It has been estimated that worldwide, there are over 75 million people diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. In the United States, it is estimated that there are 5.6 million adults with autism. During the current decade, 707,000 to 1,116,000 youth with autism in the United States will enter adulthood. Hurley-Hanson, Giannantonio, and Griffiths introduced the term Generation A to represent this generational cohort who will be poised to enter the workforce.
The unemployment and underemployment rates for individuals with autism, as compared to the general population, are very high. It is estimated that 50-85% of the 5.6 million adults with autism in the USA are unemployed or underemployed. Research has shown that young adults with autism, compared to their peers without autism, are more likely to be underemployed, overeducated, overqualified and underpaid. They also are more likely than their peers without autism to change jobs frequently and, as a result, to experience higher levels of ongoing stress and financial concerns.
The support services required if an individual cannot be employed and live independently place a significant financial toll on families and society. The costs of supporting an individual with autism may exceed two million dollars throughout their lifetime. The total cost of autism support services in the USA for all individuals exceeds $236 billion annually; experts expect this number to rise to one trillion dollars by 2025. These estimates do not include difficult-to-measure additional costs such as lost income for the individual with autism, their parents, and other family members and caregivers. These statistics are staggering and suggest the need to examine the long-term employment, career, and life outcomes for young adults with autism who are members of Generation A. We have completed two studies examining these issues.
Our first study included focus groups and a survey of caregivers of young adults with autism to assess their transition needs and experiences in the workplace. The data revealed significant needs in the areas of transition services, preparation for work, and job retention. It also identified barriers to a successful transition into the world of work and areas for necessary intervention. There were multiple barriers identified in supporting a smooth transition into the workplace including difficulties with mental health, a reduction in support services, as well as problems with communication and collaboration across stakeholders.
Our second study examined organizations’ experiences with employing individuals with autism, what they perceived as obstacles to employment, and what they felt was needed to increase the employment of individuals with autism. When asked about their biggest fears in hiring someone with autism, employers were concerned that these employees would engage in behaviors that put themselves or others at risk, would not perform well, and would not be able to communicate. According to the employers’ perspective, the top three services that are needed for meaningful work-life outcomes include training in specific job skills, formal assessment of work interests and abilities, and training in job search skills.
The findings from these research studies were included in our book Autism in the Workplace: Creating Positive Outcomes for Generation A. We received a Kay Family Foundation Data Analytic Grant with Dr. Amy Jane Griffiths of the Attallah College of Educational Studies for our grant proposal “Using Labor Market Data to Develop Career Interventions and Opportunities for Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorder.” We serve as the book series editors for the Emerald Studies in Workplace Neurodiversity. We have published three books in the series. We are currently editing a 4th book on entrepreneurship and neurodiversity.