Australian study finds autistic teens feel isolated

CC BY-SA by Sander van der Wel

Autism Daily Newscast report earlier this month on a study published by Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) that found teens with autism are struggling to cope with school work, bullying, and mental health issues.  The last article focused on the challenges within the school system. This article looks at the broader issues of the study.

The study called “We Belong Too: the experiences, needs, and service requirements of adolescents with autism spectrum disorder” is a follow-up to the 2011 “We Belong” study of adults with autism in Australia.

Dr. Debra Costly, Director of Aspect Practice explains,

“Our 2011 survey told us adolescence was defined by interrupted school pathways, relentless bullying and discrimination, and unmet education needs, which meant most adults were highly unlikely to find employment. Australia will lose out if our next generation of young people has the same trouble entering the workforce, and indicators from this 2013 We Belong Too report are not promising.”

The recent survey included 100 adolescents with high-functioning autism and 65 parents across Australia between November 2012 and June 2013. The results showed that 74%, or 3 out of 4 students have difficulty paying attention and concentrating in class. Three out of four parents interviewed (74%) felt that their children needed more support to cope with bullying at school.

Many of the teens with autism reported feeling lonely (73%) and needing help to cope with stress (66%). Half of the students with autism expressed a desire to participate in hobby or sports groups, but felt that their existing options were not friendly to their needs. Most of the adolescents surveyed were optimistic about their futures, but their parents were not, citing uncoordinated, unaffordable support services that are unsuitable for preparing adolescents with ASD for independent living.

Mitchell Sawan, 14, is one of the teens who was surveyed for the project. When asked if he’s been bullied, he said no, but his mother. Najwah, sees it differently. She says,

“So Mitchell says that he’s never been bullied, but I’ve sort of had situations that I know he has. Maybe I would call it bullying, which is nice to know that he doesn’t think that it is bullying.”

Mitchell also expressed a desire to purchase a Ferrari one day, after he gets a job at Donut King or McDonald’s. His mother was not as optimistic.

Adrian Ford, CEO of Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect), says,

“Over the last 15 years there has been a growing number of people with autism. The prevalence among children and young people is now one in 100. This means there are an estimated 230,000 people with autism in Australia.

There is a huge international research effort going into the causes of autism. This is vitally important work. However, there is nowhere near the same effort being put into the best possible services and practices that will help the 230,000 people with autism living in Australia right now!

Aspect has established itself as a leading service provider with a strong research and evaluation capability – a unique combination – and one that is just right if we are to make a difference right now for people with ASD and their families.”