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Res Dev Disabil. 2005 Sep-Oct;26(5):469-86.

A longitudinal study of employment and skill acquisition among individuals with developmental disabilities.

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Division of Social and Behavioral Sciences, William Penn University, 201 Trueblood Avenue, Oskaloosa, IA 2577, USA.


Recent legislation, especially the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, generated the closure of institutions for people with disabilities and inclusion into community residences and employment. It has been well documented that individuals with developmental disabilities often experience difficulties with employment including both obtaining and maintaining jobs, and many researchers have looked for ways to make employment more successful [McConkey, R. & Mezza F. (2001). Employment aspirations of people with learning disabilities attending day centers. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 5(4), 309-318; Stevens, G. (2002). Employers' perceptions and practice in the employability of disabled people: a survey of companies in south east UK. Disability and Society, 17(7), 779-796; Capella, M., Roessler, R., & Hemmeria, K. (2002). Work-related skills awareness in high-school students with disabilities. Journal of Applied Rehabilitation Counseling, 33(2), 17-23; Ingraham, K., Rahimi, M., Tsang, H., Chan, F., & Oulvey, E. (2001). Work support groups in state vocational rehabilitation agency settings: a case study. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Skills, 5(1), 6-21; Gosling, V. & Cotterill, L. (2000). An employment project as a route to social inclusion for people with learning difficulties? Disability and Society, 15(7), 1001-1018; Neitupski, J. & Hamre-Nietupski, S. (2000). A systematic process for carving supported employment positions for people with severe disabilities. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 12(2), 103-119]. While research has accumulated that has examined predictors of successful employment, this research assessed longitudinal outcomes of employment. Data were obtained from an existing data set of all known persons receiving services from the Developmental Disabilities Division of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (N=2760). Results indicated that as people moved to employment, scores on adaptive skills increased, that as people moved from employment, adaptive skills decreased, and that as employment status remained constant, adaptive skills also remained unchanged. No consistent impact was found on challenging behaviors. Type of employment (sheltered, supported, and competitive) was then examined, and the same pattern of changes in adaptive skills was found; i.e., changes in employment to more/less competitive was accompanied by more/less adaptive skills. This suggests that employment itself, especially work in the competitive workforce, may be a significant source of enhancing adaptive skills for people with developmental disabilities and, thus, greatly adding to the success of community living.

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