How do we help adults who have a 'childhood' disorder?
The estimated unemployment rate for adults with autism is a staggering 90 percent. And as we reported Friday, a new study suggests that a complex mix of social and psychological factors contribute to the success of the remaining 10 percent.
The overwhelming majority of adults with autism struggle with one of the primary hallmarks of adulthood: finding and maintaining a job.
Previous studies suggest that the situation is no better for so-called high-functioning individuals with milder forms of the disorder, and the hardships go beyond employment.
Often described as a childhood disorder, autism presents unique social and practical challenges as people grow up. Isolation and social detachment exacerbate existing deficits in the face of adult responsibilities. More than half of young adults with autism haven’t interacted with a friend for over a year, one study found.
The new study points to social support and individual motivation as the biggest factors promoting sustained employment. The authors recommend specialized career counseling in addition to general intervention beyond adolescence. Approximately 40 percent of young adults with autism in the U.S. receive no services whatsoever after high school graduation.
An active comments thread from a previous SFARI.org article about the challenges of adults with autism provides a snapshot — often in heartbreaking detail — of many of these struggles. These recurring narratives (about the inability to find or keep a job or to have a romantic relationship, or about “feeling lost and lonely” after graduation) offer an important context to the daunting statistics.
Some researchers hope that improved and earlier intervention for children with autism will help their transitions into adulthood. As more people are diagnosed and treated early on, future generations may face more fulfilling adulthoods.
Still, the situation raises important questions about how to better understand, treat and integrate into society a growing population of adults with autism.
What do you think?
- Aside from providing early intervention and better job services, how can autism researchers and clinicians better address the needs of adults with the disorder?
- Should more studies examine how autism manifests in adult populations, to better understand the various trajectories and outcomes of the disorder? What life factors are most important?
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