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Youth with autism gravitate toward STEM majors in college — if they get there

Posted Nov 15 2012 9:00pm

Recent research has shown that there is a lack of support for the transition from school to adulthood for autistics in the U.S.. That research came from one of the researchers I admire most: Prof. Paul Shattuck of Washington University in St. Louis. Prof. Shattuck’s team has a new paper out with : Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Participation Among College Students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder .

Here is the abstract:

Little research has examined the popular belief that individuals with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are more likely than the general population to gravitate toward science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. This study analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2, a nationally representative sample of students with an ASD in special education. Findings suggest that students with an ASD had the highest STEM participation rates although their college enrollment rate was the third lowest among 11 disability categories and students in the general population. Disproportionate postsecondary enrollment and STEM participation by gender, family income, and mental functioning skills were found for young adults with an ASD. Educational policy implications are discussed.

The press release can be found at Youth with autism gravitate toward STEM majors in college — if they get there , but here are a few quotes:

It’s a popularly held belief that individuals with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) gravitate toward STEM majors in college (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

A new study, co-authored by Paul Shattuck, PhD, assistant professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, confirms that view yet finds that young adults with an ASD also have one of the lowest overall college enrollment rates.

and,

The study found that 34.3 percent of students with an ASD gravitated toward STEM majors. That’s not only higher than their peers in all 10 other disability categories, but also higher than the 22.8 percent of students in the general population who declared a STEM major in college. Science (12.1 percent) and computer science (16.2 percent) were the fields most likely to be chosen by students with an ASD.

Prof. Shattuck put the need for attention to the needs of autistic adults much better than I:

“More and more children are being identified as having autism,” Shattuck says, “children who grow up to be adults. With the majority of a typical lifespan spent in adulthood, that phase of life is the one we know least about when it comes to autism spectrum disorders.

“This study is the latest addition to a growing body of evidence we are building here at the Brown School about the needs, strengths and challenges facing this vulnerable population,” Shattuck says.

While for many of us parents, college is not really in the likely future for our autistic children. The basic theme is still the same: “With the majority of a typical lifespan spent in adulthood, that phase of life is the one we know least about when it comes to autism spectrum disorders”


By Matt Carey



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