Why are there so many adolescents with autism not entering the work force?
As the Specialists in Special Education, we are aware that school-to-work transitions can be very difficult for many students, including those on the autism spectrum. Individuals on the autism spectrum face challenges with social skills, soft skills, empathy, communication, and/or behavior. And while these individuals’ level of disability varies greatly from person to person, they all grapple with fitting in and getting along in social situations such as the classroom and work place.
Adolescents with autism often struggle as they transition from high school into the adult world of work or post-secondary education. They often lack /haven’t acquired the independent living skills or the social skills necessary to enter the workforce. According to a report published by A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, teens on the autism spectrum have lower employment rates than young adults with other types of disabilities. Not only do young adults on the autism spectrum have a greater likelihood of being unemployed after high school, but these reports show that they also have higher rates of social isolation.
teens on the autism spectrum have lower employment rates than young adults with other types of disabilities.
The school-to-work transitional skills that are necessary to make it in the ‘real world’ are frequently foreign to special education kids. This is particularly true for adolescents with autism. Sixty-six percent of young adults on the autism spectrum haven’t worked or enrolled in school in the two years following high school. The rate for two to four years post-high school is still high, at 42 percent. Four to six years out, a full 23 percent of 20-somethings year olds with autism still haven’t started working or attended a post-secondary school.
Understanding why so many autistic adolescents aren’t entering the work force is related to multiple factors. Some are environmental including a shift from manufacturing-based jobs to those in the service industry where interpersonal skills matter. For example, it is longer typical to find a job where someone without such skills can “hide” on an assembly line focusing only on the job in front of them. There are far more jobs in the service sector requiring social interaction and demonstrating superb social skills at work isn’t always easy for the autistic adolescent. Consequently, a service industry job isn’t necessarily a good fit. The adolescent on the autism spectrum may not want to work in this industry or may have difficulty getting hired, due to their lack of marketable social skills and soft skills.
Along with the employment sector shift, the virtual non-existence of support services available to autistic young adults (in comparison to those in high school) significantly contributes to post-graduation challenges. During the elementary, middle, and high school years, autistic students (and other special education kids) receive services that range from educational to mental health support. Even though federal law requires schools to work with the students and families to develop a post graduation transition plan, this doesn’t always happen. The federal requirements mandate that these plans are put in place by the time that the student is 14-years-old. That said, only 58 percent of teens have a concrete transition plan by the required age. This leaves the remaining 42 percent of students without a clear picture of the future. Without some sort of personal and career management plan, teens can’t plan ahead, develop workforce-ready abilities, or solidify the social and life skills needed for independent living.
Even though federal law requires schools to work with the students and families to develop a post-graduation transition plan, this doesn’t always happen.
Complicating the problem is the fact that much of the research into autism looks at issues facing younger children or prevention. There is a dearth of services for teens and adults, which suggests a denial of the fact that young autistic children grow into autistic teens and adults. Autism doesn’t just go away when people turn 18, but then all of a sudden the special education services go away. With research and supportive services stopping after childhood, anyone over the age of 18 is left with little help.
The aforementioned calls for a combination of greater accountability when it comes to creating mandated transition plans, increased research into young adults/adults with autism and more post-high school services. These are only a few of the things needed to facilitate integration to the workforce for young adults on the autism spectrum.
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At James Stanfield, We Think You Should Know:
Transitioning from school to work and being prepared for the workforce is difficult for most high school students- especially for those with developmental disabilities or on the autism spectrum. We want all students to have the opportunity to develop the core social skills and transitional skills needed for work success. That is why we created The Transitions Curriculum! The Transitions Curriculum deals with three areas of competency critical to independent living: personal management, career management, and life management. With The Transitions Curriculum, you can prepare and ready your students to meet the demands of adult life, including workplace success. Find out more about The Transitions Curriculum, here!
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.
Dr. James Stanfield, Ed.D.