Is Young Adulthood Really so Different for Young Adults with ASD? a Study Investigating Developmental Themes.

Poster Presentation
Thursday, May 10, 2018: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
L. Mattys1, I. Noens2,3 and D. Baeyens4, (1)KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium, (2)Parenting and Special Education Research Unit, University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium, (3)Leuven Autism Research (LAuRes), KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium, (4)Thomas More University College/Catholic University Leuven, Antwerp, Belgium

The description of emerging adulthood as a separate developmental phase between the ages of roughly 18 to 25 is a fairly recent one (Arnett, 2007).

During this important transition to adulthood, Taylor and Selzer (2011) reported that young adults with ASD are three times more likely to have no daytime activities if they have no intellectual disability, suggesting that current clinical practices fail to accommodate to the needs of this group. Following Arnett’s definition of emerging adulthood, the Inventory of Dimensions of Emerging Adulthood (IDEA; Reifman, Arnett, & Colwell, 2007) was published to quantify the relevance of six prototypical developmental themes. This tool has, to our knowledge, never been used to study young adults with ASD before. As such, there is currently no frame of reference to understand developmental themes that are relevant for young adults with ASD specifically.


To further our knowledge about developmental themes that are relevant for young adults with ASD, we studied how an ASD diagnosis influenced the relevance of prototypical developmental themes.

To do so, we first assessed the IDEA’s construct validity in a Flemish population.


The IDEA (Reifman, Arnett, & Colwell, 2007) was included in an online questionnaire that was filled out by 570 young adults between 17 and 27 years old (220 males and 285 females), of which 65 (50 males and 15 females) had a diagnosis of ASD. An exploratory factor analysis was performed to assess the factor structure of the IDEA in a Flemish population and determine relevant scales for further interpretation of results. Consequently, means of the two participant groups were compared for each new scale.


Following results are preliminary. An exploratory factor analysis using principal axis factoring suggested a latent structure of which five factors were selected. Five new scales were calculated based on these factors, and named Experimentation and Possibilities, Feeling in Between, Negativity and Instability, Reflection, and Commitment.

Participants with ASD scored significantly lower on items assessing their perception of having possibilities (U = 10105, p < .000) and items that indicate commitment (U = 13509, p = 0.019). Participants with ASD reported significantly higher levels of negativity and instability (U = 12225, p = 0.001). Participants, however, did not differ significantly on items assessing the extent of feeling in between adulthood and adolescence (U = 15795, p = .620), as well as items assessing reflection (U = 14604, p = .143). Further analyses will investigate the effects of group differences and how these findings relate to quality of life observations.


Preliminary results suggest that young adults with ASD show similarities with their peers. However, it seems that young adults with ASD are less optimistic about the opportunities they have, experience more negativity and instability, and are less occupied with commitment to their future adult lives. These findings can inspire clinical practice by targeting interventions on developmental themes, for example by discussing possibilities and opportunities with young clients with ASD.