Times are tough for young people. Unemployment is high, and college costs are soaring.
For those who've been diagnosed with autism, the challenges of life after high school are even steeper, according to a study just published in the journal Pediatrics.
Within the first six years of getting out of high school, only a little more than one-third of young people previously diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, had gone to college, and only a slim majority — 55 percent — had held paying jobs.
The first two years after high school are particularly hard, the researchers found, with less than half of the young people with an ASD having had any work.
The researchers compared the experience of the young people with autism to those with mental retardation, learning disabilities and impaired language or speech. Those with autism fared worse than the others when it came to jobs, the researchers found.
On the college front, those with autism were more likely than those with mental retardation to have attended some college but less like to have done so than those in the other two comparison groups.
"It appears that youth with an ASD are uniquely at high risk for a period of struggling to find ways to participate in work and school after leaving high school," the researchers wrote. The findings, they said, point to a need for support during the transition from high school to life afterward.
The data for the analysis came from a long-running study of young people and concentrated on those receiving special education services. The researchers looked at the experience of more than 600 people in the autism category, and more than 400 each in the comparison categories.
The ranks of candidates for such intervention are growing. According to the latest federal estimates for autism, released in March, the number of children diagnosed with autism jumped 23 percent between 2006 and 2008. About 1 in 88 kids has been diagnosed with autism, the figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed.