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Calls to Action

Career and technical education for individuals with autism

January 04, 2016

All students deserve educational opportunities that best prepare them for the next step in life after secondary school, whether it is higher education or a career. For many Americans, employment is a critical component for most adults to build full and productive lives. With some 50,000 people with autism entering adulthood each year in the United States, access to employment opportunities and pre-employment or transition programs, like career and technical education (CTE), are critical.

Individuals with autism deserve equal opportunity to contribute as productive workers in the labor market, pay taxes, and live independently. A recent national survey indicates that Americans with disabilities are ready and able to contribute their talents to the workforce.

According to a 2015 report, upon graduation, half of youth on the autism spectrum were disconnected from work. Furthermore, the employment rates of adults with autism are far lower than young adults with other types of disabilities- only 58 percent of young adults with autism worked after high school.

Low employment rates may reflect the lack of career guidance, pre-employment services, vocational or job training, and support services that could better serve students with autism transitioning from secondary school to employment or further learning opportunities. School career and guidance counselors, special education and general education teachers, parents, and students must be aware of what opportunities and transition services, mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), are needed to better prepare for life after high school.

The IDEA mandates that schools identify the skills, experiences and services that students need to transition from school to work. This could include career and technical education programs and work-based or project-based learning. Earlier career exploration and involvement in pre-employment services and training can help students with autism develop skills that match with labor market demands and lead to successful employment outcomes.

Transitioning youth with disabilities into the labor force early is a key determinant for successful employment. An abundance of research over the last three decades confirms that- youth with disabilities who have work experiences during their secondary school years are more likely to be successfully employed. These work experiences while in secondary school increases motivation to work toward a career and provides greater understanding of the skills needed to succeed at job tasks. The opportunities also provide young people with a better understanding of career options and disabilities related work accommodation strategies. In addition, work experiences can demonstrate to employers and community members the value that individuals with disabilities can bring to the workforce.

Under the IDEA, transition services must be based on the individual student’s needs, taking into account the student’s strengths, preferences, and interests. For students with disabilities interested in learning a trade or a skill matched with local or regional labor market demands, participation in CTE programs, including the provision of any needed assistive technology or support services, could be a part of the students’ transition services. The student’s IEP Team should ensure that the student is appropriately placed in a CTE program that integrates academic learning with CTE. The earlier the discovery of career or post-secondary interests of the student, the better, in order to organize results driven transition goals in the IEP.

Click here for Autism Speaks’ Transition Toolkit.