We Belong Too
Teenagers on the spectrum struggle with education, bullying and stress
Parents lack confidence that educators are well-informed about autism
A startling new research report into 12-17 year old adolescents on the autism spectrum reveals many are struggling with bullying, mental health issues, and the challenges of schooling. Less than half report having good friends; and despite the young people themselves being optimistic about their future, their parents aren’t so confident.
The “We Belong Too: the experiences, needs and service requirements of adolescents on the autism spectrum" report is published by Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect), Australia’s largest not-for-profit provider of autism-specific services. It is the first time adolescents on the autism spectrum have been directly surveyed in a study of this scale, along with parents, to create a statistically sound profile of the life experiences, aspirations and future support needs of this growing group of young Australians on the spectrum.
The Australian-first research builds on the Aspect We Belong study in 2011 into adults on the autism spectrum. “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,” said the newly appointed Director of Aspect Practice, Dr Debra Costley.
“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,” she said.
The report shows 65% of parents do not believe educators are well informed about autism. With 3 in 4 teens on the spectrum (74%) reporting difficulty paying attention and concentrating in class, a new generation of students hoping to enter the workforce within a few years are potentially at a significant disadvantage.
Key findings of the report (which surveyed 100 adolescents on the spectrum, and 65 parents, across Australia between November 2012 and June 2013) include:
- Lost in class: 3 in 4 teens on the autism spectrum (74%) have difficulty paying attention and concentrating in class.
- Bullying and discrimination: 3 in 4 parents (74%) report their child needs more support to cope with bullying. Students on the autism spectrum are known to be at a higher risk of bullying than students in the general population (Cappadocia, Weiss & Pepler, 2012; Hebron & Humphrey, 2013).
- Lonely and anxious: The study confirmed a high prevalence of mental health issues in adolescents on the spectrum, with 66% needing help coping with stress, and 73% feeling lonely.
Demand for more autism-friendly sport & hobby groups: 1 in 2 teens on the spectrum (57%) belong or would like to belong to a hobby or sports group, raising questions as to whether local groups are ready and able to include more autism-friendly approaches.
- Future hopes: even though the majority of adolescents surveyed were optimistic about their future, their parents were not so confident – pointing to uncoordinated, unaffordable support services that are unsuitable for preparing adolescents on the spectrum for independent living.
The Australian National University Human Ethics Committee approved the national study (Protocol Number 2012/436), which employed both qualitative and quantitative methods to survey 65 parents and 100 adolescents diagnosed as being on the higher functioning end of the spectrum.
This report is the first for the newly launched Aspect Practice – Aspect’s national program, which will share its evidence-informed practice and applied research with individuals, families, carers, schools, organisations, professionals and government agencies around Australia.
Adrian Ford CEO of Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) said: “Over the last 15 years there has been a growing number of people on the autism spectrum. The prevalence among children and young people is now one in 100. This means there are an estimated 230,000 people on the spectrum 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 on the autism spectrum 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 on the spectrum and their families.”