Graduation Year


Document Type


Degree Type

Open Access Capstone

Degree Name

Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD)


Occupational Therapy


As the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) continues to rise, it is increasingly important to address the needs of adults with ASD as they transition into the work world. Project SEARCH, an internationally recognized program, has been successful in assisting individuals with disabilities in attaining competitive employment. Yet even in this program model, individuals with ASD have lower employment outcomes than individuals in other disability categories. The purpose of this action research study was to explore the needs of individuals with high functioning autism spectrum disorder (HFASD) within the Project SEARCH program from their own perspectives, and to examine the potential for occupational therapy interventions to improve employment outcomes for interns with HFASD. Utilizing an action research framework, the study examined the experiences of three interns with HFASD, as well as experiences of their support staff, mentors, coworkers, and employers. Thematic analysis suggested that the needs of interns with HFASD were distinctly different than the needs of interns within other disability categories. Further, the existing Project SEARCH service delivery model was ineffective in addressing environmental modifications and adaptations, sociocultural differences in the workplace and basic psychological needs to support self-determined behavior for individuals with HFASD. While stakeholders and interns found occupational therapy direct treatment and consultation valuable, education and training alone were perceived as ineffective in addressing the needs of interns with HFASD. Findings suggest there may be a unique and valuable role for occupational therapists within the Project SEARCH model in addressing the needs of interns with HFASD.

Faculty Mentor

Doris Pierce

Department Affiliation

Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy

Committee Member

Julie Baltisberger

Department Affiliation

Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy

IRB Approval Number (if applicable)

EKU #1479