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Compared with youth with other disabilities, young adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) face a disproportionately difficult time navigating work and educational opportunities after high school, finds a new study by Paul Shattuck, PhD, assistant professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.
“Thirty-five percent of the youth with ASDs had no engagement with employment or education in the first six years after high school,” Shattuck says.
“Rates of involvement in all employment and education were lower for those with lower income.”
The study, published in the the journal Pediatrics, examined data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2 (NLTS2), a nine-year study of adolescents who were enrolled in special education at the outset. The NLTS2 included groups of adolescents with ASDs, learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities and speech and language impairments.
“Compared with youth in the three other disability categories, those with an ASD had significantly lower rates of employment and the highest overall rates of no participation in any work or education whatsoever,” Shattuck says.
“Those with an ASD had a greater than 50 percent chance of being unemployed and disengaged from higher education for the first two years after high school.”
Shattuck notes that approximately 50,000 youth with ASDs will turn 18 this year in the United States.
“Many families with children with autism describe turning 18 as falling off a cliff because of the lack of services for adults with ASDs,” he says.
“The years immediately after high school are key. They are the time when people create an important foundation for the rest of their lives.
“There needs to be further research into services for young adults with ASDs to help them make the transition into adulthood and employment or further education.”
Shattuck says that particular attention should be paid to interventions that will help poorer youth overcome barriers to accessing services and achieving fuller participation in society.
This study was funded by the Organization for Autism Research, Autism Speaks, and the National Institute of Mental Health.