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Examining Adults With Autism and High Unemployment Rates

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In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a new diagnostic classification that subsumes most individuals previously diagnosed with one of four pervasive developmental disorders: Asperger’s disorder, autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified.

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Individuals with ASD report encountering high levels of stress and anxiety in the workplace which may interfere with performance. Hurlbutt and Chalmers interviewed six adults with AS who reported high levels of anxiety due to the task of trying to fit in socially with the neurotypical world

Burt found that individuals with autism had increased anxiety due to sensitivity to workplace noise and other sensory stimuli. Camarena and Sarigiani interviewed the parents of highfunctioning adolescents with ASD regarding postsecondary aspirations. Parents reported anxiety as a major obstacle for postsecondary success due to their child’s fear of the unknown and navigating social interactions. The comorbidity with a variety of psychiatric symptoms including depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder in individuals with ASD has been widely reported.

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Adults with ASD and average-range IQ tend to have more independent vocational outcomes at a given time compared to those with ASD and ID (Taylor and Mailick, 2014; Taylor and Seltzer, 2011). Similarly, Howlin and colleagues (2013) found that 28% of adults with ASD and average-range IQ were competitively employed; however, 55% of their sample had never had community, sheltered, or voluntary employment. Examining patterns of PSE/employment activities over time for adults with ASD and average-range IQ can aid in understanding why they might be at higher risk for disengagement from these activities. Although a growing number of studies have examined vocational outcomes at one point in time for adults with ASD (for a review see Henninger and Taylor, 2013), only two studies have focused on patterns over time

In a sample of adults with ASD who predominantly had ID, Taylor and Mailick (2014) found small but significant declines in the level of independence in vocational/educational activities over 10 years, with little evidence of improvement.

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In conclusion, enhancing the opportunities for adults with ASD to join the workforce is beneficial from a societal perspective, not only from an inclusiveness viewpoint, but also from a strict economic standpoint

Governments can ultimately make savings by spending money on providing supported employment services for adults with ASD. These services do not only cut the cost for governments compared with providing standard care, they will also results in better outcomes for adults with ASD. Furthermore, despite the fact that adults with ASD are the most expensive group to provide vocational rehabilitation services for, it appears that they have a strong chance of becoming employed once appropriate measures are in place, indicating that rehabilitation services could be considered as a worthwhile investment.

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Henninger NA, Taylor JL. Outcomes in adults with autism spectrum disorders: a historical perspective. Autism : the international journal of research and practice. 2013;17(1):103–116.

Hill A, Bölte S, Petrova G, et al. Stability and interpersonal agreement of the interview-based diagnosis of autism. Psychopathology. 2001;34(4):187–191.

Howlin P, Goode S, Hutton J, et al. Adult outcome for children with autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 2004;45(2):212–229.

Lord C, Pickles A, McLennan J, et al. Diagnosing autism: analyses of data from the Autism Diagnostic Interview. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 1997;27(5):501–517.

Fecteau S, Mottron L, Berthiaume C, et al. Developmental changes of autistic symptoms. Autism. 2003;7(3):255–268.

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