RRTC team examines model that helps students with ASD get jobs

Spotlight on RRTC faculty and staff research

Dr. Holly Whittenburg of the VCU Rehabilitation Research and Training Center.
Holly Whittenburg, Ph.D.

The amount of knowledge being generated by VCU School of Education faculty in published research goes beyond merely enhancing the school’s reputation – it is helping to shape the future of education itself. One recent example of this is the study below, co-authored by a group of faculty and staff at the VCU Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC), a center affilidated with the VCU School of Education, which looks at an intervention that helps military dependents with autism gain employment.


Dr. Holly Whittenburg, along with Drs. Paul Wehman and Carol SchallJennifer McDonough and Thomas DuBois, all RRTC faculty, recently used a transition intervention model to assist high school-aged military dependents with autism gain employment. Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) face high rates of unemployment; those who are military dependents face a unique set of challenges. Project SEARCH + Autism Spectrum Disorder Supports (PS + ASD) is a research-based transition to employment intervention in which high school students with ASD participate in a nine-month, community-based internship program hosted at a local business. The model uses ASD-specific and evidence-based practices to increase students’ independence at work and develop workplace-appropriate skills and behaviors.

During Year One of the intervention, six participants enrolled in the treatment group worked for military installation businesses. To specifically address the needs of military dependents and military installation businesses, researchers received command approval and support to facilitate the development of internship opportunities across seven business partner organizations on a military base. At the 12-month point, five out of six PS + ASD treatment group participants had accepted employment after completing the program, with four of those five positions competitive, federal positions. This number of federal employment positions obtained by treatment group participants suggests that military-dependent and military-connected youth with ASD may be an untapped labor pool for federal employers seeking entry-level employees.


Whittenburg, H.N., Schall, C.M., Wehman, P., McDonough, J., & DuBois, T. (2020). Helping high school-aged military dependents with autism gain employment through Project SEARCH + ASD supports. Military Medicine, 185(S1), 663-668.