Disconnected Postsecondary Youth with ASD: What Are They Doing? What Do They Need?

Friday, May 16, 2014
Atrium Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Atlanta)
P. Shattuck, A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA
Background: Recent work has documented that 35% of youth with ASD have no participation in any vocational education, college, or paid employment of any kind during the first seven years after exiting high school (Shattuck, et. al, 2012). This rate of disconnection is over 50% in the first two years after high school. A life course perspective suggests that the transitional period of development from adolescence to young adulthood is an especially important period. A positive set of experiences can provide a solid foundation for successful social functioning into later adulthood. A negative set of experiences can increase the risk for poor developmental, health, and social outcomes.

Objectives: This poster aims to answer the following questions about the youth who are disconnected in the years immediately after high school. Are they receiving vocational services? Are they participating in community life some other way, perhaps in a day habilitation program? What other services are they receiving? What percentage of families report a need for vocational and life skills services (potential stepping stones to connection with school or work)?  

Methods: Data come from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2). The study was conducted over 5 waves, 2 years apart, from 2001 to 2009. At baseline, all youth were ages 13 – 16 years old and receiving special education services. The study began with over 11,000 students, including 920 in the autism special education category. Estimates for this poster come from Wave 5 conducted in 2009, when youth were in their early- to mid-20’s, and are weighted to be nationally representative of the cohort of youth served in the autism special education category at the start of the study.  

Results: Of those not engaged in education or paid work at any point since exiting high school, 15% had never received any vocational support services and 30% had no participation in other community activities such as a day habilitation program. Just over one quarter had never received any of the following supportive services since exiting high school: vocational services, life skills instruction, mental health intervention, transportation assistance, day habilitation, personal assistant, speech therapy, or case management. One third of families expressed a need for vocational services and just over one half expressed need for life skills training.

Conclusions: Youth with an ASD are at a particularly high risk for a period of struggling to find ways to participate in work and school after leaving high school. A large proportion of these disconnected youth are also not involved in any other supportive services or activities that might be considered stepping stones to productive community participation. This study suggests there are significant lapses in transition planning for youth with autism. Future research should examine how to improve transition planning and the process of connecting youth with postsecondary opportunities upon exiting high school.