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Drexel Releases Report on Vocational Rehabilitation

May 03, 2016

Today Drexel University released the first comprehensive report focuses exclusively on the use of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) services to support employment for people on the autism spectrum.

Below is a post by Paul T. Shattuck, PhD, Director and Anne M. Roux, Research Scientist, of the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute’s Life Course Outcomes Research Program. The post is the authors' perspective on today's report. Dr. Shattuck is a member of the Autism Speaks Family Services Committee. Autism Speaks Vice President of Adult Services Leslie Long served on the Report Advisory Panel. Read the full report here.

Most people with autism have some difficulty finding and keeping a job – even among those with higher cognitive skills. In our award-winning 2015 National Autism Indicators Report: Transition Into Young Adulthood, we found that four in 10 transition-age youth with autism were disconnected from both work and continued education between high school and their early 20s. 

Faced with these startlingly high numbers of disconnected adults with autism, the research team wondered what role Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) plays in supporting people with autism to find, get, and maintain jobs. Our 2016 National Autism Indicators Report: Vocational Rehabilitation focuses entirely on this topic.

What is Vocational Rehabilitation?

Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) is the largest funder of employment services in the United States for people with disabilities. If a person’s disability significantly affects their ability to get and keep a job, VR pays for individualized services needed to prepare for, get, regain or keep employment. These services can bridge high school students into the world of work and adulthood, but also provide supports to working-age adults.

Nearly 18,000 people with autism exited VR in federal fiscal year 2014– more than double the 7,500 who exited five years prior. An unknown number of people applied but never made it into the system for a variety of reasons, including ineligibility or not completing the application process.

Key Findings

Not everyone with autism who applies to VR for help gets services. About two-thirds do, while others refuse services or cannot be contacted. Some states do not have enough funding to serve everyone who is eligible for services, so they focus on serving those with the most significant disabilities. We don’t know what happens to the one-third who do not get services. Some may find jobs on their own.

About 60% of people with autism who use VR services leave with a job – about the same rate as those with intellectual disabilities or other types of disabilities.

About 80% of those with autism work part-time at a median weekly rate of $160. These earnings place most workers with autism below the federal poverty line.

About one-third of workers with autism use supported employment – on-the-job supports needed to break down tasks or navigate the workplace, for example. However, VR no longer pays for supported employment services once people leave VR. Extended supports may be available but not through VR dollars. We don’t have data on what happens to people after they leave VR.

These are all national-level statistics. State-level statistics vary widely and can be found in our report.

Recent federal legislation called the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), along with the Employment First movement, encourages competitive, integrated employment compensated at minimum wage or higher. WIOA seeks to connect more secondary students with disabilities to VR, and adds a series of steps that must be completed to ensure that people have been given adequate support and trial work experiences prior to deeming them ineligible for services.

As states implement WIOA changes over the next several years, it will be important to monitor state-level data, so we can learn from what is working in some states. Learning through innovations is one way to move the needle on employment outcomes and quality of life for adults with autism.

The A.J. Drexel Autism Institute’s Life Course Outcomes Research Program in Philadelphia, led by Paul Shattuck, works to build a base of knowledge about the things other than clinical interventions that promote positive outcomes for people on the autism spectrum and their families and communities.

Anne Roux, MPH, MA is a nationally renowned autism researcher, author and family advocate. She leads the production of our National Autism Indicators Report series and other publications.

Paul Shattuck, Ph.D., director of the Life Course Outcomes Research Program, studies experiences and services promoting positive life outcomes for people on the autism spectrum, their families and communities.

Additional Resources

Autism Speaks is committed to expanding employment opportunities and supports for young adults and adults with autism. TheSpectrumCareers is a portal designed to connect individuals on the spectrum with jobs and employment support service providers. The Autism Speaks Employment Tool Kit helps people with autism research, find and keep employment. Stories, tips and resources were developed from a collaboration of people, including adults with autism, dedicated to increasing the employment participation of adults on the spectrum.