The Impact of Postsecondary Education on Employment for Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Friday, May 13, 2016: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Hall A (Baltimore Convention Center)
B. Freedman1, S. Pi2 and J. C. Lee1, (1)Center for Disabilities Studies, University of Delaware, Newark, DE, (2)Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Special Education, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Background: There has been a recent increase in the number of young adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) who are seeking postsecondary education (Gardiner & Iarocci, 2013). Specialized supports appear to foster greater academic success for young adults with ASD (Gelbar et al., 2014). However, little is known about whether participation in college promotes improved employment outcomes, which may deter support teams from encouraging postsecondary education. Limited previous research suggests that postsecondary education is a strong predictor of employment for young adults with ASD (Migliore et al., 2012) although the contribution of functional limitations has not yet been explored. Additionally, little is known about the types of occupations young adults who have postsecondary education successfully attain and whether these are different than positions held by those who do not have postsecondary education.


  1. Examine the impact of participation in postsecondary education on employment status for young adults with ASD.
  2. Explore the association between participation in postsecondary education and types of occupation among young adults with ASD.

Methods: The study population was individuals ages 14-24 with ASD who received services from the Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agency in a Midwestern state and whose cases were closed during FY 2011-2013 (n=1,001). Rehabilitation Services Administration Case Service Report (RSA-911) dataset was used as the primary data source, and functional limitation data was extracted from the agency’s case management system. Four logistic regression models were sequentially performed with “employment status at closure” as the outcome.  Model 1 included only participation in postsecondary education. Individual characteristics, VR services, and functional limitations were sequentially entered in subsequent models. Chi-squared tests were performed to explore the association of participation in postsecondary education with different types of occupations for youth with ASD.

Results: Young adults with ASD who participated in postsecondary education were more likely to achieve employment compared to those who did not participate in postsecondary education (Adjusted Odds Ratio [AOR]=2.08; 95% CI = 1.5, 2.9), after controlling for individual characteristics, VR services received, and types of functional limitation. Functional limitation in self-care (AOR=0.6; 95% CI = 0.4, 0.9) or work-tolerance (AOR=0.7; 95% CI = 0.5, 0.9) was found as risks for not achieving employment. Chi-squared tests indicated a significant association between participation in postsecondary education and employment in sales; office and administrative support; and transportation and material moving. A higher proportion of those without postsecondary education obtained jobs in building and grounds cleaning and maintenance; and installation, maintenance, and repair.

Conclusions: Participation in postsecondary education is an effective vehicle for achieving employment for young adults with ASD, particularly when combined with specific VR services. A greater focus on self-care and work-tolerance during postsecondary education may improve the likelihood of employment. Participation in postsecondary education may lead to employment in a variety of fields beyond those, like grounds cleaning, which are traditionally associated with people with ASD. This study only focused on one particular geographic area and therefore requires replication in other states/regions.