Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 49, Issue 8, pp 3089–3101 | Cite as

“I’m Destined to Ace This”: Work Experience Placement During High School for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Elinda Ai Lim LeeEmail author
  • Melissa H. Black
  • Tele Tan
  • Torbjorn Falkmer
  • Sonya Girdler


As postsecondary outcomes of adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are poor, there is a need for programs that aim to improve employment and education outcomes. This study employed a grounded theory approach to explore the key factors contributing to successful work placement experience and the perceived benefits of these placements from the perspective of adolescents with ASD (n = 5), their parents (n = 6) and employers (n = 6). Key factors contributing to success include preparing for the workplace, harnessing strengths and interests and developing work related skills, while the benefits include insight into the workplace, recognising and realising potential, working as a team and the pathway ahead. The findings articulate a framework which could underpin future transition interventions for adolescents with ASD.


Adolescents Autism Spectrum Disorder Work experience program Vocational Work Employment 



This work was funded by the Ian Potter Foundation (Grant No. 20170356), Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre and Bennelong Foundation. The authors were particularly grateful to the study participants and the support from Autism Association of Western Australia and Therapy Focus in Western Australia for the participants with ASD and host organisations.

Author Contributions

EALL, TT and SG designed the study. Data collection was undertaken by EALL. Data analysis and interpretation was led by EALL and was undertaken by EALL, MHB and SG. EALL wrote the manuscript with SG and MHB, with critical input from TT and TF.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2017). Disability, ageing and carers, Australia: Summary of findings, 2015; cat. no. 4430.0. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics.Google Scholar
  2. Autism Association of Western Australia. (2018). Preparing for life after school. Retrieved March 16, 2018, from
  3. Autism Spectrum Australia. (2018). Establishing routines. Retrieved October 18, 2018, from
  4. Baldwin, S., Costley, D., & Warren, A. (2014). Employment activities and experiences of adults with high-functioning autism and Asperger’s disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44(10), 2440–2449. Scholar
  5. Baric, V. B., Hemmingsson, H., Hellberg, K., & Kjellberg, A. (2017). The occupational transition process to upper secondary school, further education and/or work in Sweden: As described by young adults with Asperger syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 47(3), 667–679. Scholar
  6. Baron-Cohen, S., Ashwin, E., Ashwin, C., Tavassoli, T., & Chakrabarti, B. (2009). Talent in autism: Hyper-systemizing, hyper-attention to detail and sensory hypersensitivity. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364(1522), 1377–1383. Scholar
  7. Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3, 77–101. Scholar
  8. Bruni, T. P. (2014). Test review: Social Responsiveness Scale-second edition (SRS-2). Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 32(4), 365–369. Scholar
  9. Capo, L. C. (2001). Autism, employment, and the role of occupational therapy. Work, 16(3), 201–207.Google Scholar
  10. Carter, E. W., Trainor, A. A., Cakiroglu, O., Swedeen, B., & Owens, L. A. (2010). Availability of and access to career development activities for transition-age youth with disabilities. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 33(1), 13–24. Scholar
  11. Charmaz, K. (2015). Grounded theory. In J. Smith (Ed.), Qualitative psychology: A practical guide to research methods (3rd ed.). London: SAGE.Google Scholar
  12. Chen, J. L., Leader, G., Sung, C., & Leahy, M. (2015). Trends in employment for individuals with autism spectrum disorder: A review of the research literature. Review Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 2(2), 115–127. Scholar
  13. Constantino, J. N., & Gruber, C. P. (2012). The social responsivenss scale manual, second edition (SRS-2). Los Angeles, CA: Western Pyschological Services.Google Scholar
  14. Constantino, J. N., & Todd, R. D. (2003). Autistic traits in the general population. Archives of General Pyschiatry, 60(5), 524–530.Google Scholar
  15. Corbin, J., & Strauss, A. (2008). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc.Google Scholar
  16. Curtin University. (2018). Programs for teens with autism should promote strengths. Retrieved December 19, 2018, from
  17. de Schipper, E., Mahdi, S., de Vries, P., Granlund, M., Holtmann, M., Karande, S., et al. (2016). Functioning and disability in autism spectrum disorder: A worldwide survey of experts. Autism Research, 9(9), 959–969. Scholar
  18. Deloitte Access Economics. (2011). The economics benefits of increasing employment for people with disability. Canberra, ACT: Deloitte Access Economics.Google Scholar
  19. García-Villamisar, D., Wehman, P., & Navarro, M. D. (2002). Changes in the quality of autistic people’s life that work in supported and sheltered employment. A 5-year follow-up study. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 17(4), 309–312.Google Scholar
  20. Gerhardt, P. F., & Lainer, I. (2010). Addressing the needs of adolescents and adults with autism: A crisis on the horizon. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 41(1), 37–45. Scholar
  21. Graneheim, U. H., & Lundman, B. (2004). Qualitative content analysis in nursing research: Concepts, procedures and measures to achieve trustworthiness. Nurse Education Today, 24(2), 105–112. Scholar
  22. Guba, E. (1981). Criteria for assessing the trustworthiness of naturalistic inquiries. Educational Technology Research and Development, 29(2), 75–91.Google Scholar
  23. Hatfield, M., Ciccarelli, M., Falkmer, T., & Falkmer, M. (2018). Factors related to successful transition planning for adolescents on the autism spectrum. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 18(1), 3–14. Scholar
  24. Hedley, D., Cai, R., Uljarevic, M., Wilmot, M., Spoor, J. R., Richdale, A., et al. (2017). Transition to work: Perspectives from the autism spectrum. Autism, 22(5), 528–541. Scholar
  25. Hendricks, D. (2010). Employment and adults with autism spectrum disorders: Challenges and strategies for success. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 32, 125–134. Scholar
  26. Holwerda, A., van der Klink, J. J., Groothoff, J. W., & Brouwer, S. (2012). Predictors for work participation in individuals with an autism spectrum disorder: A systematic review. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, 22(3), 333–352. Scholar
  27. Howlin, P. (2003). Longer-term educational and employment outcomes. In M. Prior (Ed.), Learning and behavior problems in Asperger syndrome (pp. 269–293). New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  28. Jones, M., Bölte, S., Falkmer, M., Milbourne, B., Tan, T., Sheehy, L., & Girdler, S. (2018). A strength-based program for adolescents with autism. Research Report No. 17/18. Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre.Google Scholar
  29. Krieger, B., Kinebanian, A., Prodinger, B., & Heigl, F. (2012). Becoming a member of the workforce: Perceptions of adults with Asperger Syndrome. Work, 43(2), 141–157. Scholar
  30. Krueger, R., & Casey, M. F. (2009). Focus groups. A practical guide for applied research (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Pulications.Google Scholar
  31. Lee, G. K., & Carter, E. W. (2012). Preparing transition-age students with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders for meaningful work. Psychology in the Schools, 49(10), 988–1000. Scholar
  32. Mason, M. (2010). Sample size and saturation in PhD studies using qualitative interviews. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 11(3), 8. Scholar
  33. Nowell, L., Norris, J., White, D., & Moules, N. (2017). Thematic analysis: Striving to meet the trustworthiness criteria. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 16(1), 1–13. Scholar
  34. NVivo. (2015). NVivo Qualitative Data Analysis Software, Version 11, QSR International Pty Ltd.Google Scholar
  35. Patton, W., Creed, P. A., & Muller, J. (2003). Career maturity and well-being as determinants of occupational status of recent school leavers: A brief report of an Australian study. Journal of Adolescent Research, 17(4), 425–435. Scholar
  36. Persson, B. (2000). Brief report: A longitudinal study of quality of life and independence among adult men with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30(1), 61–66.Google Scholar
  37. Scott, M., Falkmer, M., Falkmer, T., & Girdler, S. (2018). Evaluating the effectiveness of an autism-specific workplace tool for employers: A randomised controlled trial. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 48, 3377–3392. Scholar
  38. Scott, M., Falkmer, M., Girdler, S., & Falkmer, T. (2015). Viewpoints on factors for successful employment for adults with autism spectrum disorder. PLoS ONE, 10(10), e0139281. Scholar
  39. Shattuck, P. T., Narendorf, S. C., Cooper, B., Sterzing, P. R., Wagner, M., & Taylor, J. L. (2012). Postsecondary education and employment among youth with an autism spectrum disorder. Pediatrics, 129(6), 1042–1049. Scholar
  40. Siew, C. T., Mazzucchelli, T. G., Rooney, R., & Girdler, S. (2017). A specialist peer mentoring program for university students on the autism spectrum: A pilot study. PLoS ONE, 12(7), e0180854. Scholar
  41. Sim, A., Cordier, R., Vaz, S., & Falkmer, T. (2019). We are in this together: Experiences of relationship satisfaction in couples raising a child with autism spectrum disorder. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 58, 39–51. Scholar
  42. Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. S. P. (1998). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.Google Scholar
  43. Taylor, J. L., & Mailick, M. R. (2014). A longitudinal examination of 10-year change in vocational and educational activities for adults with autism spectrum disorders. Developmental Psychology, 50(3), 699–708. Scholar
  44. Taylor, J. L., & Seltzer, M. M. (2011). Employment and post-secondary educational activities for young adults with autism spectrum disorders during the transition to adulthood. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 41(5), 566–574. Scholar
  45. The Centre for Research in Autism and Education. (2014). CRAE work experience programme for autistic students. Retrieved March 16, 2018, from
  46. Thompson, C., Bölte, S., Falkmer, T., & Girdler, S. (2018). To be understood: Transitioning to adult life for people with autism spectrum disorder. PLoS ONE, 13(3), e0194758. Scholar
  47. Vondracek, F. W., & Porfeli, E. J. (2006). The world of work and careers. In G. R. Adams & M. D. Berzonsky (Eds.), Blackwell handbook of adolescence (pp. 109–128). Malden, MA: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  48. Wehman, P., Schall, C., Carr, S., Targett, P., West, M., & Cifu, G. (2014). Transition from school to adulthood for youth with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 25(1), 30–40. Scholar
  49. Wei, X., Christiano, E., Yu, J., Blackorby, J., Shattuck, P., & Newman, L. (2014). Postsecondary pathways and persistence for STEM versus non-STEM majors: Among college students with an autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44(5), 1159–1167. Scholar
  50. Zimmer-Gembeck, M. J., & Mortimer, J. T. (2006). Adolescent work, vocational development, and education. Review of Educational Research, 76(4), 537–566. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Occupational Therapy, Social Work and Speech Pathology, Faculty of Health SciencesCurtin University of TechnologyPerthAustralia
  2. 2.Curtin Autism Research GroupCurtin UniversityPerthAustralia
  3. 3.School of Civil and Mechanical EngineeringCurtin UniversityPerthAustralia
  4. 4.Pain and Rehabilitation Centre, Faculty of Health SciencesLinköping UniversityLinköpingSweden

Personalised recommendations