HANDSmade™ Program

Gainful employment of individuals with autism spectrum disorder and developmental disabilities (ASD/DD) is one of the key social determinants of health (Healthy People 2020).

Across the United States, individuals with disabilities, particularly those with developmental disabilities such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD/DD), face a disproportionately high level of un(under)employment (Konrad et al., 2012). While 60 to 70% of individuals with ASD/DD report a desire to find gainful employment, only 35% of adults with ASD are able to maintain steady employment with supports (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013; Newman et al, 2009 as listed at Autism Now, 2013).

Unemployment and underemployment (i.e., working in less than full capacity) of individuals with ASD/DD can be explained by several factors. Potential employers often exhibit a lack of knowledge about the possibility of employing such individuals or uncertainty related to the level and/or type of supports that could be used to successfully scaffold the employment. In turn, individuals with ASD/DD are not taught specific skills that foster employability or socialization within a traditional school curriculum. With limitations in curriculum and exposure, individuals with ASD/DD, just like their neurotypical peers, experience decreased quality of life while their perception of discrimination increases when their skills are underutilized (Konrad et al, 2012).

Employment enhances the quality of life, psychological well-being, and contributes to healthier aging for vulnerable populations (Happe & Charlton, 2012; Konrad et al., 2012; Schur, 2002, 2003).

To address the many roadblocks to employment success individuals with ASD/DD may face, HANDS in Autism® founded the HANDSmade™ program in 2010. The HANDSmade™ program is an initiative within the HANDS in Autism® Center that provides a structured work environment using a supported employment program model for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or with other social, communication, or behavioral challenges. HANDSmade™ enables coaching and service opportunities for individuals with ASD/DD who are working to engage successfully and meaningfully in work settings while also providing a forum for professionals to shadow and observe best practices in supporting, teaching, and including co-workers with disabilities in employment settings and worksite life thus increasing awareness, access, equity and acceptance both within and outside the employment setting.

Opportunities within the HANDSmade™ program not only provide assessment, teaching, and monitoring of outcomes related to employment and training, community participation, and living skills but also creates an environment for occupational growth, skill acquirement, and support leading to higher quality of life for participants as measured through individualized transition goals and outcomes.

HANDSmade™ participants work independently and alongside or with the support of HANDS trainers on a wide variety of projects ranging from hospitality to supply chain, environmental services, data entry, filing, material assembly, sensory kit assembly, and more. For example, when you order materials from the HANDS in Autism® store, you are ordering materials that have been handmade and filled by a HANDSmade™ employee.

The HANDSmade™ program has seen great success thus far in setting up mutually beneficial transition, postsecondary, vocational, training, and employment opportunities. Since the inception of the partnership, strong leadership support from collaborators within the HANDS in Autism® Center, IU Health and Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health leadership teams have helped foster increased participation by departments, divisions, units, and offices within these settings. With steady, successive increases in partners, more than 20 unique participating HANDSmade™ sites are engaged with interests in long-term partnering to foster increased meaningful opportunities by HANDSmade™ interns and participants.

To get more information and/or apply:

If you or someone you know may be interested in participating in the HANDSmade™ program, complete a referral or request for information.

If you are interested as a business, IU Health, IUPUI, IU School of Medicine or other partnering site, feel free to e-mail Drs. Swiezy and Neal at hands@iupui.edu with expressed interests to learn more.

Looking for other ways to get involved? Check out our individual and group programming: