Federal law obligates educators to help children with disabilities develop a plan for entering adulthood, but a2014 report from the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute found that just 58 percent of high school students with autism had such a plan by the required age. Once individuals with autism leave the education system, they lose access to support services, specialized counselors and the routine of a structured environment.
“When people hit 21, they call it a cliff. The services really do fall off, particularly for individuals who have gone to college, because I think the expectation is that, ‘Well you’ve made it through college, getting a job should be the easy part,’ ” said Marcia Scheiner, who runs a program based in New York to help adults with Asperger’s syndrome — a mild kind of autism — find competitive jobs. She started the program after seeing the challenges her own son faced because of Asperger’s.
The 2014 report found that two-thirds of young people with autism did not move on to employment or other education in the first two years after leaving high school, and for more than a third, this continued into their 20s. Young adults with autism were also more likely to be unemployed than their peers with other disabilities. Employment data is scarce for autistic individuals, but researchers have estimated that between 70 and 90 percent of autistic people are unemployed or underemployed nationally.
“Until we as a society, from government through everything, see that a nation that has a 70 percent unemployment rate for people with autism and people with disabilities is a problem, it ain’t going to work. We have to make a critical commitment that this is wrong,” said Scott Badesch, president of the Autism Society, a national advocacy group.