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Helping Adults with Autism Find Work

MU professor’s report provides new information about adult autism to career service providers

October 14th, 2009

Story Contact: Christian Basi, 573-882-4430,

COLUMBIA, Mo. – According to the Autism Society of America, Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is the fastest growing developmental disability, with a 10 to 17 percent increase in the number of cases each year — primarily among children. As these children with ASD become adults, they will face many challenges, including finding a job. A new guide from the University of Missouri will minimize this challenge by giving employment service professionals new information about helping adults with autism find jobs.

Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies are state-run employment programs to help people with disabilities achieve meaningful careers and independent living. Vocational rehabilitation counselors provide services such as education, training, and job search support to help people with disabilities reach these goals. A few years ago, MU researcher Scott Standifer noticed a significant lack of information for counselors working with adults with autism. In an effort to give counselors the tools they need, Standifer wrote “Adult Autism and Employment: A Guide for Vocational Rehabilitation Professionals.”

“Until now, there hasn’t been a resource available to employment service providers that is specific to autism and provides recommendations to help with the features of this growing population,” said Standifer, clinical associate professor in the School of Health Professions. “The majority of the research and literature on ASD is focused on children in homes and classrooms, and that just isn’t the same thing. This guide provides specific advice on a variety of employment issues for adults with ASD and, ultimately, helps the counselors find jobs for their clients.”

Standifer identified two major problems with the information that was available prior to his book. First, most of the information for employment services professionals generalizes concerning a few characteristics of autism and does not recognize the high variability that exists among adults with ASD. Second, the information does not address problems with the standard procedures of employment service professionals.

Standifer found that one vocational rehabilitation agency experienced a 90 percent dropout rate during the preliminary enrollment process for clients with autism. He said that most of the dropout was likely due to the fact that enrollment and assessment practices can be disturbing and physically uncomfortable for adults with autism. Standifer’s report addresses both of these issues and highlights the best ways to help adults with autism in job placement and community integration.

While researching the guide, Standifer contacted James Emmett, who has 10 years of experience helping businesses recruit and support employees with autism. Emmett’s insights gave Standifer a wealth of previously unpublished “real world” information upon which much of the guide is based.

The guide was published by the Disability Policy and Studies unit in the MU School of Health Professions and was funded by Rehabilitation Services Administration. The report can be downloaded free on the Autism Works page of the Disability Policy and Studies website: