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There are more special needs adults unemployed than there are employed. According to some estimates, by 2030, there will be half a million teens with autism alone transitioning from high school into the workforce. How will these new adults find work? How will they make enough money to live independently? The good news is employers and laws are changing for the better!

Laws are Changing across the Country

Before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed, special needs adults had little resources to assist them in finding work. Just being in a wheelchair locked most adults out of the workforce before the ADA mandated that work spaces had to be wheelchair accessible.

With the growing number of adults living with autism beginning to enter the workforce, state and federal laws are finally catching up. They are attempting to stop the problem at the root – the transition from school to work.

In fact, the Labor Department has been devising strategies since the ADA was updated in 2014 to encourage states to do more to prepare special needs students for life after high school. In addition, research is providing new methods for ensuring that special needs adults can function well in the workforce.

Research is Overcoming Parental and Employer Fears

Autism is one of the leading disabilities afflicting special needs adults entering the workforce. The number of people diagnosed with autism has “more than doubled” over the last decade and a half. Parents of those children who are now becoming adults have feared allowing their adult special needs children to enter the workforce because of the challenges it presents.

Sufferers of autism can be triggered by many environmental factors including noise levels, motion, activity, and many are unable to or have a hard time communicating. Employers fear that the efforts it would take to accommodate someone with special needs will far outweigh the benefits. New research is changing attitudes all around.

According to research conducted by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR), regardless of disability, once adults reach working age, they want to work and even expect to work. What researchers are discovering is that it is the agencies and families themselves that are limiting the expectations for how much special needs adults can do.

Job Placement Agencies for Special Needs Adults Must Do Better

Initial research is revealing that the system itself is the culprit when trying to place special needs adults into “integrated” jobs (jobs that are not facility-based). Moreover, the guidelines and resources provided by these agencies are often confusing or unhelpful. The staff at these agencies also feel overwhelmed when trying to match job seekers with employers.

The NIDILRR has developed a research and training program aimed at “advancing employment for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.” There are four ongoing research projects that coordinate their research with a select group of 100 families who will be the test cases for strategies that are developed based on results.

While in-facility jobs have gone down by nearly 15% over the last several years, integration within the general workforce has remained the same, leaving more special needs adult unemployed with even more becoming working age adults. Job placement agencies working with the disabled will need to use the tools and models developed from these research efforts in order to better serve the special needs population and the community as a whole.