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Autism: Life After High School a Challenging Time

1 in 3 Young People With Autism Spectrum Disorder Go to College, Study Shows
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 14, 2012 -- This year in the U.S. about 50,000 children with autism will transition to young adulthood, and for many -- especially those without economic advantages -- this transition will be far from smooth, new research indicates.

The first nationally representative study of education and employment outcomes among young adults with ASD reflects the challenges faced by autistic teens and their families.

About 1 in 3 autistic teens in the survey went on to attend a two- or four-year-college, but about half neither continued their education nor joined the work force within two years after high school.

And young adults with ASD were less likely to continue their education or get a job compared to young adults with other functional disabilities, says autism researcher Paul T. Shattuck, PhD, of Washington University in St. Louis.

One Family's Transition

The researchers conclude that young adults with autism spectrum disorders are "uniquely at high risk for a period of struggling" after high school, and they call for increased emphasis on transition planning to bridge the gap between childhood and adulthood.

Peter Bell, who is navigating this transition with his 19-year-old son Tyler, couldn't agree more.

For Tyler, the process began three years ago when more than 20 family and non-family members who play important roles in his life met to talk about his future.

Bell describes his son as "an extraordinary young man," but his language skills are limited so college is not an option.

Over several days, Bell says the group worked to create a map for what Tyler's future might look like based on what brings him joy.

The Princeton, N.J., teen loves to paint, and at a local showing of his work last year, 20 of his paintings sold for about $5,000.

While painting could be a source of income for Tyler, he likes many other things and is working part-time at a local vineyard and at a local college as a manager of a girl's softball team.

Transition-Planning Resources

In addition to being Tyler's dad, Bell is executive vice president for programs and services with the advocacy group Autism Speaks.

A link to the model the Bell family used to begin the dialog about Tyler's future can be found on the group's web site, along with other resources.

Autism Speaks will also customize a "transition tool kit" for families based on services provided in their area, Bell says.

He says these resources can help ease the transition from childhood to adulthood for young adults with autism and their families, but anxiety about the future is normal.

"Here I am an executive with the largest autism advocacy group in the country, and yet I feel anxiety about this," he tells WebMD. "There is a lot of uncertainty."

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