What is the research about?

Many people believe that individuals who are higher-functioning on the autism spectrum naturally have more positive life outcomes than others with autism. Because of this, policies and programs often fail to include support services for this group of individuals, and may leave some of their vital needs unmet. For this reason, researchers were curious to determine how the families of those with higher-functioning autism felt about the services their loved ones were receiving, as well as the living accommodations and employment statuses of these young adults.

What did the researchers do?

Researchers in Queensland, Australia asked 95 parents of young adults aged 15 to 27 with higher-functioning autism (including diagnoses of Asperger’s, Kanner, HFA and PDD-NOS), to complete a questionnaire. This questionnaire asked about family make up, as well as about the young person with ASD.  Areas of evaluation included the young adult’s level of completed education, current living status, employment experience, typical daily activities, and the extent that their service needs were being met.

What did the researchers find?

The researchers found that although over half of the study participants had completed high school, a noted barrier to completing such programs was difficulty with organizational skills. Additionally, more than half of the participants were unemployed. Of those employed, only a small amount of them had full-time jobs, and even fewer had professional jobs (e.g., working in information technology). The majority were employed in unskilled jobs, with poor social and interview skills named as large barriers to success. Regarding shortcomings in service needs, commonly named areas of desired improvement include mentoring programs to reduce exploitation/theft, social skills training, and access to social clubs. Additionally, supports to aid in employment, completing post-school education, transitioning to adulthood, and social skills training are desired.

Take home message

Those with high-functioning ASD may experience higher levels of unemployment than typically developing individuals, and those who are employed commonly have unskilled jobs that do not match their abilities. Additionally, many of these individuals have difficulties with achieving independent living and social integration. This may be related to a deficiency in the support services being provided to them. These shortcomings in available support systems may also contribute to the mental health difficulties and poor quality of life of these individuals. Thus, future policy may wish to address these perceived issues.


The original Research Report was written by P. Neary and colleagues and published in Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders. 2014