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Research finds the key to young people with autism thriving after school

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Parents of young people on the autism spectrum believe their children’s unique skills will help them achieve their full potential if workplaces are flexible and modified to suit their individual needs, new research led by the Curtin University Autism Research Group has found.

The research, published today in PLOS One and supported by Australia’s Autism Cooperative Research Centre, examined the experiences of parents of young people on the autism spectrum in relation to their child’s transition to adulthood.

Lead author Mr Craig Thompson, from the School of Occupational Therapy, Social Work and Speech Pathology at Curtin University, said finishing school was a challenging time for all adolescents and their families, but even more so for families living with autism.

“The number of people living with this lifelong condition is increasing with an estimated 230,000 Australians currently affected and 75 per cent of people diagnosed with autism being 19 years of age or younger,” Mr Thompson said.

“We know that young people on the autism spectrum are ambitious and aspirational, but they commonly experience major challenges including unemployment, low participation in higher education and low rates of independent living as they transition into adulthood.”

Mr Thompson said the research found parents continue to provide a major source of support for young people with autism but they need additional support to ensure their children achieve their full potential into adulthood.

“Through this research, parents told us that workplaces need to be flexible, predictable and supportive to the individual needs of each young person on the autism spectrum to ensure their unique skills are fully harnessed,” Mr Thompson said.

“This shows that we need to recognise that no two young people with autism are the same and we need to focus on their strengths to maximise their participation in higher education, employment and independent living.”

Mr Thompson said future research should examine how environmental factors in education settings and workplaces can be modified to help ensure the success of talented young people with autism.

The research involved focus groups with parents of young people with autism, aged 18 to 26 years, from the Perth metropolitan area.

The research, which was also conducted by Professor Sven Bolte, from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, Professor Torbjorn Falkmer and Professor Sonya Girdler, both from Curtin University, can be viewed here:

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