Young adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are finding life hard after high school. Getting a job or continuing education is more difficult for youths with ASD than other disabilities.

A new study highlights the unique set of problems for individuals with ASD. Researchers used data collected from a 10-year long study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education called the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2 (NLTS2). Data was collected for youths with disabilities listed under the special education disability categories and included 680 individuals with autism.

The NLTS2 followed the students as they graduated from high school. Of the 680 students with ASD, 34.7 percent went on to attend college. Approximately 55 percent of youths with ASD had a job during the six years after high school. Unfortunately these numbers were the lowest among all disability categories. Even more alarming is employment and education rate for youths with ASD in the two year period after high school.

According to the study, over 50 percent of all youths with ASD did not have a job nor did they go on to continue their education during the two year period after high school. These numbers were drastically lower than youths with mental retardation, learning disability or speech/language impairment.

In comparison, only 12.2 percent of youths with speech/language impairment did not have a job or continued their education. Approximately 2.5 percent of youths with a learning disability did not hold a job or continue their education. Only youths with mental retardation had similar numbers to youths with ASD, approximately 38.3 percent, and that number is still much lower than those of ASD.

Higher functioning youths with ASD had better odds of continuing education and getting a job when compared to youths who are more impaired by ASD. Youths with ASD from higher income families also were more likely to continue their education or get a job than youths with ASD from lower-income families.

Researchers believe there needs to be more done to help educate and prepare youths with ASD for this important transition period. This can include more public services that can provide families and youths with different education and employment opportunities. Considering that approximately 50,000 Americans with ASD are going to turn 18 in 2012, it is important to improve the low percentage of youths with ASD who go on to get a job or continue their education.

This study was published in the May edition of Pediatrics.