METHODS: The papers in this symposium all use data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2 (NLTS2) – a ten-year, five-wave study of youth enrolled in special education at baseline. The NLTS2 sampling plan was designed to produce a nationally representative sample that would generalize to all special education students in 7th through 12th grade who were ages 13 through 16 on December 1, 2000. The baseline sample included 920 students enrolled under the autism enrollment category.
In addition to being a medical diagnostic category, “autism” is one of several categories used for eligibility determination and tracking enrollment in special education. Schools do not necessarily make these classification decisions using standardized clinical guidelines. However, we know from public health surveillance research that the vast majority of students enrolled in the school autism category also meet DSM-IV criteria for having an autism spectrum disorder.
Papers in this symposium are based on data from wave 1 (2001) when the youth were still in high school and wave 4 (2007) when about two-thirds had exited high school and were ages 19 to 23. At wave 4, 74% of wave 1 participants were still enrolled. All analyses are weighted population estimates with variances that have been corrected given the complex sampling design.
CONCLUSION: Narendorf's findings highlight the continuities of medication use among youth with autism and the importance of connections with supportive services that facilitate access to medications after high school. Sterzing's paper finds youth with autism are at high risk for bullying and other forms of peer victimization. Shattuck's paper reports on the high rates of unemployment and postsecondary educational involvement after high school, and large disparities by socioeconomic status. Together, these papers mark an important step towards filling large gaps in our knowledge of contexts, service needs, and development for this population. These findings begin to lay a foundation of nationally representative evidence that can inform policy and practice for this growing population.