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Who Will Care for Adults With Autism?

Limited resources and varying needs present a daunting challenge

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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.

Those who are profoundly affected by autism generally end up staying with their families. Expensive, private options are often available but out of reach for many families. Services for housing options or vocational training are "very hit-and-miss," Cubells said. "There's a tremendous need for training about autism in the helping agencies."

For families with children on the autism spectrum, Shattuck said it's never too soon to start thinking about getting the child ready for the transition to adulthood. He suggested starting a conversation with your child's special education team at school during 8th or 9th grade to allow adequate time to investigate available resources.

"A lot of extra thought has to happen during high school to create a positive transition," Shattuck noted.

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