Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Teaching-Learning Processes

Date of Defense

10-17-2014

Graduate Advisor

Patricia Kopetz, Ed.D.

Committee

Lacity, Mary

Heskett, John

Yard, George

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of participation in a school-to-work transition program on self-determination of young adults diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Five young adults between the ages of 18 and 22 with a diagnosis of ASD were the focus of the study. The young adults participated in a university-based Project SEARCH (PS) school-to-work transition program. The program provided the students with internship opportunities in custodial service, food service, laundry service, computer and technology lab, and office administration. A basic qualitative research design was used to examine the experiences of the five students in PS. Field observations, interviews, and archival program documents were used as data sources for the study. PS staff members, internship supervisors and mentors, and parents/guardians of the young adults and the students were interviewed. Grounded theory techniques were employed to develop four major categories from the data. The categories covered the data in exhaustive ways that describe and explain changes in self-determination and factors that influence it. Results of the study showed evidence of positive changes in specific aspects of self-determination. Self-determination was supported by environmental contexts and deliberate efforts that aimed to enhance student capacity to act self-determined. Self-determination was undermined by factors that hindered opportunities for students to maximize learning of new skills. Unique to this study, findings suggest that, changes in routines and setting undermined the students’ capacity to demonstrate autonomy or behavior and emotional regulation. Limitations and suggestions for future research are also presented.

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