Autism Transition to Adulthood Initiative Begins

What helps high school students with autism succeed after high school? A study funded by an ILR alumnae is focused on finding the answers.
(L to R): Lisa Shaw, K. Lisa Yang ’74, and Hassan Enayati pose together outside the Yang-Tan Institute on the Cornell campus.
Friday, January 24, 2020

The Yang-Tan Institute has secured a $646,000 gift from one of its benefactors – K. Lisa Yang ’74 – to launch the Autism Transition to Adulthood Initiative (ATTAIN) aimed at identifying how students can achieve success after high school. 

The three-year project began on Jan. 1 and will create the first nationally-representative longitudinal database for policy-focused research exclusively focused on transition-aged youth with autism, according to Thomas Golden, executive director of the institute. 

“It will enable Cornell to identify and contribute new knowledge regarding the predictors of adult success for this population of youth,” he said.

Hassan Enayati will lead ATTAIN with a team of Yang-Tan researchers, including quantitative psychologist Leslie Shaw. The project will leverage NYS PROMISE data collected by the institute during a six-year intervention study of youth with disabilities receiving Supplemental Security Income that examined the effect of transition services on employment and schooling outcomes. The new initiative will test predictors of successful transition for youth with autism. 

“This innovation will not only build a community of autism researchers stemming from Cornell, but will also create an invaluable source of information to better inform policies and improve the lives of individuals with autism,” Enayati said. 

Youth with autism spectrum disorder face obstacles, including limited job opportunities and complex adult service systems, as they transition from high school to early adulthood, and the combination of disability and poverty produces a sharp double jeopardy for youth during this time, Enayati said. ATTAIN, which will initially focus on the at-risk population of youth with autism who are living in poverty, aims to understand what can be done to best prepare students with autism for success after leaving high school.

To help better understand and combat the issue, the Autism Transition to Adulthood Initiative will have three phases. In the first year of the grant, Enayati said the team will do a “deep-dive” into NYS PROMISE data to analyze how youth with autism transition from high school to either post-secondary school or the workforce. The second year will focus on a follow-up survey of NYS PROMISE participants. In the third year, a survey will help the team assess whether NYS PROMISE data reflects national trends.

Enayati said “a key component of each phase will be knowledge translation and dissemination. We will develop and implement a plan that shares our findings with relevant stakeholders. Each year, we plan to put out an academic paper and a policy brief so state lawmakers have yearly updates, as well as tools for practitioners and annual webinars. 

“All of this is a deliberate attempt to elevate the awareness of the challenges youth with autism face as they leave high school and to increase the reach and impact of the findings from this study.”