Less than a third of adults with autism have regular employment. There is a range of statistics regarding the exact rate (here and here and here), but whether the unemployment rate is 68% or 93%, it seems that many people who could potentially work are not working.
There are a lot more kids with an autism diagnosis than adults (because we recognize and diagnose it more now than we did 15 years ago), and many of these kids receive some kind of special services in school and/or in the community. However, most of those services end after high school.
As a society, we should want kids to be able to work, so that our tax dollars do not have to pay for them in the form of unemployment, prison, and institutional support.
The issue is: We don’t actually know how to help people become employable. We have some ideas, but we have a pitiful amount of research in this area.
The largest support program for helping people with autism find work is Vocational Rehabilitation Services (usually known as VR). It is federally funded, and operated on a state level. In 2006, 3,397 people with autism were served by VR.
According to Autism Speaks, 500,000 kids with autism will become adults in the next decade.
Currently, it costs VR about $30,ooo per year to support a person with autism at work. For every dollar a person with autism makes in this program, it costs VR about $25. This study says more.
It doesn’t seem like we can afford to support 500,000 more people in this way.
What can we do? Here are a few resources from others:
A good collection of stats and ideas from Scott Standifer