WEDNESDAY, Sept. 18 (HealthDay News) -- Young adults with autism
are less likely to find work or live on their own than their peers
with other kinds of disabilities, two new studies show.
The studies detailed the fates of a national sample of
20-somethings who had received special-education services in high
The first study focused on employment. Researchers found that
only about half of those with autism had ever held a job since high
school, and only about a third were currently working.
Even worse, young adults on the autism spectrum were less likely
to be getting a paycheck than people the same age who had other
kinds of disabilities. More than 80 percent of those with speech
and language difficulties reported having at least one job, for
example, while 62 percent of those with intellectual disabilities
had ever been employed.
When kids with autism did find work, they made less money. On
average, young adults with autism earned $8.10 an hour, while those
with other kinds of impairments -- including low IQs, learning
disabilities, and trouble speaking and communicating -- were paid
between $11 and $12 an hour.
The second study focused on living arrangements. Researchers
found that only 17 percent of young adults with autism, who were
between 21 and 25 years old, had ever lived on their own.
By comparison, 66 percent of kids with learning disabilities
like dyslexia had lived by themselves, as had 62 percent of those
who were emotionally disturbed, a category that includes anxiety,
obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder and eating
disorders. Even those labeled as intellectually disabled, meaning
they had a low IQ and slower mental processing, were about twice as
likely to have lived on their own as young adults with autism.
"These studies tend to be kind of depressing," said study author Paul Shattuck, an associate professor at the Drexel University School of Public Health, in Philadelphia. "But I want to point out that at every level of functioning in our studies, there are successes."
Shattuck said even among those with autism who are more severely
impaired -- they have no language skills and impaired functioning
of thinking ability -- "there are success stories, so our job is to
increase the success rate."
Shattuck said other studies have shown that getting kids with
autism involved in social clubs, extracurricular activities and
community service in high school can increase their chances of
having friends and employment after they graduate. Internships and
after-school jobs are key too.
"The best predictor of getting a job after high school is getting a job in high school," he said. "There's no substitute for real-world experience."
The studies, which were both published Aug. 30 in the journal
Autism, drew on data collected in a 10-year nationwide study
of teens who received special-education services during high
The focus of the research was a group of 620 kids with autism
spectrum disorders. They were compared to 450 kids with
intellectual disabilities, 410 kids with learning disabilities and
380 with emotional disturbances. Parents and, when possible, the
young adults themselves, answered questions about their status
every two years from 2000 through 2009.
An expert who wasn't involved in the studies praised the
research, saying it lines up with what he sees in his practice.
"I think these articles are right on target," said Alan Hilfer, director of psychology at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York.
Even though kids with autism can be intelligent and sometimes
function very well, they can have trouble navigating social
situations that require tact and deference, Hilfer said.
"They have more difficulty relating to the people around them," he said. "They have trouble reading cues and, as a result of all that, staying in a job or having jobs offered to them that are commensurate with their skill set is sometimes a little tricky."
Hilfer said kids with autism require intensive tutoring,
coaching and mentoring to help them find and keep jobs.
With roughly 50,000 kids with autism graduating from high school
each year, Hilfer said, this is a growing problem that remains to
"I think we don't have enough programs in place to offer them the support they need," he said.
For more about adults with autism, head to
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