Online Degrees Blog Autism and Employment

Autism and Employment

05 August
Smiling grocery store clerk

By Leslie Ann Bross, Special Education PhD Candidate at the University of Kansas

Approximately 50,000 transition-age youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) turn 18 each year and exit the K-12 school system.1 These individuals will seek to participate in a variety of adult outcomes, such as joining the workforce, pursuing postsecondary education and living independently. Professionals can better serve transition-age youth with ASD by understanding some of the challenges they commonly face in the transition to adulthood.

For example, individuals with ASD experience a variety of barriers to obtaining competitive integrated employment. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity act (WIOA) defines competitive integrated employment as full- or part-time work at minimum wage or higher, with wages and benefits similar to individuals performing the same work, and fully integrated with co-workers without disabilities (34 CFR §361.5(c)(9)(ii) and 361.5(c)(32)(ii)).

The WIOA emphasizes competitive integrated employment because of the benefits associated with it, such as increased community participation, economic self-sufficiency and potential for job advancement. Unfortunately, individuals with ASD are underemployed and unemployed at higher rates compared to individuals without disabilities.2 3 This is concerning because individuals with ASD can contribute to their local communities when participating in meaningful work. In addition, individuals with ASD can have highly specialized interests and strengths that can lead to successful jobs and careers.

The University of Kansas Department of Special Education offers an online master’s program in ASD * taught by faculty with expertise in evidence-based practices and improving life outcomes, such as competitive integrated employment for individuals with ASD. Other life outcomes targeted included increasing community participation, forming positive relationships with others and living as independently as possible.

Individuals with ASD have unique needs during the transition to adulthood. Professionals who desire to work with transition-age youth with ASD should consider graduate programs within the University of Kansas School of Education and Human Sciences.

*Master of Science in Education (M.S.E.) in special education with an emphasis in autism spectrum disorder (ASD)


1. Roux, A. M., Rast, J. E., Anderson, K. A. & Shattuck, P. T. (2017) National Autism Indicators Report: Developmental Disability Services and Outcomes in Adulthood. Philadelphia, PA: Life Course Outcomes Program, A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, Drexel University.
2. Newman, L., Wagner, M., Knokey, A. M., Marder, C., Nagle, K., Shaver, D., & Wei, X. (2011). The Post-High School Outcomes of Young Adults with Disabilities up to 8 Years after High School: A Report from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2). NCSER 2011-3005. National Center for Special Education Research.
3. Shattuck, P. T., Narendorf, S. C., Cooper, B., Sterzing, P. R., Wagner, M., & Taylor, J. L. (2012). Postsecondary education and employment among youth with an autism spectrum disorder. Pediatrics, 129, 1042-1049. doi:10.1542/peds.2011-2864