Autism research tends to focus on the causes of this developmental disorder, and on early interventions for children affected by it. Philadelphia's  A.J. Drexel Autism Institute is now making an effort to better understand how to help adults with autism.

 

Experts estimate that 50,000 people with autism turn 18 every year. Many of them are having a very hard time finding employment, college or housing opportunities after high school.

Researcher Paul Shattuck, who has focused his career on adults with autism, has just joined the Drexel institute to further advance the knowledge base and science in this area. Young adults with autism have worse outcomes than peers with other disabilities, for example, when it comes to something called "total disengagement," he said.

"That is the percentage of people who up until their mid-20s, never had a job since high school, never had any kind of college, never had any kind of vocational or job training," Shattuck said. "For the young people with autism that rate is about 33 percent, it's very high."

This focus on adults on the autism spectrum has a lot of support from a group of very energetic parents on the forefront of autism advocacy, he said.

"This is the group of parents that put autism on the map, as a political and research topic," he said. "Their kids are now in their late teens, and early 20s, and they are now turning their formidable energy and talents toward figuring out how to improve services for young adults with autism."

Shattuck said efforts are under way to improve employment opportunities and housing options. Part of his job will be to examine them, look at those emerging models and ask if they work.