Posted on May 30, 2013

Young adults with autism want to make friends, date, and enjoy the same experiences as other young adults; however, young people with autism often spend their free time sitting at home.

A recent study looked at the social interactions of young adults who received special education services. The findings revealed that those on the autism spectrum had the greatest difficulty transitioning to a social life out of school.

The National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 is a long-term, federally funded survey of students in special education. Researchers from Washington University used data collected through the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 to examine social interaction in former special education students who had recently completed high school.  Participants were divided into four disability groups:

  1. Autism spectrum disabilities
  2. Intellectual disabilities
  3. Emotional disturbances
  4. Learning disabilities


The research team found that many students who received special education services struggled socially as adults; however, those on the autism spectrum were significantly more likely to suffer social difficulties. Almost 40 percent of those diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders never saw friends, 50 percent did not receive phone calls, and 28 percent had no form of social contact at all.

In contrast, fewer than 10 percent of individuals with intellectual disability and less than three percent of people with emotional disturbance were considered socially isolated.

This is disturbing. Social difficulty is a symptom of autism, and many children are provided with social training as part of their special education. Many young adults with autism spectrum disorders are intellectually capable of continuing their education or holding a job. Without positive social interaction and feedback, these young adults may lose the social skills and coping mechanisms they learned in school. It may be that students need better preparation for the transition to adult life.

The study was published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

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Sean D. Cuddigan
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska