Article Details

Research Database: Article Details

Citation:  Cimera, R. E., Wehman, P., West, M., & Burgess, S. (2012). Do sheltered workshops enhance employment outcomes for adults with autism spectrum disorder?. Autism, 16 (1), 87-94.
Title:  Do sheltered workshops enhance employment outcomes for adults with autism spectrum disorder?
Authors:  Cimera, R. E., Wehman, P., West, M., & Burgess, S.
Year:  2012
Journal/Publication:  Autism
Publisher:  Sage
Full text:   
Peer-reviewed?  Yes
NIDILRR-funded?  Not reported

Structured abstract:

Background:  Sheltered workshops are facility-based programs that serve adults with various disabilities, including mental, physical, and emotional. Skill training, special certificate subminimum wage work, prevocational services, activities such as recreation and leisure, and group work placements are offered at sheltered workshops. Annually, young individuals with autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disabilities, and psychiatric conditions attend sheltered workshops at the first step towards employment. There are about 7000 facility-based programs in the United States serving over 500,000 adults with disabilities. The idea of sheltered workshops is that individuals with disabilities need certain skills prior to being competitively employed. Teaching these skills and preparing the individuals for employment are the thought behind sheltered workshops. There is minimal research on how much value attending a sheltered-workshop is for an individual with a disability, in terms of acquiring beneficial skills for employment. It has not been determined if sheltered-workshops are value-added programs, meaning do the individuals benefit from participation in sheltered workshops? Previous research has found that sheltered workshops are negative value-added for individuals with cognitive disabilities. Though, some previous research has indicated that sheltered workshops are not beneficial for individuals with cognitive disabilities, such programs may benefit other populations. The number of individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders continues to rise, increasing the need for more evidence on job outcomes and benefits for this population who participates in sheltered workshops.
Purpose:  The purpose of this study is to examine if sheltered workshops benefit individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Rates of employment, wages, number of hours worked, and the cost of the services the individual received are the focus of this study. This study is a continuation of previous research on sheltered workshops and individuals with cognitive disabilities. The researchers hypothesized that individuals with autism spectrum disorders who participated in sheltered workshops before starting supported employment programs would attain substantially better employment outcomes than individuals with autism spectrum disorder who did not receive any services before starting a supported employment program.
Study sample:  The study sample consisted of two groups of participants. The first group was comprised of 215 individuals who participated in sheltered workshops prior to beginning supported employment. The second group was comprised of 215 individuals in supported employment who had not previously participated in a sheltered workshop. Primary diagnosis, secondary diagnosis (if existing), and gender were used to match participants in each group. Each of the two sample groups were comprised of 80% male participants and 20% female participants.
Data collection and analysis:  From 2002 to 2006, vocational rehabilitation counselors closed the cases of 14,378 individuals with the diagnosis of autism. Of these 14,375 individuals, 215 were participating in sheltered workshops when they applied for services from a vocational rehabilitation counselor. From the remaining 14, 163 individuals diagnosed with autism who were not participating in sheltered workshops when they applied for vocational rehabilitative services, 215 cases were randomly selected using SPSS’s random select feature. Primary diagnosis of autism, secondary diagnosis if present, and gender were then used to match the participants from the non sheltered workshop cases to the participants from the sheltered workshop group. Disabilities were one variable of the study. 19 different ‘impairment codes’ were used in the study, as were 34 ‘cause codes. This coding was based on the assessments completed by certified rehabilitation counselors when an individual applies for vocational rehabilitation services. The coding was used for primary disabilities and secondary disabilities, if present. 74.8% of participants were reported as having a secondary disability. ‘Mental retardation’ was the most common secondary disability reported, with 46.1% of participants with a secondary disability reporting this. 33.6% of the participants with a secondary disability reported secondary disability involving mental health. Rate of employment was another variable, calculated using the number of cases closed, meaning competitive employment was secured, and the number of jobseekers in that participant group. A third variable of the study is wages earned. This study looks specifically at gross wages. The number of hours worked per week was a fourth variable. The cost of services was the fifth variable. A Pearson chi-square test was used to analyze the differences in the employment rates. All other analysis of the matched participants from each sample group was conducted using a two-tailed t-test.
Findings:  The first finding of the study compared the rate of employment for the former sheltered workshop participants versus the participants who did not attend a sheltered workshop. The study found that 45.6% of the former sheltered workshop participants were employed at the time that their case was closed as compared to 39.5% of the non-sheltered workshop participants. The second finding of this study focused on the number of hours worked. The study found that participants who attended sheltered workshops worked 23.5 hours a week on average, while the participants who did not attend a sheltered workshop worked 25 hours a week on average. The data found that for neither hours worked nor employment rates, were the differences between the two groups statistically significant. The study also examined the weekly wages earned by participants in each group. Participants who were not previously in sheltered workshops were found to earn 32.4% more than the participants who attended sheltered workshops. The last aim of the study examined which group cost less for vocational rehabilitation counselors to serve. The study found that participants who had not previously participated in sheltered workshops cost 59.8% less to serve.
Conclusions:  The study results suggest that better employment outcomes are achieved by participants with autism if they do not participate in sheltered workshops prior to receiving supported employment services. The results suggest that sheltered workshops are not ‘value-added’ programs in terms of benefitting the individual with autism in securing and maintaining competitive employment.