May 13, 2012
One in 3 lack job experience or higher education, researchers say, based on data gathered before unemployment peaked from the recession. About half a million autistic children will reach adulthood in the next decade.
CHICAGO — One in 3 young adults with autism have no paid job experience or college or technical education nearly seven years after high school graduation, a study finds. That's a poorer showing than those with other disabilities, including the mentally disabled, the researchers said.
With roughly half a million autistic children who will reach adulthood in the next decade, experts say policymakers urgently need to address the issue.
The study was done well before unemployment peaked from the recession. The situation today is tough even for young adults who don't have such limitations.
The study, to be published online Monday in Pediatrics, was based on data from 2007 to 2008. It found that within two years of leaving high school, more than half of those with autism had no job experience or college or technical education.
Things improved as they got older. Yet nearly seven years after high school, 35% of autistic young adults still had no paid employment or education beyond high school.
Those figures compare with 26% of mentally disabled young adults, 7% of young adults with speech and language problems, and 3% of those with learning disabilities.
Those with autism may fare worse because many also have the other disabilities studied.
Government data suggest that 1 in 88 U.S. children have autism and there's evidence that the rate is rising.
The researchers analyzed data from a national study of children receiving special education services, prepared for the U.S. Department of Education. About 2,000 young adults with one of four types of disabilities were involved, including 500 with autism.
It's the largest study to date on the topic and the results "are quite a cause for concern," said lead author Paul Shattuck, an assistant professor at Washington University's Brown School of Social Work in St. Louis.
"There is this wave of young children who have been diagnosed with autism who are aging toward adulthood," he said. "We're kind of setting ourselves up for a scary situation if we don't think about that and how we're going to help these folks and their families."