Two new studies show how difficult it is for young adults on the autism spectrum to find employment and live independently.
“Roughly 50,000 youth with autism will turn 18 years old this year,” said Dr. Paul T. Shattuck, an associate professor in the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute and Drexel University School of Public Health, who co-authored both studies. “So many of these young people have the potential to work and participate in their communities. Supporting this potential will benefit everyone — the person with autism, the family, employers and society.”
In the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Shattuck’s research team reports that young adults with autism spectrum disorders have worse employment outcomes in the first few years after high school than those with other types of disabilities.
“Not only was the employment rate low for young people with ASDs when compared with young adults with other disabilities, but pay for jobs — if they got them — was significantly lower compared to young adults with other types of disabilities,” said Anne M. Roux, senior research coordinator at the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, who led the employment study as a member of Shattuck’s research team while both were at Washington University in St. Louis.
The researchers found that just over half — 53.4 percent — of the young autistic adults they surveyed had ever worked for pay outside the home within the first eight years after leaving high school. Only about one in five — 20.9 percent — worked full-time at a current or most-recent job. Average pay was $8.10 per hour.
Employment rates, full-time employment status and average pay were substantially higher for young adults with other disabilities, including learning disabilities, emotional disturbance and speech/language impairment, the researchers found. The employment gap widened even farther when adjusted for differences in functional skills and conversational ability, they noted.
“The news is mixed,” Roux said. “This study highlights the particular difficulty that youth with autism are having during the transition into adulthood, especially youth from poorer households who are more likely to be disengaged from the services needed to secure and maintain a job. At the same time, half of young adults with an ASD did become employed, including youth with more challenging levels of impairment. This finding gives us hope for what might be possible with more effective preparation for employment, transition practices and workplace supports.”
In another study published in the journal Autism, members of Shattuck’s research team report that young adults on the autism spectrum are less likely to have ever lived independently after high school, compared to adults with other disabilities.
“This paper suggests that the years following high school are markedly different for young adults with ASDs compared to other disability categories,” said Kristy A. Anderson, a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who led the residential status study. “Notably, young adults on the autism spectrum have higher rates of coresidency in the parental home.”
Young autistic adults were less likely to have ever lived independently since leaving high school, compared to their peers with other disabilities. More young adults with autism lived with their parents or guardians, and for longer periods of time, than individuals with emotional disturbances, learning disabilities or intellectual disabilities. They also had the highest rates of living in a supervised living arrangement, the researchers found.
“They are residing in the parental home at higher rates and longer time periods relative to peers with other disabilities, warranting family-based services in the years following high school exit,” Anderson said.
Despite the concurrent study on employment, the researchers found no association between having held a paying job and residential outcomes among young adults on the autism spectrum.
The analyses of employment and residential status were products of Shattuck’s research program examining outcomes and service use among adolescents and young adults on the autism spectrum. The needs of this age group are largely underrepresented in research, even as many individuals diagnosed in childhood face a decline in available social services after they age out of the educational system, according to the researchers.
The National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 is a long-term followup study on young adults who were initially enrolled while receiving special education services in school. They or their parents completed regular followup surveys for up to 10 years after the student completed high school.
“Many families tell us it’s like driving off a cliff when their child with autism exits high school because there just aren’t many options once they enter adulthood,” Shattuck said. “Our work highlights the enormous challenges facing this vulnerable population and their families.”
Source: Drexel University