Reaching adulthood from childhood is a significant milestone in anyone’s life. However, for young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), the transition from childhood to adulthood is quite difficult. Autistic individuals face a number of challenges right from their early childhood. As these people reach adulthood, unemployment becomes a major challenge for them along with social isolation.
Data and Statistics Showing Young Autistic Adults are More Unemployed and Isolated:
As compared to individuals with other kinds of disabilities, young adults having autism had a higher rate of social isolation and lower rate of employment, as per a report by “A.J. Drexel Autism Institute”.
Two-thirds of autistic young adults neither had any plans for education nor any job, during two years after completing their high school. According to the report, this continued in the early 20s for more than one-third of autistic young adults.
Individuals with autism in their 20s had lower likelihood of getting employment as compared to their peers having other disabilities. 58% of young individuals with autism are employed. On the other hand, 91% of young adults with emotional disturbance or speech impairment,74% with intellectual disabilities and 95% having learning disabilities got employment during early 20s.
These results have been attained from the data collected for two studies – the “National Longitudinal Transition Study-2” and the “Pathways survey”. The National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 followed young adults of special education programs. Pathways survey was conducted on children affected by behavioral, mental, developmental and physical disorders.
Paul Shattuck, associated professor at School of Public Health in Drexel University and the one leading the study said, “We don’t really know at this point why that’s happening,”.
Factors Accounting for Unemployment and Social Isolation of Autistic Young Adults:
Paul Shattuck adds that shift in the economy of U.S. towards more jobs in the service sector, has not helped the young adults on the spectrum. “Starting in the early- to mid-1970s, there’s been a historic shift in the balance of jobs in the manufacturing sector to the service sector. And those types of jobs, which require lots of social interaction, are exactly the types of jobs that people with autism have difficulty with.”, he says.
After completing high school, such young adults face the issue of, what Paul Shattuck calls, “services cliff”. The autistic students of public schools studying in the 12th grade can get access to mental health services, tutoring and various other supports with the help of the special education program of their school. “Then, all of a sudden, when you graduate high school, the special ed services go away. What you’re left with is a hodgepodge patchwork of different public services that are pretty difficult to access,” told Shattuck. Community programs meant for autistic adults usually can provide help only to individuals with most severe impairments.
“Federal law for special education requires that high schools help students and families develop a transition plan,” states Shattuck. However, this does not happen always. Only 58% of autistic students in high school were equipped with transition plan by 14 years of age, as per the requirement of federal law. “That’s a big accountability problem,” Shattuck adds.
What makes this issue more complicated is that many individuals with autism are also affected by mental health problems, seizure disorder or an intellectual disability. Shattuck states, “Although the core of the disability is an inability to relate easily to other people, the majority of people on the spectrum do have some amount of social appetite,”.
However, many of such young adults don’t get the required social support. As discovered by the study, 1 out of 4 young adults having autism were socially isolated completely. They did not see or speak with their friends since the past year.
Another probable factor affecting not only the studies of an autistic kid, but also the child as a whole, is the fact that children with autism are transferred from a normal school to a special school after the 3rd grade. These special schools are meant for children with autism only. This change in the environment affects autistic children adversely. The need for such a transfer in school can be avoided by providing autistic children with treatment and intervention at a very early age.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) is an effective treatment option for reducing symptoms of autism. The therapy is conducted in hyperbaric chambers that create oxygen at high pressure. HBOT should be conducted under the supervision of authorized medical professionals only. It has been reported that hyperbaric medicine significantly improves cognitive disabilities. If such a treatment is given to children with autism at an early age, their autistic disabilities would considerably reduce by the time they reach the 3rd grade. This would eliminate the need for transferring them to a special school. This is turn, would help such children complete their education properly, and may also brighten their employment prospects.
Autism research is mostly focused on kids with ASD, or on prevention of autism development, Shattuck states. “But autism doesn’t go away when people turn 18. We need to figure out how to help adults on the spectrum as well.” he says.
So, it’s important for the government, the concerned organizations, and the society to understand the needs of young adults with autism, and come up with ways that can help such people get employment as they step into adulthood.