Employment and Educational Activities for Young Adults with ASD


A study by researchers at Vanderbilt University and the University of Wisconsin at Madison examined the post-high school occupational and employment activities of young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) who had exited high school within the past five years. 

The researchers identified five categories of post-high school activities: (1) post-secondary degree-seeking program, (2) competitive employment, (3) supported employment, (4) adult day services, and (5) day activities fewer than 10 hours a week. 

They found that there was a significant relation between employment/day activities and whether the individual with ASD had an additional diagnosis of intellectual disability (ID). Those with ASD and ID had more autism symptoms and were likely to have a supported job or to be receiving adult day services. Those who only had ASD and significantly less autism symptoms were likely to be enrolled in a degree-seeking program or have a competitive job. 

Interestingly, the findings suggested that there might be a group of young adults with ASD in the mid-level of functioning whose autism symptoms aren’t severe enough to receive adult day services but whose symptoms are too severe to function independently (manage a household, manage one’s health and finances, or enroll full-time in a college program). These individuals are “falling through the cracks” during the transition to adulthood because there isn’t appropriate programming for them. 

The researchers suggest that there should be more autism-focused adult services specifically for young adults with ASD who do not have ID. Services focused on these individuals will help them achieve their maximum level of independence and develop sustainable careers. 

The 2014 Pennsylvania Autism Census estimated that there will be over 36,000 adults with ASD living in the state by 2020. As examined in the study findings above, there is no mandate for an adult system. This means that programming and services are fragmented, leaving many adults with ASD and their families unsure of what steps they should take in the years following high school. If you have a child with ASD or are an individual with ASD who is about to graduate from the secondary education system, check out these suggestions and resources from the CAR Autism Roadmap™. 

Source: Taylor, J.L., and Seltzer, M.M. (2011). Employment and Post-Secondary Educational Activities for Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders During the Transition to Adulthood. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 41(5), 566-574. doi: 10.1007/s10803-010-1070-3.