Researchers Study the Barriers Adults with ASD Face Upon Entering the Job Market

As many teenagers and young adults with autism disorders phase out of high school settings, they face the difficulty of trying to obtain stable employment. For example, Jay Tyner-Wilson, a 21-year-old on the autism spectrum, aged out of Fayette County Public Schools over six months ago, but has been unable to land a paid position at any company, despite his many attempts. His mother is particularly concerned, as many individuals with autism are never given the opportunity to gain employment, and therefore never get to experience growth in certain areas of their lives, or get the chance to make a living for themselves.

This mother and son have taken part in a focus group that is part of a three-y
ear study at the University of Kentucky College of Education. This study addresses the difficult transition from school to work for those on the spectrum. The biggest challenge, according to Ms. Tyner-Wilson, is “getting that one person that might be willing to take a chance on somebody like my son and give him a job”.

In particular, res
earchers from the UK are looking at these students in the focus group, and trying to see how they can build a life after high school. The National Institute of Mental Health awarded a $693,000 grant to professor Lisa Ruble of UK College of Education, as well as a cross-disciplinary team of co-investigators at UK and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Lisa Ruble hopes that funding can help reduce the disconnect from services that often occurs when students with autism complete high school. “What we are trying to do is maximize opportunities”, Ruble states. She continues, “We need to do a better job in understanding what the needs are and how to better respond to this large number of students who need to be employed.”

As the first year of the study carries on, researchers are meeting with the parents of the students, as well as school administrators, policy makers, and job coaches. They are trying to get a better understanding of the issues involved with the plans an individual has after graduation, and then implementing those plans. They are focusing on what a good transition between school and employment would look like, as well as identifying the barriers and finding the solutions to overcome them.

Melanie Tyner-Wilson said the most “powerful thing” about the study is that it brings national attention to the issue. She adds, “It is exciting when something gets researched, it gets attention and it counts. We have all kinds of people like my son Jay [in the country] and we need to figure out how we are going to meet their needs and give them a quality of life.”

Like Jay, individuals on the autism spectrum have a lot of great qualities and strengths they can offer to particular jobs, they just need “different layers of support”, according to his mother. While some students with varying degrees of autism have gone on to college and or/employment, there is still a significant number who struggle. Lisa Ruble hopes that this study will “raise the nation’s capacity to provide services to children and adults with autism spectrum disorder”.

ICare4Autism is incredibly dedicated to the Global Autism Workforce Initiative, which focuses on the importance of creating Autism-friendly workplaces, as well as helping to ease the transition from high school to an employed setting. The next ICare4Autism Conference, which will take place in Washington, D.C., will focus on the challenges individuals on the spectrum have faced in gaining employment, and how companies can give individuals on the spectrum better opportunities by implementing programs that will highlight and utilize their strengths.

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