JUL 29, 2015 9:48 AM PDT

Employing Autistic Youth

WRITTEN BY: Ilene Schneider
About 50,000 people with autism spectrum disorder turn 18, graduate from high school and need help finding jobs. These "transition youth" are the least likely to get jobs, according to Connie Sung, an assistant professor at Michigan State University who coauthored two studies, published May 16 and June 10 on the subject in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders as reported by Andy Henion of Michigan State University in Futurity (http://www.futurity.org/autism-jobs-969472/?utm_source=feedly&utm_medium=webfeeds).
Additional services are needed to help recent high school graduates with autism spectrum disorder, who have a difficult time finding employment, studies say.
As Sung writes, "More focus should be put on the transition population with autism spectrum disorder, in addition to children and the adult population. There's a huge need for both vocational services and better coordination between the high schools and the vocational rehabilitation system to bridge the gaps." Sung, who co-authored the studies with researchers from Michigan State, the University of Texas at El Paso, and the University at Buffalo, explains that If these people do not find work, they might develop low self-esteem and depression.

Sung and colleagues studied 5,681 people with autism who used vocational employment services. Only 47 percent of "transition youth," who made up the largest group using the services, became employed, as compared with 55 percent for those 19 to 25 and 61 percent for those 26 and older, regardless of prior work experience. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's latest statistics identify 1 in 68 children with autism spectrum disorder, versus 1 in 150 children in 2002, with males almost five times more likely to be diagnosed with autism. As Sung states, "These children will grow and become adults, and what we realize is that more and more adults with autism spectrum disorder are facing significant issues with employment."

Sung's other study analyzed gender differences among 1,696 transition youth with autism in terms of becoming employed. Males, who had an especially hard time getting a job when they also suffered from anxiety or depression, got more benefit from guidance and counseling. The study concluded that, "When working with males, special attention should be paid to the unique gender differences and their effects on employment. Specifically, vocational counseling and guidance to teach interpersonal and behavioral skills are especially important." Additionally, Sung believes it is important to assist young people in finding internships or jobs before they graduate from high school and to encourage them to "emphasize that work experience when looking for work in the transition phase."

Community Connections, the newsletter of the advocacy group, Autism Speaks, weighed in on the issue. According to Dr. Paul Wehman, director of the Virginia Commonwealth University Rehabilitation Research and Training Center, "Fortunately, today there is a growing body of research that indicates that with the right type, level, and intensity of support individuals with autism can work in a variety of jobs in their communities" (https://www.autismspeaks.org/family-services/community-connections/employment-opportunities-individuals-autism).
About the Author
  • Ilene Schneider is the owner of Schneider the Writer, a firm that provides communications for health care, high technology and service enterprises. Her specialties include public relations, media relations, advertising, journalistic writing, editing, grant writing and corporate creativity consulting services. Prior to starting her own business in 1985, Ilene was editor of the Cleveland edition of TV Guide, associate editor of School Product News (Penton Publishing) and senior public relations representative at Beckman Instruments, Inc. She was profiled in a book, How to Open and Operate a Home-Based Writing Business and listed in Who's Who of American Women, Who's Who in Advertising and Who's Who in Media and Communications. She was the recipient of the Women in Communications, Inc. Clarion Award in advertising. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Ilene and her family have lived in Irvine, California, since 1978.
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