National Service and University Studies in Young Adults with ASD in Israel
After high school most 18-year olds in Israel choose some form of national service. Individuals choose to volunteer in the civil sector or, if they meet criteria, to do military service. Until three years ago, individuals with ASD were automatically exempt from military service and could only volunteer to do civil service. High-functioning individuals with ASD are now inducted in the Israeli army, although many still choose other forms of national service or not to serve at all. After their service, many high functioning individuals with ASD begin university. The interface between national service and academic studies has not been examined in young adults with ASD, although the social demands in both may be challenging for individuals with ASD.
The present study examines choices made by young adults with ASD regarding national service and university study and their relationship to utilization of social support, reports of loneliness and social affiliation.
Twenty-seven young adults with ASD (5 females), ranging from 22-27 years of age, presently enrolled in a university in the center of the country which has a support system for students with ASD, participated in this research. Each participant completed an online, anonymous questionnaire which surveyed demographics, utilization of social support and feelings of loneliness and social competence.
Significant differences in social competence between participants who chose some form of national service (n=16) and those who did not (n=11). Those who did not serve reported more loneliness (t(1, 25) = 1.37, p < 0.05) and less social affiliation (t(1,26) = 5.23, p = < 0.01). These differences in social affiliation and loneliness were also reflected in reports of their social experience in university, with the group who did national service reporting significantly more (t(1,26) = 0.45, p < 0.02) social satisfaction. When reporting about their social support systems in university, all but five reported that they made use of the support provided by the university for students with ASD, which included mentors, activities and academic help. The five who did not take advantage of the supports within the university reported that they felt unaffiliated and that they found social support was outside the university.
Findings suggest that young adults with ASD can successfully serve in some form of national service, which is correlated with higher social affiliation scores and lower loneliness scores. Those who served report that at university, they use social supports and feel more socially involved than young adults who did not experience any form of national service. Understanding choices that young adults with ASD make and their implications for social competence may help professionals support young adults with ASD as they begin to navigate adulthood.