Do sheltered workshops enhance employment outcomes for adults with autism spectrum disorder?

Authors: Cimera, R., Burgess, S., & Wiley, A.
Year Published 2012
Publication Autism
Volume 16
Number 1
Pages 87-94
Publisher Sage

Individuals with ASD have difficulty gaining access to vocational services to assist them with gaining and maintaining work. As a result some individuals go to a place known as a sheltered workshop. The main premise behind this approach is a person with a severe disability must have certain skills prior to going to work. An individualized approach to supported employment believes a person does not have to get ready to work. Instead a unique array of individualized supports are used to assist an individual with a severe disability with gaining and maintaining competitive employment in the community.


This study examined whether or not participation in a sheltered workshop could help prepare individuals with ASD for competitive employment.


The study took place in sheltered workshop settings and a variety of businesses.


The study sample included 430 individuals with ASD; 215 were being served in a sheltered workshop setting, the others were not. These groups were matched based on diagnosis and sex (20%) were female and 80% male.

Data Collection

Data was collected on a number of variables using the RSA 911 database. This included: disability, wages earned, hours worked, and cost of services. Vocational rehabilitation counselors are required to keep this type of documentation. The rate of employment was determined by dividing the number of individuals who had their case closed due to an employment outcome by the total number of job seekers in that group.


Individuals who attended a sheltered workshop to prepare for competitive employment were compared to those who received supported employment services to gain and maintain competitive work.


Individuals who received supported employment services, earned significantly more ($190 vs $129) and had lower service cost ($2,441 vs $6,065) than those in sheltered workshops. Individuals with ASD do not need to participate in a sheltered workshop to get ready to work before receiving supported employment services. In addition, these individuals are underemployed.


Individuals with ASD will have better work outcomes if they receive supported employment services and bypass attending a sheltered work or other facility based program.

Disabilities Autism Spectrum Disorder
Populations Hispanic or Latino | American Indian or Alaska Native | Asian | Black / African American | Native Hawaiian / other Pacific Islander | White / Caucasian | Male & Female
Outcomes Wages
NIDILRR Funded Not Reported
Research Design Observational
Peer Reviewed Yes