OBJECTIVE: To describe social participation and identify factors that affect it in a nationally representative sample of adolescents and young adults with autism.
METHODS: Longitudinal cohort study using data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2. The World Health Organization International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health model was used with participation as the dependent category.
RESULTS: A nationally representative sample of 725 youth with autism representing a weighted sample of 21,010 individuals was followed up for 4 years. The mean age at first interview was 15.4 years and 19.2 years at follow-up. More than half the youth at follow-up had not gotten together with friends in the previous year and 64% had not talked on the phone with a friend. Being employed or in secondary education was associated with the following factors (odds ratios): problems conversing (0.67), being teased (0.17), mental retardation (0.06), being above the poverty level (4.17), not using prescription medicine (4.11), general health status (2.30), and parental involvement with school (1.69) (all p < .001).
CONCLUSIONS: Many adolescents and young adults with autism become increasingly isolated. Although each aspect of social participation had its own distinct pattern of factors related to it, the ability to communicate effectively, less severe autism, coming from an environment that was not impoverished and having parents who advocated were associated with more positive outcomes. These data provide insights into the factors that affect the participation of youth with autism during their transition years and should ultimately lead to interventions that could improve those transitions.