Young adults with autism are more likely to be unemployed and remain living in the family home than their peers with other disabilities, according to two studies published September 4. Furthermore, the young adults with autism who got jobs, were paid significantly less than young adults with other disabilities, reports Anne M. Roux, who led the employment study at Washington University in St. Louis. Additionally, after high school more young adults with autism remain at home for longer periods than their peers with other disabilities, discloses Kristy A. Anderson, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who led the residential status study.
These examinations of employment and residential status of older kids with autism are part of ongoing research by Paul T. Shattuck, Ph.D., from Drexel University School of Public Health. "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." Experimenting with innovative solutions that can help these youth is a top priority at the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute.
Some other key findings from these studies on young adults on the autism spectrum are:
- only about 50 percent had paying jobs at some point in the eight years following high school
- just over 20 percent were currently working or had just worked on a full-time basis
- the average pay of those who worked full-time was $8.10 per hour
- over 79 percent remained living in the family home following high school
Shattuck, who co-authored both studies, is conducting a large-scale longitudinal study on the transition of young adults with autism from high or secondary school to adulthood. The transition to adulthood by those on the autism spectrum is considered an under researched area.
Peter Gerhardt, Ed.D., Chairman of the Scientific Council for the Organization for Autism Research, gave a lecture on the importance of preparing adolescents with autism for adulthood at a conference in Ireland in June 2013. Gerhardt advises parents to prepare a transition plan for their children’s future while their children are in secondary or high school. He recommends parents use the questions listed below to assist them in developing this plan.
- What is the ultimate goal(s) for my child after second level education? A job? Further education?
- Where is my child going to live after he graduates? At home? At school? Independently?
- What does my child want to do after graduation? Is his goal(s) realistic and achievable?
- What do I want my child's social life/social circle to be after graduation?
- What is he or she going to do for leisure activities?
- Is my child going to be part of a religion?
- What are my child's interests?
- What are my child's strengths and weaknesses?
- How can my child's strengths be used to achieve our goals?
- Will my child's weaknesses interfere with achieving our ultimate goal?
- If so, what can be done to minimize these weaknesses?
- What skills does my child need to learn for life after graduation?
Gerhardt also recommends thinking about what skills your children need to develop or improve on to help with their "personal safety, community integration, transportation, health and wellness, sexuality and aging," which he describes as essential life skills. He also emphasized that real world skills need to be taught in a real world environment. For example, if you are teaching a child how to grocery shop, go to an actual grocery store.
With regard to successful community integration, Gerhardt notes that skills such as "polite eating, good hygiene, appropriate sexual behavior and aggression avoidance" are needed and may not be developed properly in young adults with autism.
For additional information on preparing your child with autism for adulthood see “Life Journey Through Autism: A Guide for Transition to Adulthood.”
The study, "Prevalence and correlates of postsecondary residential status among young adults with an autism spectrum disorder" appears in the journal Autism.
The other study, "Postsecondary Employment Experiences Among Young Adults with an Autism Spectrum Disorder," is in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
Author's notes from lecture by Peter Gerhardt, June 2013