Factors Associated with Post-Secondary School Independence Among Young Australian Adults on the Autism Spectrum
Limited research has been conducted examining transition to adult life among young people on the autism spectrum. Existing evidence has shown low levels of employment, post-secondary study, and independence in individuals on the autism spectrum regardless of intellectual functioning. However, most studies examine adults across a wide age range and the few that have focused on individuals that have recently transitioned from secondary school often rely on parent report. The Study of Australian School Leavers with Autism (SASLA) is the first Australian longitudinal study to examine the transition period from secondary school to post-secondary school using self-report measures.
The aim of this study was to evaluate the levels of employment, post-secondary study, and independence in a sample of Australian individuals on the autism spectrum that have recently transitioned from secondary school.
Individuals aged 15-25 years were invited to complete an online questionnaire measuring a range of outcome variables. The current study focuses on individuals who have already transitioned from high school. To date 68 post-secondary school individuals (M (SD) = 20.1 (2.3) years) have completed the survey (seven with an associated Intellectual Disability). Participants were asked to answer a range of questions relating to their current employment/post-secondary study status, presence of comorbid conditions (e.g. anxiety and depression), and other demographic variables. The Vocational Index was used as a measure of independence, where higher scores indicate more independence. Participants also completed the Autism-Spectrum Quotient-Short (AQ), the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9), and the DSM-5 Generalised Anxiety Disorder Dimensional Scale (GAD-D).
High proportions of the sample reported experiencing a current anxiety (62%) or depression (31%) disorder. Sixty-two percent of the sample reported that they were currently studying (55% full-time) and 30% were currently employed; 16% were both currently employed and studying. Twenty-three percent of the sample were neither studying nor currently employed and 46% reported they were currently looking for work. The mean vocational index for this sample was 7.48 (SD 2.66), indicating a high level of independence. Hierarchical linear regression models controlling for age, found no association between the vocational index and AQ, GAD-D, or PHQ-9 scores.
The results from the current study illustrate that there is a high level of independence in this sample of post-secondary Australian individuals on the autism spectrum. A high proportion of the sample reported that they were either currently studying or working. Level of independence was not significantly associated with autistic traits or levels of anxiety or depression. However, this study is limited by the small proportion of individuals with intellectual disability included in the sample. Nevertheless, previous research has reported that levels of independence are also low among high-functioning individuals on the spectrum. This study provides preliminary evidence that level of independence is not associated with autistic traits, anxiety or depression among young adults on the spectrum.