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The Importance of Indicators

Paul Shattuck

Posted on August 31, 2015
Model T steering wheel

Speedometer. Odometer. Gas gauge...

If you’ve ever driven a car then you already know what an indicator is. The speedometer indicates how fast you’re going. The odometer indicates how far you’ve gone. The gas gauge indicates how much fuel you’ve got. A driver relies on information from these indicators to help obey the speed limit, measure progress to reaching a destination, and know when more gas is needed to keep the car running.

Organizations, communities, states and countries also need indicators. Some familiar ones include local crime statistics, the number of accident-free days on a big construction site, and the national unemployment rate. Indicators help us know the scope and magnitude of problems, whether we have enough resources to fix a problem, and whether we are making progress toward solving problems.

When it comes to understanding how well our nation is helping people affected by autism, our situation is like driving a car through the fog with no dashboard. We know we’re moving. We can feel the gas pedal under our foot, the steering wheel in our hands. But we do not have many indicators to tell us how fast we are going, whether we’re getting close to our goals, or what kind of mileage we are getting from the resources fueling our trip.

One of the main priorities of the Life Course Outcomes Research Program is to report on national indicators. One product of the indicator initiative is the National Autism Indicators Report series which offers in-depth reporting on available autism indicators across the lifespan. The series launched in 2015 with the Transition into Adulthood report about the experiences and outcomes of young adults on the autism spectrum between high school and their early 20s. 

We recognize that we don’t have enough data yet to report on meaningful indicators for everything that we need to know. We need to build this set of comprehensive indicators to understand how far we have come and where we are headed in our efforts to help those affected by autism. 

Big numbers and national statistics can feel abstract. The important thing to remember about indicators is that they tell us about how lives are turning out and whether our efforts to help are clearly moving us to a better future.

Paul Shattuck

Paul Shattuck, Ph.D., director of the Life Course Outcomes Research Program, studies experiences and services promoting positive life outcomes for people on the autism spectrum, their families and communities.

Posted in Access to Services, Community-and-Social-Participation, Education, Employment, Health and Mental Health, Living Arrangements, Safety and Risk, Transition to Adulthood