Use of vocational rehabilitative services among adults with autism

Authors: Leahy, M. J., Chan, F., Lui, J., Rosenthal, D., Tansey, T., Wehman, P., Kundu, M., Dutta, A., Anderson, C. A., Valle, R.D., Sherman, S., & Menz, F. E.
Year Published 2009
Publication Lawer L., Brusilovskiy E., Salzer M.S., & Mandell, D. S.
Volume 39
Number 3
Pages 487-494
Publisher Springer

Individuals with autism can have complex and significant impairments that hinder their ability to gain and maintain employment. The United States Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) System is set up to maximize the employment outcomes of individuals with disabilities by providing a variety of services. There is limited research on how existing services may assist individuals with autism with employment. Among those studies most do not report favorable results. More information is needed on how to improve access to services and enhance employment outcomes for individuals with autism.


The purpose of the study was to examine VR services for individuals with autism. More specific, the researchers examined if adults with ASD were more likely to be denied services as compared to adults with other impairments; costs of VR services for adults with autism as compared to adults with other impairments and whether individuals with autism achieved the goal of competitive employment at the time of case closure.


This study included individuals with autism served by multiple vocational rehabilitation agencies in various settings.


The dataset included 382,221 adults who were served by state vocational rehabilitation and had their cases closed in 2005 for reasons other than death or because they were determined not to need vocational rehabilitation services. There were 37 causes of disability in the dataset. The authors sorted them into the following categories: autism spectrum disorder (n=1,707); mental retardation (n=30,728); specific learning disabilities (n=33,155)and all others were combined into other impairments (n=316,471).

Data Collection

Data on individuals receiving vocational rehabilitation services were obtained from the US Department of Education‚ Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. This included demographic variables, impairment cause, types and cost of services paid for by the Rehabilitation Services Administration, reasons for closure, and competitive employment status. There were three dependent variables. The first indicating whether the case was closed because the rehabilitation service provider believed that the individual‚ disability was too significant to benefit from services. The second was the total dollar amount the state VR agency spent on services. The third was whether individuals
achieved competitive employment by the time of case closure. Bivariate associations between impairment cause and all other variables were estimated using means, medians and ANOVA for expenditure data, and frequencies and chi square tests for all other variables.


There was no control or comparison condition.


The results revealed the following. First, relative to other individuals served by the vocational rehabilitation system, individuals with ASD were more likely to be denied services because it was believed that their disability was too severe for them to benefit from services. Second, among those who received services, people with ASD received a more expensive set of services than those with other impairments, although their service costs did not differ from individuals with mental retardation. And lastly, competitive employment rates among people with ASD did not differ from those with Specific Learning Disabilities or Mental Retardation, and were much higher than those of people with other impairments. Post hoc analyses seems to reveal that their employment is associated with on the job supports.


Many individuals with autism can work. Individuals with autism and their families should seek out supports. Vocational rehabilitation should emphasize employment. Policy makers should examine ways to ensure individuals with autism have access to supports needed to make work a reality.

Disabilities Autism Spectrum Disorder
Populations Male & Female | Black / African American | White / Caucasian
Outcomes Employment acquisition | Return to work
NIDILRR Funded Not Reported
Research Design Observational
Peer Reviewed Yes