As thousands of children and teenagers diagnosed with autism get older, they will soon have to prepare for adult life. However, one study recently published in the journal, Pediatrics, shows that many adults are struggling with post-school life and are often unemployed or not pursuing higher education.
“There is this wave of young children who have been diagnosed with autism who are aging toward adulthood. 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,” lead author Paul Shattuck, an assistant professor at Washington University's Brown School of Social Work in St. Louis said to The Associated Press.
According to the study, one in three adults diagnosed with autism do not have a job and are not attending college within seven years of exiting high school. Based on data from 2007-2008, the researchers also found that within 2 years of graduating high school over half of the students have no job experience as well.
“Many families with children with autism describe leaving high school as falling off a cliff because of the lack of services for adults with an autism spectrum disorder,” Shattuck said to HealthDay News. “So much of media attention focuses on children. It's important for people to realize autism does not disappear in adolescence. The majority of lifespan is spent in adulthood.”
The researchers explained that youth with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are uniquely at high risk to struggle to find ways to participate in work and school after leaving high school. The findings point to a need for support during the transition from high school to life afterward.
One of the reasons for this alarm, and call to action comes from an increase in autism diagnoses over the past decade. Recent reports from the Center of Disease Control show that one in 88 children are now diagnosed with an ASD, up from 1 in 120 children in 2002.
“It's a huge, huge issue,” Peter Bell, vice president for programs and services at Autism Speaks, one of the organizations that funded the study, said to The Associated Press. “Unfortunately there are many families that really struggle to understand what that transition ultimately entails. …They face the reality of having a child who may potentially not be able to have enough services to keep them busy during the day.”
The researchers noted that part of the problem is that many of the services that help children and teenagers with autism transition into adulthood dry up as they get older. This often leaves them and their families with little help.
“It is easier to work with younger children with ASD than young adults and adults,” Amy Matthews, director of the START Project at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich., that trains school staff members who work with students with autism, said to MyHealthNewsDaily. “Their needs become more complex, services are limited and the service systems are often uncoordinated.”
Because of this, the researchers not only call for an increase in services that would help these teenagers and children transition into adulthood, while they are still in high school, but to find alternative ways of helping them make the transition.
“We need to find ways to make room for adults with autism in our communities and help them get connected to opportunities that people with other forms of disabilities are participating in,” Shattuck said to HealthDay News.
James Dugan is a writer for 360 Education Solutions