Research Conferences and Presentations

Since the start of the Dandelion program and the commencement of our research program, we have been very active in presenting at conferences in Australia and around the world. With the International Meeting for Autism Research, to be held in San Francisco,  upcoming in March this year, here is a list of where we have presented our findings so far:

 

Hedley, D., Dissanayake, C., Spoor, J., Uljarević, M., Richdale, A., Bartram, T., Moss, S., & Wilmot, M. (2016). Long-term impact of supported employment on adults with ASD. Oral presentation at the 3rd Australasian Society for Autism Research (ASfAR) conference, Perth, December 8-9.

Hedley, D. (2016). Transition to employment: The Dandelion Program. Department of Defence “What’s your Ability” conference. Melbourne, Nov 30.

Hedley, D. (2016). The Dandelion Program: Transition to work. Autism CRC Program 3 meeting. Nov 23.

Hedley, D., Dissanayake, C., Richdale, A., Spoor, J., & Uljarević, M. (2016). Long-term benefits of supported employment for adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  Session presentation at the 15th World Congress of the International Association for the Scientifics Study of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IASSIDD). Melbourne, VIC, August 15-19.

Spoor, J. R., Hedley, D., Dissanayake, C., Richdale, A., & Uljarević, M. (2016). The Dandelion program: Supporting meaningful work for individuals with Autism. Session presentation (Supporting Employment Outcomes for Individuals with a Disability) at the Academy of Management Annual Meeting: Making Organizations Meaningful. Anaheim, CA, August 5-9.

Hedley, D., Uljarević, M., & Nevill, R. (2016). The journey from screening to employment in Autism. Nationwide Children’s Hospital Child Development Centre, Columbus, OH, USA, May 19.

Hedley, D., Uljarević, M., & Nevill, R. (2016). The journey from screening to employment in Autism. TEACCH Centre, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA, May 16.

Hedley, D., Dissanayake, C., Richdale, A., Uljarević, M., & Spoor, J. (2016). Psychological and social impact of transition to employment in Autism. Oral presentation at the SAP Autism at Work Summit: Academic Research Meeting. Newton Square, PA, March 23.

Hedley, D., Dissanayake, C., Richdale, A., Uljarevic, M., & Spoor, J. (2015). Employing talented adults on the Autism Spectrum. Oral presentation at the Amaze 13th Autism Spectrum Disorder Research Forum. Melbourne, Australia, November 25.

A look at the first year in research

We are approximately at the midway point with regards this exciting research initiative. To evaluate success of the program it is necessary to first define success. The Dandelion Program is unique in that it places and supports a relatively large cohort of individuals with ASD within DHS. If success is defined in terms of job retention, which it often is when it comes to the evaluation of employment programs for people with ASD (please refer to Hedley et al., 2016), then a retention rate of around 95% is commendable and would certainly be considered successful relative to the available literature. Our research also identified high levels of trainee job satisfaction. While job satisfaction has rarely been examined in people with ASD thus making comparison with other studies difficult, satisfaction was certainly higher than trainees reported for previous occupations, and at least comparable to their colleagues.

Our qualitative study found that trainees were positive about the recruitment process and the program in general. This sentiment was reiterated by co-workers, support staff and family members. More recently we have begun to examine the impact of the program on the organisation, and have started focus groups and interviews with DHS employees who are not necessarily directly involved with the program or trainees. While it is too early to report on this work, co-workers continue to be supportive of the program, commenting that they felt that supporting staff with diverse needs is integral to the culture of DHS. Upon asking staff for a single word that described how they felt about DHS involvement in the Dandelion Program, “pride/proud” was the most common response, followed by “positive”, “fantastic” and “excellence”. Formal results from this study will be forthcoming and data collection needs to be expanded to additional sites. However, these early indicators suggest the Dandelion Program, at the least, has the potential to positively impact the organisation and staff more widely.

While we hoped to be able to comment on the positive impact of the program on the health and well-being of participants, to date our preliminary results are inconclusive and characterised by stability over time across our measures. That is, we are currently unable to report significant improvements in mental health or other quality of life measures as a result of participation in the program. Nevertheless, and given anecdotal reports of the positive impact of the program, we are hopeful that we will be able to report improvements on these measures in future – particularly as we collect more longitudinal data as it may simply be that significant effects will take time to develop.

In terms of next steps, we have been involved with HPE in developing a transition plan that targets trainee career development, particularly in developing independence and the skills that will assist trainees to integrate fully into the workforce, thereby reducing their reliance on the provided supports. This is an important step, and will serve to reflect the maturity of the program.

6 month Research Update

We are six months into our research on the Dandelion Program – an employment program initiated by Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, the Department of Human Services and Specialisterne Australia aimed at creating a pathway to meaningful employment for adults on the autism spectrum.

The program provides selected individuals with Autism a 3-year traineeship as a software tester. It includes significant workplace support for these individuals which is provided by someone with extensive experience in Autism Spectrum Disorders who works closely with the trainees. So far, the program has provided jobs to 38 adults with a diagnosis of an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Previous research has identified the many challenges adults on the autism spectrum face entering the workforce, backed up by the lived experiences of people with Autism. In particular, we know there are exceptionally high rates of unemployment and underemployment where, for example, individuals are placed in low level, unskilled and low paying jobs. It may be that human resource and employer focus on social aptitude and teamwork creates a barrier to employment of individuals with Autism. Indeed, over half of the employed adults on the spectrum who responded to a recent Australian survey indicated they needed support to find employment. Furthermore, around two-thirds of these same individuals also indicated that they would like support at work for their symptoms of Autism.

In our research, we are tracking the transition to work of the adults who have been selected for the Dandelion Program across three States in Australia. The research addresses a significant gap in the scientific literature concerning the transition to work and the effectiveness and benefits of employment programs that target adults on the spectrum.

We are looking at specific outcomes that include loneliness and social supports, quality of life, psychological wellbeing and mental health and also job satisfaction. While it is too early to say anything definitive about our finding so far as we are still collecting data, we can report some interesting preliminary trends.

Consistent with the research literature, although around 25% of job candidates had a TAFE diploma or Bachelor’s degree or higher, the unemployment rate in our sample was around 63%, with 34% of the total group engaged in unskilled, part-time work. In terms of transition to work, we have found that individuals employed in the program for 6 to 8 months are reporting fewer psychological concerns, including lower levels of anxiety and loneliness, improved social relations and a sense of belonging compared to individuals who have only just started in the program. The trainees also reported significantly higher levels of job satisfaction with the program compared to their previous jobs.

While these trends are promising, our primary research goal is to follow the teams over time to see if these improvements might be attributable to engagement in the program. We will continue to provide updates on further findings as they become available.