Two Years after High School, Those with Autism Likely to Be Disengaged For teachers and school counselors in the K-12 system, integrating classrooms and curriculum for special education students is a constant challenge. Whether these students have learning disabilities, speech/ learning impairments, mental retardation, or autism spectrum disorders (ASD) our current public school system has been dedicated to making sure that their schooling experience is as inclusive and successful as it can be. However, the only true measure of public education’s success is through the postsecondary successes of the students it turns out. Though special education students exit our hallways and classrooms at age 18, the legacy of their K-12 education is still to-be-determined. Unfortunately for students with ASD, that legacy is not something to be bragged about. What’s the Deal with ASD? As a seasoned autism researcher, Dr. Paul Shattuck of Washington University in St. Louis was bothered by the lack of data surrounding the post-secondary lives of ASD students. Though there has been several small studies done about this topic, they were limited in scope or population. Therefore, Dr. Shattuck and colleagues undertook a massive survey of 1900 youths with the goal of filling in that gap. The results, titled “Postsecondary Education and Employment among Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder,” were published in the June edition of Pediatrics. Among the most startling of Dr. Shattuck’s findings was that people with ASD were not only less likely to be in college (35%) than their peers with learning disabilities (40%) or speech/learning impairments (51%), they were also less likely to be employed then those with mental retardation, 55% vs. 69%. What this means, according to Shattuck, is that individuals with ASD are at a high risk of becoming what is known as disengaged after high school. In this sense, disengagement is defined as failure to be employed or enrolled in any kind of post-secondary education. What the Numbers Really Say Throughout the course of Dr. Shattuck’s study, he determined that though students with ASD are receiving far more services while in the K-12 system than they did even a decade ago, those services are not translating to gainful employment or post-secondary education once high school is done. Looking at the numbers, though, it seems like there should be some sort of carry over given the relative successes of those with other disorders. People with ASD become disengaged two years after high school at a rate of 35%, this is compared to 7% of those with speech/learning impairments, 3% of those with learning disabilities, and 26% of those with mental retardation. Though clearly, there are always ranges of problems presented by each of these four broad categories, the difference is significant. Though there is a clear need for differing policies within the workplace as well as the halls of higher education, as Shattuck explains, “the evidence base on services for adults with ASD is inadequate for informing policy and program decisions to meet the needs of this growing population.” Therefore, more research like this will need to be conducted. For now, teachers and school counselors need to work on the micro level to try to bridge the post-secondary gap for their students. As those on the “front lines” of education, finding ways to help systematically improve transition planning for students with ASD post-high school should be at the top of the special education and general education agenda.
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