Are People with Autism at a Higher Risk for Homelessness?

Over 40% of America’s homeless population are people with disabilities, according to a 2008 annual report on homelessness from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The research found that 42.8% of adults using homeless shelters had a disability, compared to 37.1% in 2007. According to the report, this increase was “unusually large for a single-year change.”

The report also showed that 17.7% of the general population has a disability, leading to the conclusion that a significantly larger percentage of individuals with disabilities are homeless as compared to the rest of the population.

A more recent study published by Crisis (the UK national charity for single homeless people) in 2012 found that unemployment was the leading cause of homelessness in the United Kingdom. While this study did not directly link homelessness with autism, research by the National Autistic Society shows that 15% of people with autism have full-time jobs, compared to 57% of non-disabled individuals. If unemployment leads to homelessness, then it follows that those who are more likely to be unemployed are also more likely to be homeless.

A 2010 study of “entrenched sleepers” by Professor Colin Pritchard at Bournemouth University found that 9 out of the 14 entrenched rough sleepers in his sample “could be categorised along the adult autistic spectrum,” and 7 of the 14 had been formally diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

Rough sleeping is a term that refers to individuals living in temporary or licensed accommodations without tenancy agreements. Some live in shelters, while others “sofa-surf” between the homes of friends and relatives. Research has shown that entrenched rough sleepers typically do not respond to the usually types of support offered to homeless people. While the sample size for this study was small, the significantly high rate of individuals with autism suggests that homeless individuals who are “entrenched sleepers” are at a higher risk of being on the autism spectrum.

Why are individuals with autism more likely to be unemployed, and therefore also more likely to become homeless?

Autism is a neurological disorder that is characterized by difficulty with communication and social interaction. The severity of the disorder ranges from mild to severe, but even individuals on the milder end of the spectrum suffer from difficulties reading and using social cues, which can affect one’s ability to obtain and maintain employment.

Also, Since many “high functioning” individuals with autism test in the normal IQ range, they are less likely to qualify for social programs designed to support individuals with disabilities. Many of these individuals may be able to find jobs and homes with appropriate guidance and support, as evidenced by Pritchard’s study, where 5 of the 7 subjects diagnosed with ASD were able to find indoor accommodations.

With the rate of autism rising worldwide, it is clear that the problem will only get bigger in the future. Without the proper supports, many people will fall through the cracks into an uncertain future.

***We would like to credit Rowan Hotham-Gough for statistics and research in this article. You can find her original post here***