Competitive integrated employment (CIE) is a concept that was defined in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) in 2014 to help job seekers find employment, education, and training. CIE includes jobs that provide people with disabilities the same compensation, benefits, and opportunities for job advancement as employees without disabilities, as long as their duties, experience, skills, and education are comparable. CIE includes full- and part-time positions that pay at or above minimum wage and allow people with disabilities to interact with individuals without disabilities.1
The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) works to coordinate federal funds across programs to support individuals with disabilities by increasing competitive integrated employment opportunities.1 CIE creates a culture of interdependence that benefits employees, businesses, and the community. In a setting of persistent labor shortages, CIE also offers an avenue for employers to hire qualified people to fill open positions.2
This post will explore the benefits of competitive integrated employment for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), employers, and the wider community.
Independence and economic self-sufficiency
Competitive integrated employment helps individuals with ASD earn an income so they can be more independent and gain economic self-sufficiency. Since CIE jobs pay minimum wage or higher, workers are less likely to need financial support from others. Compared with peers who work in segregated environments, people who work in integrated jobs have a higher earning potential.3
Being employed in a competitive, integrated setting also improves overall quality of life. It boosts self-esteem, fosters a sense of purpose, and enhances the ability to make choices—all critical elements of self-determination and independence.3
Social integration and skill development
For people with ASD, having the opportunity to interact regularly with others and become part of a supportive community through work can help them build social skills. Many people with ASD want to make a local community contribution and have a lot to offer.4 CIE gives them the chance to participate in what, for most people, is the predominant activity of adulthood and serves as a source of inclusion.
The modern workplace is marked by rapid, constant change. Half of all of today’s skills will be outdated in two years because of technological advancements.5 Because of this, learning new skills on the job is more important than ever. Businesses are using on-the-job training to help workers develop the new skills they need to remain effective and competitive in today’s marketplace. Up to 70% of learning comes from experiences and challenges while working.6 CIE allows people with ASD to participate in this process and improve their future outcomes.
Expanded social network and community participation
CIE places individuals with ASD in inclusive work environments alongside coworkers without disabilities. This setup facilitates daily social interactions, which are essential for building and expanding social networks. Such interactions help in developing communication skills, understanding social cues, and forming meaningful relationships, which are often challenging for individuals with ASD.
Being part of a CIE setting enables individuals with ASD to engage with a broader community beyond their immediate family or specialized support groups. This engagement can lead to increased participation in community activities, fostering a sense of belonging and contributing to community life.7
CIE also plays a role in breaking down social barriers and misconceptions about ASD. By working alongside colleagues in diverse settings, individuals with ASD demonstrate their capabilities, challenge stereotypes, and promote a more inclusive and accepting community while creating significant value for employers.8
Improved mental health and well-being
People with ASD are at a higher risk of developing mental health issues, including anxiety and depression.9 CIE promotes social interaction and integration, which can combat feelings of isolation and loneliness—common issues that can exacerbate mental health problems.
Meaningful employment is associated with improved mental well-being in individuals with ASD.10 Additionally, financial stress exacerbates psychological stress among all adults, and people with ASD are no exception. The correlation is even higher among people who are unemployed, so CIE can help mitigate this effect by providing market-rate pay and steady employment.11
Positive impact on society and diversity
People with ASD are not the only ones who benefit from CIE. Businesses and communities benefit, as well. Microsoft, Dell Technologies, Ford, and Freddie Mac are just a few of the companies that recognize the benefits of recruiting individuals with ASD. These companies recognize that their employees’ neurodiversities often come with specialized interests and strengths, such as technical and math skills, as well as unique thought patterns that can help them find innovative solutions.
Workers with ASD are also often predictable, dependable, and equipped with a strong work ethic. When they find a good employment fit, they’re likely to be passionate about their work, highly focused, and less distractible, making them valuable and productive employees.12
Hiring people with ASD makes for a more diverse and inclusive workplace, which provides tangible benefits for organizations. Diverse companies experience higher revenue growth and employee retention as well as increased innovation.13
Increased self-confidence and self-advocacy
CIE emphasizes the need for employment activities to be tailored to an individual’s strengths and interests. Having mentors and coaches facilitate the process can help people with ASD further develop skills that employers value while also improving their self-confidence.
This direct, real-world experience creates a positive feedback loop. Being actively engaged with the community through employment also provides multiple opportunities for people with ASD to interact with a wide range of people, understand different perspectives, and advocate for themselves—a skill they can carry out of the workplace and into other aspects of their daily lives.14
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If you're interested in advocating for people with ASD and other disabilities, you can amplify your impact with an online master's in special education from the University of Kansas School of Education and Human Sciences (KU SOEHS).15
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- Retrieved on December 7, 2023, from dol.gov/agencies/odep/program-areas/cie#:~:text=Defining%20CIE&text=Receiving%20the%20same%20level%20of,other%20individuals%20without%20disabilities%3B%20and
- Retrieved on December 7, 2023, from uschamber.com/workforce/understanding-americas-labor-shortage-the-most-impacted-industries
- Retrieved on December 7, 2023, from acl.gov/sites/default/files/Aging%20and%20Disability%20in%20America/ResearchSupportingCompIntEmployment.pdf
- Retrieved on December 7, 2023, from autismspeaks.org/social-skills-and-autism#:~:text=Many%20children%20and%20adults%20on,the%20idea%20of%20new%20experiences.
- Retrieved on December 7, 2023, from forbes.com/sites/joemckendrick/2023/10/14/half-of-all-skills-will-be-outdated-within-two-years-study-suggests/?sh=3c33aebb2dc2
- Retrieved on December 7, 2023, from ccl.org/articles/leading-effectively-articles/develop-strong-leaders-with-on-the-job-learning/
- Retrieved on December 7, 2023, from scholarworks.umb.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1134&context=ici_pubs
- Retrieved on December 7, 2023, from voya.com/article/competitive-integrated-employment-driver-long-term-value-creation
- Retrieved on December 7, 2023, from pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30178724/
- Retrieved on December 7, 2023, from vanderbilt.edu/autismandinnovation/wp-content/blogs.dir/2498/files/sites/342/2022/07/Schwartzman_Depression_Employment_Review.pdf
- Retrieved on December 7, 2023, from ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8806009/
- Retrieved on December 7, 2023, from enablingdevices.com/blog/people-with-autism-make-valuable-contributions-at-work/
- Retrieved on December 7, 2023, from greatplacetowork.com/resources/blog/why-is-diversity-inclusion-in-the-workplace-important
- Retrieved on December 7, 2023, from rsa.ed.gov/sites/default/files/subregulatory/A%20Framework%20for%20Community%20Engagement_0.pdf
- Retrieved on December 7, 2023, www.usnews.com/education/online-education/education/online-special-education-rankings