A recent study has found that one in 3 young adults with autism have no paid job experience, college or technical schooling nearly seven years after high school graduation.
With roughly half a million children with autism reaching adulthood in the next decade, experts say it’s an issue policymakers will need to address with haste.
The study, published online Monday in Pediatrics, was based on data from 2007-08. It found that within two years of leaving high school, more than half of those with autism had no job experience, college or technical education.
The situation improved as they got older. Yet nearly seven years after high school, 35 percent of young adults with autism still had no paid employment or education beyond high school.
Those figures compare with 26 percent of mentally disabled young adults, 7 percent of young adults with speech and language problems, and 3 percent of those with learning disabilities.
The researchers analyzed data from a national study of kids receiving special education services, prepared for the U.S. Department of Education. About 2,000 young adults with one of four types of disabilities were involved, including 500 with autism.
It’s the largest study to date on the topic and the results “are quite a cause for concern,” said lead author Paul Shattuck, an assistant professor at Washington University’s Brown School of Social Work in St. Louis.
“There is this wave of young children who have been diagnosed with autism who are aging toward adulthood. We’re kind of setting ourselves up for a scary situation if we don’t think about that and how we’re going to help these folks and their families,” Shattuck said.
Carol Schall, a special education policy specialist, said the results confirm smaller studies showing difficulties facing kids with autism as they transition into adulthood, and also highlight a need for better job training services offered in public schools for special education students.
She is involved in research at Virginia Commonwealth University investigating whether on-the-job training and teaching social cues to high school students with autism makes them more employable.
Kids are taught a range of practical skills and appropriate behavior. “It takes a much higher degree of intensity for them to learn skills” than for other kids, she said.
Preliminary results show this training has helped kids with autism find and keep jobs, she said.
Dr. Stephen Shore recently gave a workshop at Shema Kolainu – Hear Our Voices stressing the importance of starting work on vocational skills early. Tasks such as making a bed or other regular chores can provide good job skills for later in life
Dr. Shore reiterated the point that when looking for employment, those with autism should focus on their strengths and what could make them uniquely employable given special talents or interests.
Dr. Stephen Shore will be speaking at the ICare4Autism International Autism Conference in Israel this August.