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).

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