Autistic Adolescents Often Envision a Different Future for Themselves Than Their Parents

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The analysis pooled data from 3 studies that recruited adolescents with autism and their parents. All participants underwent semi-structured qualitative interviews with adolescent and parent dyads conducted separately.

A semi-structured interview-based study found only moderate agreement between adolescents with autism and their parents about their future trajectory. These findings were published in Autism in Adulthood.

This analysis pooled data from 3 studies that recruited adolescents (n=46) aged 13 to 19 years with autism and their parents by the University of North Carolina and the University of Utah. All participants underwent semi-structured qualitative interviews with adolescent and parent dyads conducted separately.

The interviews asked about the adolescent’s future after high school including questions about education, employment, and living arrangement. Responses were converted to a 5-point scale ranging from strongly agreeing to strongly disagreeing and a 3-point scale, in which a 1 indicated the parent’s expectation was higher and a 3 meant the child’s expectation was higher.

The participants with autism were aged mean 15.7 (SD, 1.3) years, 84.8% were boys or men, 84.8% were White, 52.2% had severe autism traits, the cognitive estimate was 105.8 (SD, 15.7) points, and 52.2% were from a house with an income of $80,000 or more. Among the parents, all but 2 were mothers.

For questions about education, the most common outcomes were that responses partly disagreed (23.9%), partly agreed (23.9%), or strongly agreed (23.9%) followed by strongly disagreed (13.0%), and neither agreed or disagreed (6.5%).

For both employment and living situation, strong agreement was only observed for 10.9% of responses, and parents and children strongly disagreed about more questions regarding employment (13.0%) than living situation (6.5%).

In all cases, the adolescent’s expectation was higher for education (43.5%), employment (45.7%), and living situation (43.5%). Few parents had higher expectations than their children for education (6.5%; P <.001), employment (2.2%; P <.001), and living situation (10.9%; P <.001).

Some examples of disagreement are that 1 child envisioned themselves living abroad but their parent thought their child would have difficulty managing basic tasks like physical appearance or dietary habits if the child was living independently. Another child envisioned themselves enrolling in a 4-year college to become a video game designer, but their parent thought they would not be able to commit to such a long-term program.

These findings may not be generalizable, as most participants were White and from a high socioeconomic status.

The study authors concluded, “By comparing interviews conducted separately with autistic adolescents and their parents, we identified moderate rates of agreement across several areas of adulthood. Future research is needed to explore interventions to support families to work toward shared goals for the future. The findings of this study emphasize the importance of including the perspectives of autistic adolescents in research and for them to have an active and substantial role in their own transition planning.”


Kirby AV, Diener ML, Dean EE, Darlington AN, Myers A, Henderson J. Autistic adolescents’ and their parents’ visions for the future: How aligned are they? Autism Adulthood. 2022;4(1):32-41. doi:10.1089/aut.2020.0061