Compared to young people with other disabilities, youth with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) struggle more as they navigate through work and higher education after high school.
Paul Shattuck, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, said that “[T]hirty-five percent of the youth with ASDs had no engagement with employment or education in the first six years after high school. Rates of involvement in all employment and education were lower for those with lower income.”
For the study, Shattuck examined data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2 (NLTS2), a nine-year study of adolescents who were enrolled in special education. The NLTS2 included groups of young people with ASDs, learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities and speech and language problems.
“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 said.
“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 added that about 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 said. “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 said.
Shattuck noted that special attention should be paid to interventions that will aid financially disadvantaged youth to help them gain access to services and achieve fuller participation in society.
The study is published in the journal Pediatrics.