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JMIR Formative Research




BACKGROUND: Documentation is a critical responsibility for direct support professionals (DSPs) who work with adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD); however, it contributes significantly to their workload. Targeted efforts must be made to mitigate the burden of necessary data collection and documentation, which contributes to high DSP turnover rates and poor job satisfaction.

OBJECTIVE: This mixed methods study aimed to explore how technology could assist DSPs who work with adults with ASD and prioritize aspects of technology that would be most useful for future development efforts.

METHODS: In the first study, 15 DSPs who worked with adults with ASD participated in 1 of the 3 online focus groups. The topics included daily tasks, factors that would influence the adoption of technology, and how DSPs would like to interact with technologies to provide information about their clients. Responses were thematically analyzed across focus groups and ranked by salience. In the second study, 153 DSPs across the United States rated the usefulness of technology features and data entry methods and provided qualitative responses on their concerns regarding the use of technology for data collection and documentation. Quantitative responses were ranked based on their usefulness across participants, and rank-order correlations were calculated between different work settings and age groups. The qualitative responses were thematically analyzed.

RESULTS: In study 1, participants described difficulties with paper-and-pencil data collection, noted benefits and concerns about using technology instead, identified benefits and concerns about particular technology features, and specified work-environment factors that impact data collection. In study 2, participants rated multiple features of technology as useful, with the highest usefulness percentages endorsed for task views (ie, by shift, client, and DSP), logging completed tasks, and setting reminders for specific tasks. Participants also rated most data entry methods (eg, typing on a phone or tablet, typing on a keyboard, and choosing from options on a touch screen) as useful. Rank-order correlations indicated that the usefulness of technology features and data entry methods differed across work settings and age groups. Across both studies, DSPs cited some concerns with technology, such as confidentiality, reliability and accuracy, complexity and efficiency, and data loss from technology failure.

CONCLUSIONS: Understanding the challenges faced by DSPs who work with adults with ASD, and their thoughts about using technology to meet those challenges, represents an essential first step toward developing technology solutions that can increase DSPs' effectiveness and job satisfaction. The survey results indicate that technology innovations should incorporate multiple features to account for different needs across DSPs, settings, and age groups. Future research should explore barriers to adopting data collection and documentation tools and elicit input from agency directors, families, and others interested in reviewing data about adults with ASD.


©Christina A Simmons, Abigail E Moretti, Andrea F Lobo, Patrice D Tremoulet. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License.

Publication of this article was supported by the 2022-23 Rowan University Libraries Open Access Publishing Fund.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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