HealthDay News — Youth with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are at particularly high risk for not participating in postsecondary education or employment, particularly in the first two years after high school, results of a nationally representative study indicate.

Just 34.7% of young adults with ASD attended a two- or four-year college, only 9.3% received vocational or technical training and 55.1% held paid employment during the first six years after high school, Paul T. Shattuck, PhD, from Washington University in St. Louis, and colleagues reported online in Pediatrics.

Shattuck and colleagues analyzed data from the fourth wave of the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2, a decade-long prospective study of special education students. They compared post-high school outcomes for 500 autistic youth, 470 with speech and language impairment, 460 with a learning disability and 430 with mental retardation, to see how each group fared with the transition into adulthood.

Continue Reading

Those with an ASD had the lowest post-secondary employment rates and the highest rates of no participation in school or work in the first two years after high school compared with youths in any of the other three categories, they found.

Youths with an ASD that belonged to certain racial/ethnic and sociodemographic subgroups fared worse than others, with 55.2% of Hispanics (95% CI: 28.9-78.9), 57.1% of blacks (95% CI: 34.5-77.2) and 54.6% of those belonging to a family with an annual income ≤$25,000 (95% CI: 33.3-74.5), reporting no education or employment after high school.

Those in the lowest quartile of functional skills were also more likely not to participate in any productive activity compared with those in the highest quartile (66.3% vs. 6.3%).

In contrast, paid employment rates among youths with speech/language impairments were much higher at 86%, as were rates among those with learning disabilities (93.8%) and mental retardation (68.9%).

Non-participation rates in school and work in the first two years after high school also lower at 12.2% among those with a speech/language impairment, 2.5% among those with learning disabilities and 38.3% among those with mental retardation.

“These findings point to potential gaps in transition planning specifically for youth with autism and barriers to participation that may be specific to this population,” the researchers observed.

The following factors predicted lack of participation in education or work after high school: household income (OR= 0.8; 95% CI:0.7-0.9), remaining in high school until age 21 years (OR=17.3; 95% CI: 3.1-96.8), less than a year since leaving high school (OR=5.7; 95% CI:1.6-20.3) and functional skills (OR=0.9; 95% CI: 0.8-0.9).

Those with higher income and higher functional ability had better adjusted odds of participating in postsecondary employment and education. 

“Future research needs to examine how financial resources influence developmental trajectories and what interventions are needed to help poorer youth overcome barriers to accessing services and achieving fuller participation in society,” the researchers wrote.

Shattuck P. Pediatrics. 2012; doi:10.1542/peds.2011-2864.