviews?

A systematic review involves the careful delineation of the research question to be addressed by the review; identification of rigorous criteria for the inclusion or exclusion of studies to be reviewed; exhaustive searches of the literature to identify potential studies for inclusion; screening of the studies according to the review criteria; and analysis and reporting of findings, including, where sufficient quantitative data are available, meta-analysis of data (Turner & Nye, 2007).

How were studies located?

The comprehensive search strategy used to identify relevant studies included the review of 28 relevant electronic databases. Search terminology for each of the electronic databases was developed from available database thesauri. Appropriate synonyms were used to maximize the database search output. Several international databases were included among the 28 databases searched.

In addition, the authors identified and reviewed grey literature through analysis of reference lists of relevant studies. Unpublished dissertations and theses were also identified through database searches. The programs of conferences held by associations and organizations relevant to ASD and employment were also searched.

Who was on the review team?

The review team consisted of John D. Westbrook, Chad Nye, Carlton J. Fong, Judith T. Wan, Tara Cortopassi, and Frank H. Martin. In addition, Nancy Reynolds, MLS, a librarian with SEDL participated on the project.

What are outcomes from this study?

Results from the systematic review fostered several outcomes.This systematic review is essential to researchers and practitioners alike. This review identifies areas researchers should focus on when evaluating sustained competitive employment programs for people with ASD. Practitioners are able to assess and improve their employment supports to the people with ASD by reviewing the findings of the research synopsis of this review.

Specifically, only two studies in the full-text review met all criteria set out in the search strategy. Meta-analysis of the studies was not appropriate because the outcomes of the studies were dissimilar. However, the included studies showed the benefits of supported employment models or no intervention has advantage over a sheltered workshop. The lack of more studies for inclusion indicates a need for more rigorous and controlled study of the effectiveness of employment programs for people with ASD.

Qualitative studies were also reviewed to further illuminate the findings of the two quantitative studies included in the review. The findings of these qualitative studies suggest individualized work placements for people with ASD based on the individual’s strengths are paramount to successful long-term competitive employment. Appropriate work settings with effective job coaching and long-term support were also identified in the qualitative literature as imperative to sustaining employment.