Harvard Mental Health Letter

In Brief: After high school, youths with autism spectrum disorders lose access to services

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) describes five pervasive developmental disorders: autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, Asperger's disorder, Rett's disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified. Although they differ in some specifics, these disorders share three core features: impaired social interactions, difficulty in communicating with others, and repetitive or inflexible behavior. As such, they are generally referred to collectively as autism spectrum disorders.

Little research exists about how adolescents with autism spectrum disorders fare once they reach adulthood. Now a study that followed such youths for 10 years, assessing use of supportive services, provides some discouraging news. Once youths with autism spectrum disorders graduate from high school, many of them lose access to services designed to improve their communication skills and ability to socialize (see graph).

graph showing access to services for youths with autism spectrum disorders

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis followed more than 400 youths with autism spectrum disorders for 10 years, assessing use of services at two intervals: during high school (average age 16) and after graduation (average age 22). They found a sharp drop-off in service use in adulthood.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »