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Postsecondary education and employment among youth with an autism spectrum disorder

Posted May 14 2012 2:21pm

Prof. Paull Shattuck’s group from Washington University in St. Louis has published a study in the journal Pediatrics today entitled Postsecondary education and employment among youth with an autism spectrum disorder . The full study is available free on the Pediatrics website.

Prof. Shattuck’s group presented results on autistic adults and the transition from school to adulthood previously. At IMFAR last year they presented The Role of Parental Expectations In Predicting Post-High School Outcomes for Youth with ASD and a paper in Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine discussing how autistic young adults miss out on much-needed services. Prof. Shattuck presented to the IACC in September of last year .

This sort of work is extremely important and, yet, little attention has been placed on issues surrounding autistic adults and the transition from the school programs.

The abstract is below for the present study is below.

Objectives: We examined the prevalence and correlates of postsecondary education and employment among youth with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Methods: Data were from a nationally representative survey of parents, guardians and young adults with an ASD. Participation in postsecondary employment, college or vocational education and lack of participation in any of these activities were examined. Rates were compared with those of youth in three other eligibility categories – speech/language impairment, learning disability, and mental retardation. Logistic regression was used to examine correlates of each outcome.

Results: For youth with an ASD, 34.7% had attended college and 55.1% had held paid employment during the first six years after high school. Over 50% of youth who had left high school in the past two years had no participation in employment or education. Youth with an ASD had the lowest rates of participation in employment and the highest rates of no participation compared to youth in other disability categories. Higher income and higher functional ability were associated with higher adjusted odds of participation in postsecondary employment and education.

Conclusions: Youth with an ASD have poor postsecondary employment and education outcomes, especially in the first two years after high school. Those from lower income families and those with greater functional impairments are at heightened risk for poor outcomes. Further research is needed to understand how transition planning prior to high school exit can facilitate a better connection to productive postsecondary activities.

Here is the press release from Washington University in St. Louis:

Youth with autism face barriers to employment and education after high school
Rate of disconnection from work and school higher for low-income young adults

Compared with youth with other disabilities, young adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) face a disproportionately difficult time navigating work and educational opportunities after high school, finds a new study by Paul Shattuck, PhD, assistant professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

“Thirty-five percent of the youth with ASDs had no engagement with employment or education in the first six years after high school,” Shattuck says.

“Rates of involvement in all employment and education were lower for those with lower income.”

The study, published in the current issue of the journal Pediatrics, examined data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2 (NLTS2), a nine-year study of adolescents who were enrolled in special education at the outset. The NLTS2 included groups of adolescents with ASDs, learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities and speech and language impairments.

“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 says.

“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 notes that approximately 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 says.

“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 says that particular attention should be paid to interventions that will help poorer youth overcome barriers to accessing services and achieving fuller participation in society.

This study was funded by the Organization for Autism Research, Autism Speaks and the National Institute of Mental health.

Shattuck’s study co-authors are Sarah Carter Narendorf, Benjamin Cooper and Paul Sterzing of the Brown School; Mary Wagner, PhD, of SRI International; and Julie Lounds Taylor, PhD, of Vanderbilt University.

Shattuck will give a keynote presentation on his research at the International Meeting for Autism Research in Toronto on May 16, 2012.

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