February 7, 2013

For people with ASD, adulthood no easy transition

One of the critical, unmet needs for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is support for the transition into adulthood.

One of the critical, unmet needs for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is support for the transition into adulthood.

That conclusion, by Vanderbilt University researchers, is cited in the latest strategic plan for ASD research released by the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Reporting last year in the journal Pediatrics, Vanderbilt’s Julie Lounds Taylor, Ph.D., and colleagues at Washington University in St. Louis and SRI International found that more than half of young people with ASD were unemployed and not attending college in the first two years after leaving high school.

Julie Lounds Taylor, Ph.D.

Rates of paid employment were significantly higher for young people with other intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“This suggests that young adults with ASD may require different types of support than youth with other intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Taylor, assistant professor of Pediatrics and Special Education, and an investigator in the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development.

In another report conducted through the Vanderbilt Evidence-Based Practice Center, Taylor and colleagues found a dramatic lack of evidence-based research on the effectiveness of interventions to improve vocational outcomes for adolescents and young adults with ASD.

“The IACC report highlights the struggles faced by youth with ASD and their families during the transition to adulthood,” Taylor said. “Yet, we know strikingly little about the most effective ways to support these individuals.”

“With more youth with ASD leaving high school and entering the adult world, there is urgent public health and scientific need to understand the range of factors associated with a successful transition,” she said.

Taylor was one of several Vanderbilt Kennedy Center investigators whose work was cited in the federal report. Others included Suzanne Goldman, Ph.D., MSN, Beth Malow, M.D., MS, Melissa McPheeters, Ph.D., MPH, James Sutcliffe, Ph.D., Jeremy Veenstra-VanderWeele, M.D., Lily Wang, Ph.D., Zachary Warren, Ph.D., and Paul Yoder, Ph.D.

Malow, medical director of the Vanderbilt Sleep Disorders Center; Warren, director of the Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD); and Elisabeth Dykens, Ph.D., director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, were part of the external strategic planning group for the federal report.

Dykens said the extensive citing of Vanderbilt research in the report reflects “Vanderbilt’s leadership role in helping our nation answer the urgent questions ‘What do we know?’ and ‘What do we need?’ across the lifespan for the growing number of individuals on the autism spectrum.”