Congress’ investigative arm is calling on federal officials to consider earlier transition planning and to take other steps to meet the needs of youth with autism entering adulthood.

In a wide-ranging report released this month, the Government Accountability Office said that federal agencies can do more to improve outcomes for those on the spectrum who the agency said often fare poorer than individuals with other types of disabilities in the transition to work and postsecondary education.

Specifically, GAO is calling on the U.S. Department of Education to examine the implications of mandating that schools start planning for transition sooner.

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Currently, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires schools to provide transition services to students with disabilities starting at age 16, though schools can choose to offer such services earlier.

“School officials, advocates and others report that earlier transition planning — with age 14 commonly cited — can have multiple benefits such as allowing more time to obtain important work and academic experiences,” the report indicated.

Many schools already opt to begin transition planning earlier than IDEA requires, but GAO found in a nationwide survey that about 32 percent of school districts wait until students are older than 14.

Nonetheless, investigators found that the Education Department has not funded any research looking at when is the right time to start transition planning.

In a response to GAO’s recommendation, Ruth Ryder at the Education Department did not make any commitments, but noted that “nothing in IDEA precludes schools or local educational agencies from providing transition planning or transition services to children under age 16.”

Separately, GAO is also urging the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, a federal advisory panel comprised of government officials and members of the autism community, to collaborate with additional agencies to address the needs of transition-age individuals with autism.

In particular, GAO indicated that the Departments of Labor and Housing and Urban Development provide important assistance to young adults with autism, but have not been included in the IACC or its work groups.