Drexel Receives $3.5 Million for Programs for Autistic Young Adults

Drexel University has announced an anonymous gift of $3.5 million to develop demonstration programs at the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute aimed at preventing autistic young adults from falling through the cracks after high school.

Transition Pathways, as the programs will be called, are designed to help high school seniors and recent graduates with autism after they after they fall off the "services cliff," a term used to describe what happens when a person age ages out of high school support programs. According to the National Autism Indicators Report, which was produced last year by the Life Course Outcomes Research Program at the institute under the direction of Paul Shattuck, only 36 percent of young adults diagnosed with autism ever attend college or vocational-technical schools, while only 58 percent ever have a paying job.

Transition Pathways will draw on the latest thinking about evidence-based practices and state and national models for integrating services, training, research, and policy. The Work Pathway will provide internship opportunities leading to competitive employment, while the College Pathway will add opportunities for program participants to audit Drexel courses. Core components of both pathways include training in social and self-help skills and potential participation in the university’s trademark co-op system. In addition, both programs will be time-limited, providing intense support over a period of two years to help young adults maximize their potential for independence thereafter.

Slated to begin in September under the direction of Peter Doehring, associate research professor at the institute, the initiative will involve up to sixteen participants during the first year, mostly seniors set to graduate from Philadelphia-area school in the spring of 2017.

"For years, my work has documented the bleak prospects of autistic young people after they leave high school. A major priority when I brought my research to Drexel two years ago was to begin building an evidence base about how we can promote better outcomes," Shattuck said. "Dr. Doehring is a renowned thinker and leader in the realm of autism services, and he brings a wealth of experience to this work and is the perfect person to move things forward."