Autistic young adults are not getting employment

Jenny Decker RN's picture
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A study published in Pediatrics shows that autistic young adults are not getting employment or the education needed to train for employment.

The world of finding employment for the general population is difficult at best in the US today. However, for the young adult with an autism spectrum disorder, getting a postsecondary education and subsequent employment is decreased significantly, according to a study that was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics called Pediatrics. This was more significant for those who had been out of high school for two years or less.

The study did not only look at those with autism, but it compared results against three other categories of disabilities that had some of the same characteristics of an autism spectrum disorder or ASD. These disabilities were learning disabilities (or LD), mental retardation (or MR), and those with speech and language impairments (or SLI). The authors stated that the term mental retardation was not meant to be discriminatory, but only because it was necessary to be consistent with the federal special education category definition in which individuals receive specific services. Results for those with ASD were much lower in regards to employment and education than for these other subgroups.

The specific results of the study showing the decreased levels of employment are important because of a gap somewhere in the preplanning for life after high school for the young adult with autism spectrum disorder. Of the young adults studied, 34.7 percent had attended some form of postsecondary education. Employment rates were even more staggering. Within the first 6 years of leaving high school, 55.1 percent were not employed and of those that were employed, the work that they found was actually below their level of functioning and that work that was gained was very unstable. More than 50 percent who had left high school with two years or less had no employment or no postsecondary education.

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This last number was significant in the fact that it points to some gap or something lacking in the future planning for adolescents with Autism. Those who had been out of high school for some time had been able to secure some type of employment or had begun education to start them towards employment. When a child with a disability is going through school, the educational system evaluates the student and their progress through what is called an Individualized Educational Plan, or IEP. This occurs at least once a year for each child with a disability of some kind in the public school system. Within the IEP academic and other goals for the coming year. As the child grows older, he or she is invited to the IEP’s and planning for the future, not just future grades but for what the child plans to do after high school. It is within this system that the study may be focusing some of its efforts. It is a focal point in future planning for a young adult with autism spectrum disorder.

Change needed to evaluate Autism policy

With over 50,000 young adults with Autism turning 18 this year in the United States, it is clear that some change or new policy needs to occur to evaluate what it is that is causing this discrepancy and what it is that can be done to assist these adolescents in education and career planning, especially for the ones just exiting high school. What programs need financial assistance, what changes can take place in the IEP, what training can be done with parents to help their young adult children, and other factors that may or may not affect this population are all areas that should be addressed.

Another finding from this study that is essential to pay particular attention is the socioeconomic status of the young adult with autism spectrum disorder. It was found that young adults with ASD who come from homes with lower income are at high risk for not gaining employment or going to postsecondary school for training to become employed. Those that were also highlighted in this study include Hispanic and African American young adults.

In a nation that is already struggling to provide work for its people, we must still pay attention to those subgroups that are falling behind. In this instance, it is young adults with autism spectrum disorder, especially those with lower socioeconomic status and Hispanics and African American young adults with ASD. The authors of the research conclude that new studies are needed to identify where the holes are that miss these kids and how to close up those gaps in order to provide assistance to those young adults with autism spectrum disorder.

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