Autism and the Transition to Adulthood
Young adults with autism are facing significant challenges as they transition to adulthood, a national report suggests, with many on the spectrum finding themselves unemployed, isolated, and lacking services. The "National Autism Indicators Report: Transition into Young Adulthood" from Drexel University’s A.J. Drexel Autism Institute is a comprehensive report (available free online) that presents new findings about a wide range of experiences and outcomes of youth on the autism spectrum between high school and their early 20s. The report is a collection of indicators that focuses national attention on outcomes which are almost universally lower for those on the autism spectrum compared to their peers with other types of disabilities and serves as a call to action to fill the remaining large gaps in knowledge. Key findings include:
- Over one-third (37 percent) of young adults were disconnected during their early 20s, meaning they never got a job or continued education after high school. In comparison, less than eight percent of young adults with other types of disabilities were disconnected.
- Approximately 26 percent of young adults and 28 percent of those unemployed and not in school received no services which could help them with employment, continue their education, or live more independently.
- Just 58 percent of young adults worked for pay outside the home between high school and their early 20s, a rate far lower than young adults with other types of disabilities. Those with jobs generally worked part-time for relatively low wages.
- Approximately one in four young adults were socially isolated, meaning they never saw or talked with friends and were never invited to social activities within the past year.
- Only about one in five ended up living independently (without parental supervision) in the period between high school and their early 20s.
- Sixty percent of youth had at least two health or mental health conditions in addition to autism spectrum disorder. Over half of youth had co-occurring ADD/ADHD and anxiety issues in adolescence. Three-quarters of youth took at least one kind of medication on a regular basis for any health or mental health issue.
- Nearly 50% of youth experienced threats and bullying during high school. Over one-quarter (27 percent) 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.
- Transition Planning, a key process for helping youth build skills and access services as they enter adulthood, was frequently delayed. Just 58 percent of youth had a transition plan by the federally required age.
The creation of effective and affordable programming tailored to meet the needs of the 50,000 individuals with autism who leave high school each year - each with unique strengths, interests, and challenges - is an urgent task facing our society. It is clear that we are not succeeding as a nation in helping autistic adults to thrive to the best of their abilities and attain a high quality of life. It is time for new approaches.
“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. Yet, it represents only a fraction of what we need to know. Huge gaps remain,” said Anne M. Roux, MPH, research scientist at the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute in the Life Course Outcomes Research Program and lead author of the report. Although these indicators don’t tell us why outcomes are worse for those with autism compared to youth with other disabilities, this report is an important first step toward addressing the gaps in what we know, as we work to build an evidence base about how to help achieve better outcomes.
The link to the report download page is http://drexe.lu/autismindicators.
Roux, Anne M., Shattuck, Paul T., Rast, Jessica E., Rava, Julianna A., and Anderson, Kristy, A. National Autism Indicators Report: Transition into Young Adulthood. Philadelphia, PA: Life Course Outcomes Research Program, A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, Drexel University, 2015.
Lee A. Wilkinson, PhD, NCSP is a licensed and nationally certified school psychologist, chartered psychologist, registered psychologist, and certified cognitive-behavioral therapist. Dr. Wilkinson is author of the award-winning book, A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Schools, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. He is also editor of a best-selling text in the American Psychological Association (APA) School Psychology Book Series, Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children and Adolescents: Evidence-Based Assessment and Intervention in Schools and author of the book, Overcoming Anxiety and Depression on the Autism Spectrum: A Self-Help Guide Using CBT. His latest book is A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism Spectrum Disorder in Schools (2nd Ed.).