Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 43, Issue 8, pp 1832–1842

Factors Associated with Participation in Employment for High School Leavers with Autism

Authors

    • Intellectual Disability/Autism Program, Department of Health and Behavior Studies, Teachers CollegeColumbia University
  • Ying Kuen Cheung
    • Department of Biostatistics, School of Public HealthColumbia University
  • Huacheng Li
    • Measurement, Evaluation, and Statistics Program, Department of Human Development, Teachers CollegeColumbia University
  • Luke Y. Tsai
    • University of Michigan Medical School
Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s10803-012-1734-2

Cite this article as:
Chiang, H., Cheung, Y.K., Li, H. et al. J Autism Dev Disord (2013) 43: 1832. doi:10.1007/s10803-012-1734-2

Abstract

This study aimed to identify the factors associated with participation in employment for high school leavers with autism. A secondary data analysis of the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2 (NLTS2) data was performed. Potential factors were assessed using a weighted multivariate logistic regression. This study found that annual household income, parental education, gender, social skills, whether the child had intellectual disability, whether the child graduated from high school, whether the child received career counseling during high school, and whether the child’s school contacted postsecondary vocational training programs or potential employers were the significant factors associated with participation in employment. These findings may have implications for professionals who provide transition services and post-secondary programs for individuals with autism.

Keywords

AutismEmploymentPostsecondary outcomeHigh school leaversSpecial educationTransition

Introduction

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law in the U.S. that ensures special education and related services to children and youth with disabilities, including those with autism. Students with autism constitute the 3rd largest population among students receiving special education and related services in the U.S. (U.S. Department of Education 2010). IDEA mandates that appropriate postsecondary goals (related to education and employment) based on students’ interests and strength should be included in their individualized education programs (IEPs) (P.L. 108-446 (2004)). If students with disabilities express interest in participating in employment, appropriate transition planning and support services should be provided to promote their achievement of this postsecondary goal (P.L. 108-446 (2004)). However, students with autism often do not receive appropriate transition services to meet their needs due to a lack of effective transition planning and collaboration among education, employment, and community (Hendricks and Wehman 2009).

Several studies have reported employment outcomes of individuals with autism. Howlin et al. (2004) studied adult outcomes of individuals with autism (n = 68) (aged 21–48 years) who lived in the United Kingdom and reported that about 34 % of adults with autism had participated in some form of employment (e.g., independent work, self-employment, sheltered work, family based work). Eaves and Ho (2008) studied adult outcomes of individuals with autism (n = 48) (aged 19–31 years) who lived in Canada and found 56 % of adults with autism had ever been employed (e.g., volunteer, sheltered or part time work, independent work). Cimera and Cowan (2009) investigated employment outcomes achieved by adults with autism (n = 11,569) (mean age = 28 years) within the US vocational rehabilitation system between the years 2002 and 2006 and reported that about 39–42 % of adults with autism were employed. Taylor and Seltzer (2011) studied post-high school employment and educational activities in adults with autism (n = 66) (aged 19–25 years) and reported that 6 % of adults with autism were competitively employed and 12 % of adults with autism participated in supported employment. Although the percentage of participation in employment in individuals with autism vary across studies, several studies have reported a low percentage (<50 %) of participation in employment in these individuals.

Factors/Predictors Related to Participation in Employment

Previous studies have reported factors associated with participation in employment for individuals with autism and other disabilities. For example, Burt et al. (1991) reported that the factors related to successful employment of four adults with autism (aged 21–29 years) included family support (e.g., financial incentives, daily praise, maintenance of program contingencies), characteristics of the individual, job characteristics, and employer support (e.g., modification of jobs and schedules, behavior support). Keel, Mesibov, and Woods (1997) reported the effects of the TEACCH supported employment program. They stated that utilizing individual strengths and interests, identifying appropriate jobs, and providing long-term support were the components in the TEACCH program that have successfully placed people with autism in community jobs. Mawhood and Howlin (1999) reported the outcome of a supported employment program for high-functioning adults with autism or Asperger syndrome. This supported employment program identified suitable jobs and provided work preparation for their participants. This program also educated employers and work colleagues on how to deal with or avoid problems. Compared to the participants in the control group, the number of participants who had participated in paid employment in this supported employment program was significantly higher. Taylor and Seltzer (2011) examined the relationships among employment (e.g., competitive employment, supported employment) and postsecondary educational activities and intellectual disability, family income, autism symptoms, maladaptive behaviors, functional independence, and comorbid psychiatric disorders in adults with autism (aged 19–25 years) and found that adults with autism without intellectual disability were more likely to participate in competitive employment than adults with autism with intellectual disability. Adults with autism who participated in competitive employment had fewer autism symptoms than did adults with autism who participated in supported employment. These two groups did not differ significantly in maladaptive behaviors or functional independence. Family income and comorbid psychiatric disorders were not significant factors in this study.

Few studies have investigated predictors of participation in employment for individuals with autism. Benz et al. (2000) investigated predictive factors of positive postsecondary outcomes (e.g., engagement in employment or continuing education) of students with disabilities (including six individuals with autism) exiting high school during the 1997–1998 school year and found that having two or more jobs and having completed four or more transition goals while in high school were predictive of positive postsecondary outcomes. Lawer et al. (2009) investigated predictive factors for participation in competitive employment for individuals with disabilities ages 18–65 (including 1,707 individuals with autism) using the US Department of Education, Office of Special Education, and Rehabilitative Services data. They found that being older, being male, having more education, and receiving greater service expenditures predicted competitive employment. Schaller and Yang (2005) investigated predictive factors of competitive employment and supported employment for individuals with autism (aged 15–64 years) using the RSA-911 database for 2001. They found that for competitive employment, individual characteristics (e.g., being older, 10–15 years of education, not having a secondary disability), and employment support services (e.g., job finding, job placement, maintenance) were the significant predictors. For supported employment, being White and job placement were the significant predictors. Migliore et al. (2012) investigated predictors of participation in integrated employment and postsecondary education of adults with autism (aged 16–26 years) using the RSA2011 database fiscal year 2008. For participation in integrated employment, receiving job placement, participation in postsecondary education, receiving miscellaneous training, no college services, being male, receiving job search, and not being a Medicaid/Medicare recipient were the predictors. Overall, the findings from previous studies seem to indicate that family characteristics, student characteristics, and transition planning services variables are predictive of participation in employment for individuals with autism.

Adults with autism want to obtain jobs, but they face significant difficulties in obtaining jobs (Hurlbutt and Chalmers 2004). It has been suggested that when students with autism are well prepared for transition from high school to adulthood, the odds for them to participate in employment are likely to be increased (Hendricks 2010). To prepare students with autism well for postsecondary employment, there is a critical need to investigate the factors that are associated with participation in employment for high school leavers with autism. Yet, current research specifically focusing on transition from high school into employment for students with autism is very limited (Hendricks 2010). Although the factors associated with participation in employment for students with disabilities have been reported previously, there is a lack of research that specifically focuses on high school leavers with autism, concerns family, student, and school factors, and uses a nationally representative data set to determine the factors. Thus, the purpose of the present study is to identify the factors associated with participation in employment for high school leavers with autism (i.e., if a high school leaver with autism has ever had a paid job since leaving high school) using a nationally representative data set [i.e., the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2) data].

Method

Data Source and Sample

A secondary data analysis of NLTS2 data was performed in this study. The NLTS2 is a longitudinal data set. There were about 830 secondary school students (ages 13 through 16) whose primary disability was autism in the NLTS2 data set [the unweighted sample size number reported here was rounded to the nearest 10 to meet the restricted-use data license requirements imposed by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES)]. The study sample was derived from currently available NLTS2 raw data from IES. The NLTS2 raw data used in this study included: NLTS2 Waves 1 to Wave 4 parent/youth phone interview and/or mail survey data (Wave 1 was collected in the 2000–2001; Wave 2 was collected in the 2002–2003; Wave 3 was collected in the 2004–2005; and Wave 4 was collected in the 2006–2007 school years) and Wave 1 to Wave 2 school program survey data (Wave 1 was collected in the 2001–2002 and Wave 2 was collected in the 2003–2004 school years). The information about students with autism was collected repeatedly beginning in the 2000–2001 school year and ending in the 2006–2007 school year.

The data used in this study were selected because they contained the variables suggested by previous studies (e.g., Benz et al. 2000; Lawer et al. 2009; Migliore et al. 2012; Schaller and Yang 2005) to have the potential to be associated with participation in employment.

Outcome and Independent Variables

The Outcome Variable

The outcome variable for this study was participation in employment and this variable was selected from Waves 2 to Wave 4 parent/youth phone interview and/or mail survey data. This variable consisted of responses to questions that asked if a high school leaver had ever had a paid job (e.g., full-time job, part-time job) since leaving high school.

The Independent Variables

Previous research suggests that family characteristics, student characteristics, and transition planning services factors are associated with participation in employment for students with disabilities (e.g., Benz et al. 2000; Lawer et al. 2009; Migliore et al. 2012; Schaller and Yang 2005). Thus, the variables related to family characteristics, student characteristics, and transition planning services in the NLTS2 data were selected as the independent variables for this study. These variables were selected from Waves 1–4 parent/youth phone interview and/or mail survey data and Wave 1–2 school program survey data.

A description of the dependent variable and independent variables can be found in Table 1.
Table 1

Description of variables and measures

Variables

Measures

Data source

Dependent variable

 Participation in employment

1 = yes, 0 = no

Waves 2 to Wave 4 parent/youth survey

Independent variables

Family characteristics

 Annual household income

1 = low (<$25,000), 2 = medium ($25,001–$50,000), 3 = high (>50,001)

Wave 1–4 parent/youth survey

 Parental education

1 = some high school or less; 2 = some college; 3 = bachelor’s degree or higher

Wave 1–4 parent/youth survey

 Parent met with teachers to set their child’s post-graduation goals

1 = yes, 0 = no

Wave 1–4 parent/youth survey

 Parent attended their child’s IEP meeting

1 = yes, 0 = no

Wave 1–4 parent/youth survey

 Parent expected their child would participate in postsecondary employment

1 = yes, 0 = no

Wave 1–4 parent/youth survey

Student Characteristics

 Gender

1 = male, 0 = female

Wave 1–4 parent/youth survey

 Ethnicity

1 = white, 0 = nonwhite

Wave 1–4 parent/youth survey

 Social skills

1 = low, 2 = medium, 3 = high

Wave 1–4 parent/youth survey

 Self-care skills

1 = low, 2 = medium, 3 = high

Wave 1–4 parent/youth survey

 With verbal skills

1 = yes, 0 = no

Wave 1–4 parent/youth survey

 With intellectual disability

1 = yes, 0 = no

Wave 1–4 parent/youth survey

 Graduated from high school

1 = yes, 0 = no

Wave 1–4 parent/youth survey

 High school academic performance

1 = below average (i.e., mostly C’s and D’s, D’s and F’s), 2 = average (i.e., mostly B’s and C’s), 3 = above average (i.e., mostly A’s and B’s)

Wave 1–4 parent/youth survey

 Participated in vocational education

1 = yes, 0 = no

Wave 1–4 parent/youth survey

 Had a paid job during high school

1 = yes, 0 = no

Wave 1–4 parent/youth survey

 Had received career counseling during high school

1 = yes, 0 = no

Wave 1–4 parent/youth survey

 Participated in postsecondary education (e.g., a 2-year/community college, vocational/technical business school, a 4-year college)

1 = yes, 0 = no

Wave 1–4 parent/youth survey

Transition Planning Services

 School planned for what the student will do after high school

1 = yes, 0 = no

Wave 1–2 school program survey

 School contacted postsecondary vocational training programs or potential employers

1 = yes, 0 = no

Wave 1–2 school program survey

Data Analysis

SAS 9.2 was used for statistical analyses in this study. All the data used in this study were those with no missing values. The cases containing missing values were removed by following these two steps. First, the cases with missing values on the outcome variable were removed. Second, the cases with missing values on any of the independent variables were removed. In summary, less than one percent (i.e., .002 %) of the cases on the outcome variable had missing values and on average, only 4.1 % of the cases across the independent variables had any missing values.

Variables were described using descriptive statistics. For continuous variables, values were reported as means ± standard deviations (SDs). For categorical variables, values were reported as percents. A three-step process was used to determine the factors significantly associated with participation in postsecondary employment for postsecondary students with autism. First, the association between each independent variable and the dependent variable (i.e., participation in postsecondary employment) was assessed in a univariate manner. Χ2 tests were used on categorical variables to test the differences between the subjects who participated in postsecondary employment and those who did not. In view of the large number of comparisons conducted in the present study, a conservative significance level p < .01 was set for all comparisons. Second, before performing the regression analysis, possible multicollinerarity [i.e., two or more independent variables are highly correlated, Abu-Bader (2010)] among the potential factors was checked using the tolerance and the variance inflation factors (VIF); VIF values >10 and tolerance values <.10 indicate the presence of multicollinearity (Cohen et al. 2003). Third, the variables significantly differentiated the subjects who participated in postsecondary employment and those who did not were then entered into a weighted multivariate logistic regression analysis (p < .01). A cutoff criterion of .01 was set for the potential significant variables. To construct the final model, a stepwise, non-automatic elimination method was used. If the Wald test p value for a variable was >.01, the variable was removed from the final model, one variable at a time. This procedure was repeated until the final model contained no non-significant variables.

Results

Among the high school leavers with autism in this study (weighted n = 4,167), 56 % (weighted n = 2,333) of these individuals had participated in employment since leaving high school and 44 % (weighted n = 1,834) of these individuals had not. The mean age of high school leavers with autism who participated in employment was 21 ± 1.0 years and the mean age of high school leavers with autism who did not participate in employment was also 21 ± 1.3 years. High school leavers with autism who participated in employment worked across 29 different types of jobs. The top five types of jobs were material recording, scheduling, dispatching, and distribution (36.3 %), information and record clerks (12.9 %), building cleaning and pest control workers (8.5 %), retail sales workers (5.2 %), and workers in other production occupations (5.1 %). The mean hourly wage for high school leavers with autism who participated in employment was $ 7.90 (range = $ 2.00–$30.00, SD = 22.00).

Determining Variables for the Regression Model

The family characteristics, student characteristics, and transition planning services by high school leavers who participated in postsecondary employment and those who did not are presented in Table 2.
Table 2

Family characteristics, student characteristics, and transition planning services by students who participated in postsecondary employment and those who did not

Variable

Participation in employment

Significance tests

No

Yes

n

%

n

%

Family characteristics

Annual household income***

    

Χ2(2) = 779.67, p < .0001

 Low ($25,000 and under)

347

92.6

28

7.4

 

 Medium ($25,001–$50,000)

558

69.9

240

30.1

 

 High (Over $50,000)

930

31.1

2,065

69.0

 

Parental education***

    

Χ2(2) = 406.52, p < .0001

 High school or less

472

66.3

240

33.8

 

 Some college

567

60.6

368

39.4

 

 Bachelor’s degree or higher

795

31.6

1,724

68.4

 

Parent met with teachers to set their child’s post-graduation goals

    

X2(1) = 4.30, p = .038

 No

382

47.3

427

52.7

 

 Yes

1,452

43.2

1,906

56.8

 

Parent attended their child’s IEP meeting***

    

Χ2(1) = 54.24, p < .0001

 No

42

100.0

0

0

 

 Yes

1,792

43.4

2,333

56.6

 

Parent expected their child would participate in postsecondary employment***

    

Χ2(1) = 635.79, p < .0001

 No

446

100.0

0

0

 

 Yes

1,388

37.3

2,333

62.7

 

Student characteristics

     

Gender***

    

Χ2(1) = 26.82, p < .0001

 Male

1,612

45.7

1,914

54.3

 

 Female

222

34.7

419

65.3

 

Ethnicity

    

Χ2(1) = 5.73, p = .017

 White

1,589

44.8

1,959

55.2

 

 Nonwhite

245

39.6

374

60.4

 

Social skills***

    

Χ2(2) = 37.17, p < .0001

 Low

906

45.7

1,078

54.3

 

 Medium

865

44.7

1,070

55.3

 

 High

63

25.5

185

74.5

 

Self-care skills***

    

Χ2(2) = 55.65, p < .0001

 Low

35

100

0

0

 

 Medium

448

48.1

484

51.9

 

 High

1,350

42.2

1,849

57.8

 

With verbal skill***

    

Χ2(1) = 115.36, p < .0001

 No

89

100

0

0

 

 Yes

1,745

42.8

2,333

57.2

 

With intellectual disability***

    

Χ2(1) = 26.71, p < .0001

 No

1,779

43.5

2,313

56.5

 

 Yes

55

73.4

20

26.6

 

Graduated from high school***

    

Χ2(1) = 632.32, p < .0001

 No

685

82.9

141

17.1

 

 Yes

1,149

34.4

2,192

65.6

 

High school academic performance**

    

Χ2(2) = 10.14, p < .01

 Below average

87

56.4

67.5

43.6

 

 Average

653

43.9

835

56.1

 

 Above average

1,093

43.3

1,430

56.7

 

Participated in vocational education

    

Χ2(1) = 3.32, p = .069

 No

202

40.2

230

59.8

 

 Yes

1,632

44.5

2,033

55.5

 

Had a paid job during high school***

    

Χ2(1) = 46.63, p < .0001

 No

1,410

47.3

1,569

52.7

 

 Yes

424

35.7

764

64.3

 

Received career counseling during high school***

    

Χ2(1) = 309.45, p < .0001

 No

368

83.3

74

16.7

 

 Yes

1,466

39.4

2,259

60.6

 

Participated in postsecondary education (e.g., a 2-year/community college, vocational/technical business school, a 4-year college)***

    

Χ2(1) = 20.70, p < .0001

 No

932

47.7

1,021

52.3

 

 Yes

902

40.7

1,312

59.3

 

Transition Planning Services

     

School planned for what the student will do after high school***

    

Χ2(1) = 44.99, p < .0001

 No

24

16.9

121

83.2

 

 Yes

1,810

45.0

2,212

55.0

 

School contacted postsecondary vocational training programs or potential employers***

    

Χ2(1) = 90.15, p < .0001

 No

965

38.1

1,565

61.9

 

 Yes

869

53.1

768

46.9

 

** p < .01; *** p < .001

Chi square tests found that high school leavers with autism who participated in employment differed significantly from those who did not on 16 variables, including annual household income, parental education, whether parent attended their child’s IEP meeting, whether parent expected their child would participate in postsecondary employment, the child’s gender, the child’s social skills, the child’s self-care skills, whether the child had verbal skill, whether the child had intellectual disability, whether the child graduated from high school, the child’s high school academic performance, whether the child had a paid job during high school, whether the child received career counseling during high school, whether the child had participated in postsecondary education since leaving high school, whether the child’s school planned for what the child will do after high school, and whether the child’s school contacted vocational training programs or potential employers.

Multicollinerarity among the 16 potential predictors was checked. No multicollinerarity was evident since the VIF for these variables ranged between 1.14 and 2.68 (<10) and tolerance values ranged between .38 and .88 (>.10). Thus, all 16 independent variables were then entered into a weighted multivariate logistic regression analysis.

Factors Associated with Participation in Employment

The weighted multivariate logistic regression analysis found 8 significant variables (see Table 3). The significant factors associated with participation in employment included
Table 3

Results of logistic regression analysis

Variable

B

SE B

Wald’s statistic

p

Odds ratio (99 % CI)

Annual household income

 $25,001–$50,000 versus ≤$25,000***

1.90

.24

64.92

<.0001

6.67 (3.64–12.23)

 >$50,000 versus ≤$25,000***

2.85

.24

143.44

<.0001

17.37 (9.40–32.10)

Parental education

 Some college versus high school or less***

−.84

.14

34.41

<.0001

.43 (.30–.63)

 Bachelor’s degree or higher versus high school or less***

1.00

.14

53.85

<.0001

2.73 (1.92–3.88)

Gender (male versus female)***

−1.07

.12

76.12

<.0001

.34 (.25–.47)

Social skills

 Medium versus low

−.09

.09

1.00

.33

.92 (.73–1.15)

 High versus low***

1.69

.19

79.88

<.0001

5.40 (3.32–8.78)

With intellectual disability (no versus yes)***

1.72

.31

30.37

<.0001

5.60 (2.50–12.54)

Graduated from high school (yes versus no)***

2.02

.12

281.19

<.0001

7.50 (5.51–10.22)

Received career counseling during high school (yes versus no)***

1.74

.17

101.63

<.0001

5.70 (3.65–8.89)

School contacted postsecondary vocational training programs or potential employers (yes versus no)***

−.91

.09

101.55

<.0001

.40 (.32–.51)

*** p < .001

annual household income, parental education, gender, social skills, whether the child had intellectual disability, whether the child graduated from high school, whether the child received career counseling during high school, and whether the child’s school contacted postsecondary vocational training programs or potential employers.

Compared to high school leavers with autism from low income families, students with autism from high income families are more likely to participate in employment [odds ratio (OR): 17.37; 99 % CI 9.40–32.10]. Compared to high school leavers with autism whose parents have a high school degree or lower, high school leavers with autism whose parents have a bachelor’s degree or higher are more likely to participate in employment (OR: 2.73; 99 % CI 1.92–3.88). Compared to female high school leavers with autism, male high school leavers with autism are less likely to participate in employment (OR: .34; 99 % CI .25–.47). Compared to high school leavers with autism who have low social skills, high school leavers with autism who have high social skills are more likely to participate in employment (OR: 5.40; 99 % CI 3.32–8.78). Compared to high school leavers with autism with intellectual disability, high school leavers with autism without intellectual disability are more likely to participate in employment (OR: 5.60; 99 % CI 2.50–12.54). Compared to high school leavers who do not graduate from high school, high school leavers who graduate from high school are more likely to participate in employment (OR: 7.50; 99 % CI 5.51–10.22). Compared to high school leavers who do not receive career counseling during high school, high school leavers who receive career counseling during high school are more likely to participate in employment (OR: 5.70; 99 % CI 3.65–8.89). Compared to high school leavers whose schools do not contact postsecondary vocational training programs or potential employers, high school leavers whose schools do are less likely to participate in employment (OR: .40; 99 % CI .32–.51).

Discussion

Social communication difficulties and restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior in individuals with autism may affect their opportunities to obtain paid jobs. Several studies (e.g., Cimera and Cowan 2009; Howlin et al. 2004; Taylor and Seltzer 2011) have reported a low percentage (<50 %) of participation in employment in individuals with autism. Surprisingly, this study found a relatively high percentage of participation in employment (56 %) in high school leavers with autism; the number of high school leavers with autism who had ever participated in employment since leaving high school was higher than that of those who did not. The high percentage of participation in employment found in this study is the same as that reported by Eaves and Ho (2008). Why did this study and the study by Eaves and Ho (2008) report a higher percentage of participation in employment than other studies? Different sample sizes, participants, employment definitions, and study methods may account for the different employment percentages reported by different studies.

The finding that more than half of the high school leavers with autism participated in employment is an encouraging one because this indicates that high school leavers with autism are employable and the odds of participation in employment for this population are larger than the odds of not participating in employment for this population. However, even though high school leavers with autism were employable, their mean hourly wage was only $7.90, which was lower than the 2007 minimum national mean hourly wage (i.e., $8.03) reported by the Department of Labor (Bureau of Labor Statistics Department of Labor 2007). Because the hourly wage data was mainly from the Wave 4 data and Wave 4 NLTS2 data was collected in 2007, the 2007 Bureau of Labor Statistics data were used. Although the majority of high school leavers with autism were paid less than the national minimum hourly wage, some high school leavers (6 %) earned $30.00 per hour which was in the top 20 % percent of the year 2007 national mean hourly wage. The studies by Migliore et al. (2012) and Cimera and Cowan (2009) also reported some individuals with autism earned higher mean hourly wage. The finding of this study and previous studies may give some hope to the individuals with autism who have been struggling with finding appropriate paid jobs and their parents and it may promote parents and professionals who work with individuals with autism to seek better employment opportunities for individuals with autism. Migliore et al. (2012) reported that participation in postsecondary education was positively correlated with higher earnings and receiving on-the-job supports, job readiness training, and SSI/SSDI benefits were negatively correlated with higher earnings. It seems that the mean hourly wage of adults with autism can be predicted by their characteristics. Given that to determine the predictors of mean hourly wage of adults with autism is beyond the scope of this study, future studies might want to investigate these predictors.

The result of this study showed that high school leavers with autism worked in 29 different paid jobs (e.g., material recording, record clerks, building cleaning and pest control workers, retail sales, workers in other production occupations). Other studies also reported individuals with autism worked in a wide range of jobs (e.g., Howlin et al. 2004; Migliore et al. 2012). The findings from this study and others indicate that parents and professionals who assist individuals with autism in finding paid jobs need not be constrained by the stereotyped thinking that suggests that individuals with autism can do only certain types of jobs due to their deficits. Instead, they may consider the interests and strengths of individuals with autism and explore possible job opportunities that match their interests and strengths.

Although this study found more than half of the high school leavers with autism participated in employment, there were 44 % of high school leavers who did not participate in employment. To promote participation in employment in high school leavers with autism, there is a need to understand the factors significantly associated with participation in employment. This study found family characteristics, student characteristics, and transition planning services were the significant factors.

Family Characteristics

Annual household income and parental education were the factors significantly associated with participation in postsecondary employment for high school leavers with autism. Among these two variables, the impact of household income on the odds of participation in employment for high school leavers with autism was greater than the impact of parental education. In fact, annual household income had the greatest impact on the odds of participation in employment. High school leavers with autism from low income families are less likely to participate in employment compared to those from medium and high income families. The odds of participation in employment are 17.37 times larger if a high school leaver with autism is from a high income family compared with low income family, holding other variables constant. This finding suggests that the professionals who work with individuals with autism should be aware of the needs of the individuals with autism from low income families and provide extra support to meet the needs of these students. Because these students may not have the resources, job opportunities, and other supports that the students from high income families may have, the inadequate resources and supports available to students with autism from low income families may unfortunately lead to a low employment rate in this population. Thus, we want to call for more resources and supports (e.g., transportation, vocational training, job coach, job finding) to be provided to individuals with autism from low income families.

Student Characteristics

Being without intellectual disability, having a high school diploma, having high social skills, receiving career counseling during high school, and being a female were the factors significantly associated with participation in postsecondary employment for high school leavers with autism. The odds of participation in employment are 5.60 times larger if a high school leaver with autism without intellectual disability as opposed to with intellectual disability, holding other variables constant. This study and the study by Taylor and Seltzer (2011) showed the negative effect of intellectual disability on employment for individuals with autism. Although individuals with autism who have intellectual disability are less likely to participate in employment than individuals with autism who do not have intellectual disability, this study found that some high school leavers with autism who had intellectual disability did participate in employment. This finding shows that high school leavers with autism with intellectual disability are also employable although it may be more difficult for them to find jobs. In order to promote a higher employment rate in high school leavers with autism who have intellectual disability, future studies should investigate why some high school leavers with autism with intellectual disability are able to participate in employment.

Graduating from high school has a positive influence on employment opportunities for students with disabilities (Gaumer Erickson et al. 2007). This study found that graduating from high school has the greatest impact on the odds of participation in employment among student characteristics factors. The odds of participation in employment are 7.50 times larger if a high school leaver with autism graduating from high school compared with not graduating from high school, holding other variables constant. This finding suggests the importance for parents and educators working with students with autism to assist them to graduate from high school. Different states have different graduation requirements and diploma options for students with disabilities (Gaumer Erickson et al. 2007). Parents of students with autism may not be aware of these different requirements and options. Thus, in order to promote a higher graduation rate in high school leavers with autism, parents of students with autism should be informed about graduation requirements and diploma options. Educators should work closely with parents to design educational plans that are likely to assist their students in earning a high school diploma. However, for those high school leavers with autism who do not graduate from high school, postsecondary vocational training programs and other relevant career resources should be made available to these individuals to promote their employment outcomes.

Social skills are associated with participation in employment for individuals with and without disabilities (Bullis et al. 1993; Ferris et al. 2001). The finding of this study that high social skill is a significant factor associated with participation in employment for high school leavers with autism adds evidence to the previously reported relationship between social skills and employment. This study found that the odds of participation in employment are 5.40 times larger if a high school leaver with autism has high social skills compared with low social skills, holding other variables constant. This finding suggests the importance of teaching social skills to students with autism in promoting their employment outcomes.

Receiving career counseling is another critical factor that has an impact on the odds of participation in employment for high school leavers with autism. The odds of participation in employment are 5.70 times larger if a high school leaver has received career counseling during high school compared with no career counseling. This finding suggests that career counseling services should be available to students with autism and these students should be encouraged to receive career counseling.

Gender is a factor significantly associated with participation in employment for high school leavers with autism. The odds of participation in employment are .34 times smaller for male high school leavers with autism than female high school leavers with autism, holding all other variables constant; female high school leavers with autism are more likely to participate in employment than male high school leavers with autism. This finding seems to contradict the finding of the study by Migliore et al. (2012). However, it should be noted that the age of participants and the outcome variable were different in this study and in the study by Migliore et al. Given that there are only a limited number of studies on gender differences in employment outcomes for individuals with autism, we want to call for more studies to investigate this issue.

Transition Planning Services

Whether the child’s school had contacted postsecondary vocational training programs or potential employers was a significant factor associated with participation in employment for high school leavers with autism. However, surprisingly, this study found that the high school leavers with autism whose schools did not contact postsecondary vocational training programs or potential employers were more likely to participate in employment than the high school leavers whose schools did. This may be because schools only offered this service to the students with autism who experienced difficulties finding jobs. For students who could find jobs through other resources (e.g., families, friends) or who had found jobs might not need this service. Given that some students with autism may need this service to help them participate in employments, there is a need for schools to continue to provide this service.

Limitations

This study involved a secondary analysis of NLTS2 data. Thus, the variables in this study were limited to those available in the NLTS2 data and were subject to the limitations of the NLTS2 data (e.g., missing data existed). Second, it would have been of interest to select the outcome variable and the independent variables from different data sets. However, due to the nature of currently available NLTS2 data, it was not possible to do so. Thus, one should be cautious in interpreting the relationships between the outcome variable and the independent variables as causal. Third, it would have been of interest to understand the duration of participation in employment for high school leavers with autism and present employment status. However, it was not possible to calculate the employment duration for each high school leaver who had participated in employment since leaving high school and to define present employment status using the NLTS2 data. Fourth, it would have been of interest to investigate the factors associated with participation in full-time jobs (i.e., working more than 35 h per week) and part-time jobs (i.e., working <35 h per week) separately. However, the sample size for participation in full-time jobs was too small in the data used in this study so we were not able to perform this analysis. Fifth, it would be important to differentiate the role of various factors that are associated with participation in employment for high school leavers with Asperger syndrome relative to those with autistic disorder. However, there is no information about individuals with a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome in the NLTS2 data. Finally, it would have been of interest to include more transition planning services variables in this study. However, there were too much missing data on the transition planning services variables that were not included in this study.

Conclusion and Recommendations

This study employed a nationally representative data set to identify the factors significantly associated with participation in employment for high school leavers with autism and found that family social status, student characteristics, and high school transition planning services were the significant factors.

In order to promote participation in employment for high school leavers with autism, we want to offer some suggestions. First, educators and other professionals who work with students with autism should devote more effort and provide more resources to students with autism from low income families and whose parents have low educational level. Second, effective social skills interventions should be made available to students with autism and the target skills of these interventions should be those that students with autism can apply at job interviews or in job settings. Third, gender differences in students with autism should be considered when developing transition plans for these students. Fourth, having intellectual disability does decrease the odds of participation in employment for high school leavers with autism. However, some high school leavers with autism and intellectual disability were able to participate in employment. Thus, these students should not be left out of vocational training programs and more job finding and job placement support should be provided to these students. Fifth, career counseling services should be available to all high school students with autism and they should be encouraged to use these services. Finally, in addition to contacting postsecondary vocational training programs or potential employers, schools should provide other services (e.g., career-related work experience, job finding, job placement) to assist high school students with autism in participating in employment after leaving high school.

Acknowledgments

This study was sponsored by Organization for Autism Research through funding from the Lisa Higgins-Hussman Foundation.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012