Recent literature has revealed discouraging disparities in autistic adults’ quality of life, including increased risk for suicide, fewer social supports, and fewer opportunities to engage with the community than non-autistic adults. Importantly, social connection and community participation are associated with better quality of life and healthier aging amongst non-autistic adults, and engagement in community service activities in particular has demonstrated significant positive effects on adult mental and physical health, social support, employment skills, and quality of life in the general population. These findings suggest that community service could provide meaningful opportunities to enhance quality of life for autistic adults as well, though the potential benefits have not yet been studied. The prospect of facilitating opportunities for autistic adults to engage in community service activities flips the script on service provision and creates low cost, highly available naturalistic opportunities for social connection, executive function skill building, and increased community participation. However, opportunities for autistic adults to participate in community service programs are limited by volunteer sites’ understanding of autism and how to make activities accessible for neurodiverse volunteers. To address this barrier, this study aims to develop and pilot a structured community service program for autistic adults in partnership with existing community service
organizations by 1) refining program development with feedback from qualitative stakeholder interviews, 2) assessing program feasibility, acceptability, and appropriateness, and 3) using a mixed methods approach (e.g., analysis of self-report measures and novel GPS/GIS mapping data) to examine the impact of program participation on autistic adults’ experience of community participation, loneliness, social engagement, and self-determination.