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Life after School: Challenges for People with Autism


As we near the end of Autism Awareness Month, we take a look at the challenges facing the estimated 50,000 people with autism turning 22 and aging out of public school systems each year.1

Services for adults with autism and other disabilities vary from state to state, but adults with autism often face little or no support for employment, housing, or community activities. “Many of these youth begin their journey into adulthood by stepping off a services cliff. Access to needed supports and services drops off dramatically after high school – with too many having no help at all,” according to a Drexel University national study.2 More than a quarter of young adults on the autism spectrum received no services following school.

Only about half of people with autism worked outside the home within eight years of graduating high school, and the work is often part-time and low-wage. 1 An estimated 90 percent of adults with autism are unemployed or underemployed, according to the advocacy consortium Advancing Futures for Adults with Autism.

Autism spectrum disorder encompasses a broad range of abilities and challenges, and most people diagnosed with this disorder will need some type of support into adulthood. Some are able get and maintain employment with limited accommodations. Many face significant challenges in getting and keeping jobs—organizing and managing time may be difficult, a busy/noisy work environment may be overwhelming, social conversation and understanding unwritten social rules may be challenging.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities, including autism spectrum disorder. Examples of accommodations that may help people with autism include allowing the use of headphones or earplugs, changes in lighting, providing mentors on the job, being very specific in writing about tasks and expectations, and using written communication in place of oral communication.3

Employment services for people with disabilities are typically provided by the state vocation rehabilitation agency in each state. (See a list of state vocational rehabilitation agencies.) Services may include supported employment, such as a job coach on site. Autism Speaks has developed resources for individual and families, including an Employment Tool Kit and a new jobs portal,, which connects employers, service providers and employees on the spectrum.

A recent article in Mental Health Works4, notes employers can benefit from embracing a diverse workforce and the skills and perspectives of people with autism. Employees with autism may be highly skilled, may show careful attention to detail, and may bring unique problem-solving perspectives.

A number of companies have taken specific steps to create more welcoming and inclusive environments for people with autism and other disabilities. Among the companies identified by Autism Speaks as having specific programs for adults with autism or more general programs for diversity and inclusion that include people with autism are Walgreens, Freddie Mac, Microsoft, AMC, CVS Caremark, Home Depot, Outback Steakhouse and Target.

The transition into adulthood is a challenging time for people with autism and their families and for many communities. But as the number of individuals continues to grow, more resources are becoming available and more employers are becoming welcoming and more aware of the benefits of a diverse workforce.


  1. Roux, A.M., et al. 2013. Postsecondary Employment Experiences Among Young Adults with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 52(9):931-939.
  2. Roux, A. M., et al. 2015. National Autism Indicators Report: Transition into Young Adulthood. Philadelphia, PA: Life Course Outcomes Research Program, A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, Drexel University.
  3. U.S. Department of Labor. 2012. Business Strategies that Work: A Framework for Disability Inclusion. (Identifies promising employment policies and practices for recruiting, hiring, retaining and advancing qualified individuals with disabilities.)
  4. American Psychiatric Association Foundation, Partnership for Workplace Mental Health. 2014. Mental Health Works: Special Feature: Autism.


AutismPatients and Families


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