A.J. Drexel Autism Institute Awarded $2.5 Million Grant for Research to Support Healthy and Equitable Life Outcomes for Autistic Youth and Young Adults

Image credit: A.J. Drexel Autism Institute

A smooth transition into adulthood, and the milestones that come with it, is still out of reach for many autistic youth and young adults. While there are existing resources to help, not all are accessible especially youth and families from marginalized communities. Drexel University’s A.J. Drexel Autism Institute recently received a $2.5 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to fund the Institute’s Autism Transitions Research Project for an additional five years to address a “services cliff” that many transition-age autistic youth face.

For this project, the Autism Institute has defined transition-age youth broadly as 14-29 years old, to capture transition processes, track outcomes of transition as youth emerge into adulthood, and the factors that influenced these outcomes. When about 50,000 youth on the autism spectrum turn 18 years old each year, it is imperative to understand the needs of this population to develop and implement equitable policies and practices to support their optimal transition to adulthood.

Built on previous HRSA investment which led to the production and dissemination of seven National Autism Indicators Reports and more than 25 peer-reviewed publications, the Autism Transitions Research Project aims to produce high-impact research that corresponds to key areas needed to grow the evidence base to support health and equitable life outcomes among transition-age autistic youth and young adults.

While more autistic youth are gaining access to support services with the help of work conducted through the Autism Transitions Research Project, there are still gaps across multiple areas including work, postsecondary education access, community participation, social safety net program use and mental health.

The Autism Transitions Research Project will use innovative approaches to data analysis that utilize and link population-level metrics and data sources. It will develop new interventions to support Latinx autistic youth through a partnership with Arizona State University. It will build capacity for equity impact that catalyzes engagement of key institutions, program infrastructure and policies to bolster improved healthy life outcomes, such as partnering with at the University of California, Los Angeles to engage community colleges and historically Black and minority-serving colleges and universities to identify best practices in postsecondary education for autistic youth. The Autism Transitions Research Project will also engage with Title V programs that support children with special health care needs and their families across the U.S.

“Our partnerships in this work from across the U.S. are poised to advance in new ways what we know about building and implementing equitable service access and delivery for transition-age autistic youth,” said Lindsay Shea, DrPH, project director, interim leader of the Life Course Outcomes Research Program and leader of the Policy, Analytics and Community research program in the Autism Institute.

For more information on the program, visit: https://drexel.edu/autismoutcomes/projects/autism-transitions-research-project/.