Most people with autism who receive vocational rehabilitation services exit the program with a job, a new report finds, but such employment is typically part-time and low paid.

Nationally, about 60 percent of those on the spectrum left the federally-funded vocational rehabilitation program with a position in an integrated workplace that they’d been able to maintain for at least 90 days, according to a review of U.S. Department of Education data conducted by researchers at Drexel University.

In four out of five cases, the work was part-time with median earnings of about $160 per week, the report found. Most commonly, individuals with autism were working in an office or administrative support role.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

About a third of individuals participated in supported employment where the government provided on-the-job supports, but it’s unclear from the data whether participants were able to maintain such assistance after exiting the program.

The numbers offer a snapshot of the impact vocational rehabilitation — the largest public funder of disability employment services — is having on those with autism, a group that is increasingly seeking such services.

Between 2009 and 2014, the Drexel report found that the number of people with autism who applied for vocational rehabilitation doubled to 17,753. Of those, about 68 percent ultimately received services.

“Unemployment is a critical issue facing people on the spectrum who have valuable contributions to make but not enough opportunities to have work,” said Paul Shattuck, who led the research, produced as part of the National Autism Indicators Report series. “Anything we can do to understand the support systems that are in place to secure employment for adults with autism will enable us to better assist this population in the future.”

For the report, researchers looked at federal data for the 2014 fiscal year, spanning from October 2013 to September 2014. Overall, individuals with autism accounted for about 3 percent of vocational rehabilitation clients during that time.

Compared to those with intellectual disability, vocational rehabilitation programs spent about 20 percent more on those with autism, but both groups were similarly successful in finding jobs and wages were comparable. Those with autism, however, were more likely to obtain work in an office as opposed to fast food or cleaning positions.

The impact of vocational rehabilitation does appear to vary by state, with a high of 79 percent of people with autism employed upon leaving the program in Alabama versus a low of 29 percent in New Mexico, the report found.

Read more stories like this one. Sign up for Disability Scoop's free email newsletter to get the latest developmental disability news sent straight to your inbox.