Uncertainty is a major theme of The Politics of Autism. In the concluding section, I write:
A key question in autism policy evaluation is simple to pose, hard to answer: How do autistic people benefit? How much better off are they as a result of government action? While there are studies of the short-term impact of various therapies, there is surprisingly little research about the long term, which is really what autistic people and their families care about. As we saw in chapter 4, few studies have focused on the educational attainment of autistic youths. For instance, we do not know much about what happens to them in high school, apart from the kinds of classes that they take. One study searched the autism literature from 1950 through 2011 and found just 13 rigorous peer reviewed studies evaluating psychosocial interventions for autistic adults. The effects of were largely positive, though the main finding of the review is that there is a need for further development and evaluation of treatments for adults.
The study objectives were to examine the contents of individualized education programs (IEPs) of adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), including postsecondary transition goals, services, and changes in special education classification over time.
This study involved a longitudinal population-based surveillance cohort from the Autism Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network from 2002 to 2018 in 3 catchment areas in the United States. The sample included 322 adolescents who were born in 2002, identified with ASD, and had an IEP available for review at ages 15–16 years.
We found that 297 (92%) adolescents with ASD had an IEP including a transition plan. Those without intellectual disability (ID) were more likely to have postsecondary education and employment goals and have those goals be to pursue higher education or competitive employment compared with those with ID. Forty-one percent of adolescents with ASD had a postsecondary living arrangement goal. Although 28% of adolescents with ASD received school-based mental health services, none of these adolescents were Black; additionally, 15% of those with ID received mental health services compared with 34% without ID. The percentage of adolescents with ASD served under an autism classification increased from 44% at age 8 years to 62% by age 16.
We identified gaps and disparities in school-based postsecondary transition planning. Working with education partners, families, and adolescents will be important to identify what challenges contribute to these findings and what supports are needed to improve the equity and quality of the transition planning process for adolescents with ASD so they are prepared for adulthood.