Young adults with autism are often left out socially, with new research finding they are less likely to receive phone calls and invites from friends than even those with other types of developmental disabilities.

In a study looking at the experiences of young people who received special education services, researchers found that those on the spectrum are facing a particularly rocky transition to adulthood socially.

Nearly 40 percent of young adults with autism never saw friends and half were not receiving any phone calls or being invited to activities, according to research published recently in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. Strikingly, researchers said that 28 percent had no social contact at all.

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The findings are based on data collected through the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2, a long-term federally-funded survey of students in special education and their parents. Researchers looked at responses to questions about social engagement within the previous year collected from individuals who had already completed high school. They compared the experiences of young adults with autism to those with intellectual disability, emotional disturbance and learning disabilities.

The social struggles of young people with autism were far more pronounced than those of other disability groups, the study found. While almost one-third of those with autism qualified as socially isolated because they never received telephone calls or went out with friends, fewer than 10 percent of individuals with intellectual disability and only 2 to 3 percent of people with emotional disturbance or learning disabilities fell into this category.

“Difficulty navigating the terrain of friendships and social interaction is a hallmark feature of autism,” said Paul Shattuck of Washington University who worked on the study. “Nonetheless, many people with autism do indeed have a social appetite. They yearn for connection with others. We need better ways of supporting positive social connection and of preventing social isolation.”

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