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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

Who Will Care for Adults With Autism?

Limited resources and varying needs present a daunting challenge
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"There's often a substantial mismatch between verbal skills and performance skills," Cubells said. "You can be highly intelligent and able to do complex math and abstract reasoning, but you don't know how to ask someone out for coffee. Having to make friends, schedule meals, and get to class without help can be like hitting a brick wall for a lot of people on the spectrum. I often tell people with Asperger's that they have to learn in words what most people learn intuitively."

He said a college's disability services office could be helpful in some cases, as could peer mentorship programs that pair someone with Asperger syndrome, for instance, with someone of the same age who's learned about the condition.

For those who don't go to college, navigating the world of employment can be a significant challenge. Both Shattuck and Cubells said that while some employers might be understanding, and some might even make certain accommodations, what employers are most concerned with is their bottom line -- making it all the more important for people with an autism spectrum disorder to be placed in jobs that match their skills and interests.

A study done by Shattuck and his colleagues found that people on the autism spectrum are more likely to choose a college major in science, technology or math than people without autism. And, these types of careers may be just the ones where people on the autism spectrum find the most success.

"People on the spectrum can focus on the details," Cubells said. "In jobs that would be hideously boring and tedious to most of us, like jobs where you spend hours alone, having a social deficit can be a real strength." And Shattuck pointed out that people with autism aren't likely to waste work time looking at Facebook or socializing with co-workers.

But the overall picture isn't rosy for adults with autism. "A lot of parents describe the transition to adulthood as like driving over a cliff," Shattuck said.

In another study by Shattuck's team, the researchers found that more than one in three adults on the autism spectrum had no engagement in education or employment for the first six years after high school.

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