Does Autism Hinder the Job Search?

Autistic young adults had lower rates of employment compared to peers

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Children with autism may face a number of challenges as they are growing up. And some of those challenges may continue into adulthood as well.

A recent study found that autistic young adults had the lowest employment rates among their peers with disabilities.

Just under half of those surveyed had never held a job for pay outside the home between the ages of 21 and 25.

The young adults with the best chance of working outside the home were those from higher income homes and those with stronger skills.

"Seek community services that help with employment of people with autism."

This study, led by Anne M. Roux, MPH, of the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, looked at how well young adults with autism spectrum disorders did when it came to employment.

The researchers used data from a nationwide survey called the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2, which involved young adults who had received special education services while in high school.

The survey tracked approximately 11,280 youth over a 10-year period.

The researchers looked at how many individuals in the survey had a paid job when they were between 21 and 25 years old.

The authors also looked at how many of these young adults worked full-time, the wages they earned, the types of jobs they held and the number of jobs they'd held since high school.

They found that only a little more than half (53 percent) of all young adults with autism spectrum disorders had worked outside the home for pay since high school.

Among all young adults with disabilities surveyed, the employment rate for autistic young adults was the lowest.

On average, young adults with autism earned $8.10 per hour, which was below average for other young adults with disabilities.

Overall, autistic young adults tended to work in a more limited range of jobs within specific occupational areas, compared to their peers with other disabilities.

The autistic young adults who were most likely to successfully work outside the home for pay were those who were older, from higher income homes and with better functional skills or conversational skills.

The determination of these young adults' skill levels were based on an assessment involving skills such as telling time, reading and understanding common signs, counting change, finding phone numbers, using a phone, navigating to places outside their home, using public transportation, buying clothes and traveling out of town.

For example, among autistic young adults with lower skills, only 12 percent from households with less than $25,000 had been employed since high school.

Comparatively, one-third (33 percent) of low-skilled autistic young adults from homes with a household income over $75,000 had been employed.

Among autistic young adults with the highest level of skills, 62 percent of those from the lower income households had been employed, compared to 85 percent of those from homes with the higher household incomes.

"Findings of worse employment outcomes for young adults with an autism spectrum disorder suggest that this population is experiencing particular difficulty in successfully transitioning into employment," the authors wrote.

This study was published in the September issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

The research was funded by the Emch Foundation, Autism Speaks and the National Institute of Mental Health. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
October 10, 2013
Last Updated:
October 11, 2013