Transition to Adulthood Exceptionally Difficult for ASD Youth

Pam Harrison

April 27, 2015

Transition to adulthood for young adults on the autism spectrum is relatively bleak even compared with young adults who have other types of disabilities, the National Autism Indicators Report suggests.

"This is the most comprehensive report to date describing what we know about young adults with autism as a whole and across the various parts of their lives," lead author Anne Roux, MPH, research scientists, AJ Drexel Autism Institute in the Life Course Outcomes Research Program, at Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, said in a statement.

"Yet it represents only a fraction of what we need to know. Huge gaps remain."

To begin with, there is a dramatic decline in young adults' access to services during the transition period to adulthood, the authors note.

At least one quarter of young adults on the autism spectrum and 28% of those who were unemployed and not in school received no services that might otherwise help them to become employed, to continue with their education, or to live more independently.

Only 36% of young adults on the spectrum attended postsecondary education at some time between high school and when they were in their early 20s.

After high school, 37% of young adults with autism never got a job or continued with education during their early 20s.

Some 58% of young adults with autism did manage to work for pay outside the home between high school and when they were in their early 20s — but that rate was far lower than that for young adults with other types of disabilities, the authors point out.

"Those who got jobs generally worked part-time for low wages," they add.

Because so many young adults on the spectrum did not work or continue with school, approximately 1 in 4 young adults with autism were socially isolated, meaning they never saw or talked with friends and had not been invited to social activities within the past year.

Only 1 in 5 young adults with autism ever lived independently, away from parents, without supervision between high school and when they were in their early 20s.

They were also subject to various forms of abuse.

"Generally, people with developmental disabilities are vulnerable to abuse of all kinds," investigators observe.

"Nearly half of youth on the autism spectrum were victims of bullying during high school, and 27% of adolescents engaged in some type of wandering behavior in which they impulsively left a supervised situation, increasing their risk of becoming lost and going missing."

Moreover, more than 60% of youth with autism had at least two health or mental health conditions in addition to autism.

"While the picture looks bleak, we found that some of those who have the most significant levels of challenges do go on to find jobs and attend further education," said Paul Shattuck, PhD, lead of the Life Course Outcomes Research Program, who is an associate professor at Drexel University.

"A critical next step is to figure out what facilitates connections to outcomes and what helps people to continue to succeed across their early adult years."

The authors report no relevant financial relationships.

AJ Drexel Autism Institute: National Autism Indicators Report. Published online 2015. Abstract

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