Groundbreaking Employment Intervention Model

Innovative Program Prepares Young Adults with Autism for Employment

Unemployment is a critical and pressing problem for adults with autism. For many years, unemployment rates for people with disabilities have hovered around 85%, with even higher rates for those with autism spectrum disorder.

Research and analysis of transition training in recent years has made it increasingly clear that not enough is happening to prepare students for employment. What’s the purpose of education, if not to prepare students for productive, independent lives? How can special educators justify their instructional programs if graduates are unable to find meaningful employment?

Employment Intervention (EI) Model

That’s why Shrub Oak International School is committed to pioneering improved transition programming. Our unique transition programs provide innovative, evidence-based employment intervention for students on the spectrum, demonstrating how student outcomes can be improved through our Employment Intervention (EI) system.

Shrub Oak’s EI system is designed to prepare students for gainful employment. Our teachers are highly trained in transition and career development. They are also competent in transdisciplinary collaboration, so that academics and career development are seamlessly integrated with clinical services. Whether students choose to pursue higher education or to begin a job directly upon graduation, they will experience ongoing opportunities to explore varied career paths.

Employment Intervention Curriculum

Shrub Oak’s multi-faceted EI curriculum consists of classroom instruction using Universal Design for Transition (UDT) principles and the Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction (SDLMI), while concomitantly reinforcing real-life academic skills within job sites in local communities.

Self-determination is essential for employment and independent living. It is, therefore, disturbing that studies have found low levels self-determination competence in high school graduates with ASD. A national transition study by Dr. Paul T. Shattuck et al. in 2011, for example, found that 80% percent of recent graduates still lived with parents, and 40% reported no friendships. In short, schools need to do a far better job in preparing students for the world of work and community living.

The UDT approach adapts learning activities rather than trying to change the individual. This approach was developed by Dr. Colleen Thoma at Virginia Commonwealth University for use with students who have learning and behavior differences at the secondary school level. It offers strength-based instruction that is designed to meet individual learning preferences, while considering individual learner characteristics. UDT is a learner-centered approach that has been used with success to teach job skills and work-related behaviors, as well as to support students with autism in college-based inclusion programs.

An example of UDT might involve a student who has a career aspiration to work in a hospital lab.  The student will need skills in measuring liquids and solids (math and science), use of lab equipment (science), use of timers to monitor the length of specific tests (math), and sufficient reading skills to identify the appropriate materials to use, as well as to match the test with the patient (literacy).  The EI system is ideally suited for individuals with autism because its flexibility and wide range of presentation styles can accommodate diverse information processing styles to increase opportunities for engagement in learning.

UDT by itself is a major improvement in transition education, and when combined with the Self-Determined Learning Model of Instructional (SDLMI), developed by Dr. Michael L. Wehmeyer, et al., the likelihood of successful student outcomes increases exponentially.

Skills that comprise the core of self-determination competence include choice-making, decision-making, problem-solving, goal-setting, risk-taking with safety, self-regulation, self-instruction, self-advocacy, self-awareness, and self-knowledge. Students who are self-determined are more likely to become employed and live independently. By focusing on building self-determination competence while providing employment intervention, teachers can help individuals acquire skills, behaviors, and attitudes that are necessary for employment success.

Shrub Oak’s EI system places heavy emphasis on self-determination using evidence-based SDLMI.  This process uses a problem-solving strategy in which students learn to identify and set goals, develop action plans to achieve them, and self-monitor progress. SDLMI has been shown to increase attainment of academic and transition goals and enhance self-determination competence. Moreover, this model has been demonstrated to improve employment outcomes.

The Shrub Oak curriculum is leading the way in the combined application of UDT and SDLMI techniques in a school-wide system to prepare students for success in either postsecondary education or in a chosen career. To ensure the program’s success, the transition team completely customizes and individualizes every student’s plan, using continuous progress monitoring with a one-to-one student-teacher/clinician ratio.


Technology is also incorporated into the Shrub Oak employment intervention system in several ways. Through assistive technology, students are enabled to actively participate in community jobs from the onset of their employment exploration experience. To promote skill acquisition and development of work-related behaviors, video modeling provides continuous feedback and instructional support.

When students graduate, they will have employment portfolios with important vocational assessment information about their strengths, abilities, and individual characteristics, including video snapshots of themselves working at varied worksites.