Study to look at autism in adults

Tori Haar, who has autism, will be a guest speaker at the Victorian Autism Conference at Melbourne's Etihad Stadium.

Tori Haar, who has autism, will be a guest speaker at the Victorian Autism Conference at Melbourne's Etihad Stadium. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

A major study is seeking to fill the staggering gap in research into school leavers and adults with autism, as recent data reveals labour participation for people with autism is much lower than for people with disabilities. 

The Cooperative Research Centre for Living with Autism Spectrum Disorders (Autism CRC) is looking at research programs into adult autism to provide a comprehensive profile of school leavers with autism spectrum disorder as they move to higher education and vocational training.

The study will track the physical and mental health, wellbeing, life roles, time use, satisfaction, employment, community access and participation of adults over three to four years. 

Autism CRC is conducting a comprehensive study of autism focusing on diagnosis, education and adulthood. 

Just 1 per cent of research into autism is focused on post-school outcomes despite estimates that there are from 2500 to 3000 school leavers in Australia with autism. 

Recent Bureau of Statistics data indicates the labour force participation rate for people with autism is just 42 per cent – less than the 53 per cent participation rate for people with disabilities and 83 per cent for people without disabilities. 

Males are four times more likely than females to have the condition.

Curtin University's Torbjorn Falkmer is leading one of Autism CRC's adulthood research projects looking at ways to assist teenagers and adults with ASD in vocational decision making and how to improve employment outcomes for people with autism. 

"There's a good rationale to support people with autism,'' Professor Falkmer said. ''It's pretty stupid not to employ people with autism because their attention to detail, their accuracy and the precision and very small absenteeism are attributes that any employer would like to have.'' 

PhD candidates with Autism CRC, Megan Hatfield and Melissa Scott, are looking at developing tools to assist high school students plan post-school pathways as well as ways of investigating how workplaces can adapt to help adults with autism stay in employment. 

Canberra's Tori Haar knows just how important it is for adults with autism to be supported through higher education and finding employment.

"I moved to Canberra about 18 months ago from Adelaide where I did my degree in psychology and arts, and I moved here to do a graduate program and I'm engaged and getting married next year," she said. 

The 26-year-old has autism and will share her story at the Victorian Autism Conference in Melbourne next month. 

"I think it's important to try and help educate the community about what it's like from the perspective of an adult and that early intervention is a really important thing," she said.

Ms Haar said she believed adults with autism could provide a unique perspective on the condition.

"I'm not saying it's more valid than the professionals or the parents but I think that finding answers for things, you're much more likely to get a strong positive outcome if you have all the different pieces of the puzzle together and all these different perspectives working together to find the best possible solution.'' 

She said although autism had its challenges, there were benefits such as her great long-term memory, attention to detail and her ability to focus. 

Ms Haar said it was crucial that support was available to people with autism. 

"You want people to be able to be as connected and involved in the community and, if they're capable of it, being able to work and live independently," she said.

"There are probably lots of little things that can be done that will help people on that journey in terms of them having people around them to provide support to ask questions of, who are willing to give them constructive feedback about what might be a better way to go about something." 

The Victorian Autism Conference will take place in Melbourne from August 6 to 8.