Transition is proving especially difficult for those with autism as compared to other disabilities, with most on the spectrum struggling to move into the workforce or additional schooling.

Research published Monday indicates that in the first two years after high school more than half of those with autism did not work or attend school, a lower rate of participation than any other disability group studied. The situation improved somewhat with time, yet more than six years after leaving high school some 35 percent of those with autism still had no work or further education.

The findings suggest that current transition planning for young people with autism is inadequate, researchers said in the study published in the journal Pediatrics. What’s more, they say the struggles facing those with autism are particularly troubling given the growing number of children with the disorder.

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“Many families with children with autism describe turning 18 as falling off a cliff because of the lack of services for adults with ASDs,” said Paul Shattuck of Washington University in St. Louis who led the study. “The years immediately after high school are key. They are the time when people create an important foundation for the rest of their lives.”

For the study, Shattuck and his colleagues looked at survey responses from the parents of nearly 2,000 special education students who were interviewed as part of a study funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The data included 500 students with autism, while others surveyed were affected by speech-language impairment, learning disabilities or intellectual disability.

Though overall young adults with autism were struggling, researchers found that some factors gave individuals better odds of success. Those from higher earning families were more likely to be participating in school or paid work. But such activities were less common among black and Hispanic individuals even when researchers controlled for the severity of the person’s disability.

Those behind the study say their findings suggest that better transition planning is needed.

“There needs to be further research into services for young adults with ASDs to help them make the transition into adulthood and employment or further education,” Shattuck said.