Assessing Vocational Preferences for Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Intellectual Disabilities

Adolescents with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) may face limited vocational prospects during and following high school. Unlike their typically developing peers, individuals with ASD and a co-morbid intellectual disability did not have improving vocational trajectories across time. Much of the existing research on improving vocational outcomes for individuals with ASD focuses on high-functioning individuals without comorbid intellectual or developmental disabilities. However, less is known about best practices for fostering vocational skills for individuals with a comorbid intellectual disability, particularly when those individuals have very poor verbal abilities. Despite this lack of research, identification of preferred or enjoyable vocations may be important for individuals with lower-functioning ASD because it would allow those individuals to more fully participate in life decisions. Procedures to identify preferences for other kinds of items or activities are well-established in the empirical literature. These procedures, often called “preference assessments,” typically involve allowing the client to select between two or more options using a highly structured format. We believe that the preference-assessment technologies that have been used for over two decades to identify preferred items can be successfully adapted to assess preferences for vocational activities of individuals with ASD who have limited verbal abilities. Further, we hypothesize that individuals with ASD will complete more vocational tasks and spend longer working on those tasks when an initial assessment identifies the tasks as preferred than when the tasks are identified as nonpreferred. Finally, we will assess the extent to which caregivers rate participant happiness and engagement as higher when working on the task identified as preferred relative to the non-preferred task.