This pilot application responds to NIMH Pilot Research on Services for Transition-Age Youth? (R34) by developing and testing an integrated intervention to increase neurocognitive and social cognitive skills to improve functioning and postsecondary outcomes for transition-age students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Our innovative community-based High School SUCCESS (Supported, Comprehensive Cognitive Enhancement and Social Skills) intervention will be delivered within educational settings: high schools and transition programs, to develop the executive functioning and social cognition skills referred to as ?soft skills? that are instrumental in life success. This study has the potential to make a significant public health impact by developing an evidence-based intervention for transition-age youth (TAY) with ASD delivered in real-world services to promote a successful adult life. It also has the potential of advancing the field in neurobehavioral science by measuring cognitive skills as initial behavioral change targets, exploring the relationship and impact cognitions have on functional behaviors that contribute to educational and vocational attainment and overall well-being. With over 50,000 students with ASD exiting the educational system each year and up to 50% without employment and 70% without postsecondary education in adulthood there is a strong need for evidence-based interventions for the transition period. The passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA, 2014), has increased the priority of services to transition-age youth with disabilities and now many states have established interagency collaboratives to enhance transition supports and linkages to postsecondary services leading to a more seamless move from the youth entitlement system to the adult qualification system. By utilizing research-community partnership methods, we have worked in collaboration with the community through our partnership of researchers, providers, educators and consumers, Active Collaborative Hub for Individuals with ASD to Enhance Vocation and Education (ACHIEVE) group, to develop a cognitive training intervention for adults with ASD that adapted evidenced -based interventions for schizophrenia and traumatic brain injury. We propose to adapt this adult program for TAY through 3 specific aims: (1) Conduct a Context Assessment to characterize the High School and Transition Programs across districts to understand the variability in program level (services/curriculums, staffing, training, setting) and student level (demographics, functioning) and identify facilitators and barriers to intervention implementation to inform the intervention development and research plan; (2) With our ACHIEVE partners, develop the High School SUCCESS program to fit the needs of transition-age youth with ASD within the community educational system; (3) Conduct a pilot study (n=12 school sites & n=60 students) to examine the feasibility, acceptability, and implementation procedures (recruitment, randomization, retention & training strategies) of High School SUCCESS and to obtain estimates of effects to support a future large-scale effectiveness trial.

Public Health Relevance

This study has the potential to make a significant public health impact by developing a standardized curriculum, High School SUCCESS, to increase neurocognitive and social cognitive skills leading to improved postsecondary outcomes (postsecondary education and employment) for transition-age youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) in community school settings. Exploration of program level variables as existing transition secondary school programs curriculum/interventions, planning and service delivery frameworks, training and professional competencies and collaboration among stakeholders and individual level variables including the associations between cognitions, social cognitive skills, functioning, postsecondary outcomes, self-confidence and quality of life will be conducted. These results will make a significant contribution to the minimal services research directed towards transition programming and transition-age youth with ASD.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Planning Grant (R34)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZMH1)
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Juliano-Bult, Denise M
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Rady Children's Hospital - San Diego
San Diego
United States
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Baker-Ericzén, Mary J; Brookman-Frazee, Lauren; Brodkin, Edward S (2018) Accelerating research on treatment and services for transition age youth and adults on the autism spectrum. Autism 22:2-5