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Friday, December 2, 2011

Autism, Adults, and Employment

Alice G. Walton writes at Forbes:

Given the fact that autism is a “spectrum” disorder, it’s not surprising that people with autism live lives that are incredibly varied. Jim Ball of the Autism Society says that a majority of young adults and adults with autism are living at home with their parents. Success in group homes has not been so good, Ball says, since the facilities tend to be expensive and can pose a number of social challenges for people. On the other hand, some autistic people are getting married and having kids, says Peter Bell of Autism Speaks. (And, he adds, in rare cases, some may not even be aware they have autism until they have a child diagnosed with the disorder, and their own status unfolds.)

About 56% of people with autism graduate from high school, according to Ball, but the data on how many graduate from college is less clear. One study last year looked at a group of young adults over the long term to see what they did after high school. About 18% were employed, and 14% were in college. “The vast majority were in day services, and 12% had no activities at all,” says Bell.

The article quotes Bell as saying that outcomes should improve over time, but that challenges remain.

Part of the problem is that most educational and vocational programs for the under-21 group are state-run. And since these agencies typically handle all sorts of developmental disabilities, they may not have the best tools or resources to handle the number of people with autism coming to them these days. Bell says, “while autism is a developmental disability, many are realizing that adults with autism have different needs than their clients with other developmental disabilities. The other thing we frequently hear is that there are not enough vocational rehabilitation professionals to handle the wave of teens with autism that are entering adulthood.”

Once in the job market, many autistic people find a similarly difficult environment. ...The unemployment rate for autistic people seems to be about 66%, according to data from 2009, compared to about 9% for the general population. Some estimates, like Bell’s, are even higher: 80-85% unemployment.