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1 in 3 autistic students have no college education nearly a decade after high school

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A new study found one in three young adults with autism had no post-secondary education or employment in the years after graduating from high school. According to the researchers, autistic youth had a higher risk of not enrolling in college or finding a job than youth with other developmental disabilities.

The study, which was published in the journal Pediatrics, included approximately 2000 students with disabilities, and more than 600 people with autism spectrum disorders, specifically.  The researchers said it the largest of its kind conducted to date.  

The results indicated only 35 percent of autistic youth had attended a 2 or 4-year college, 9 percent received vocational education, and 55 percent had held paid employment six years after high school graduation.  Thirty-five percent did not participate in post-secondary education or employment.

The rates were even bleaker immediately after high school – more than 50 percent of autistic youth had no post-secondary education or employment two years following graduation.

In April, one of those autistic students, Billy Pagoni, received national attention after he made a public video plea to President Obama for help in finding a college that would accept him.

“Dear President Obama, my name is Billy Pagoni,” Billy implored on a video posted on Facebook. “I want to be a baker. I am a great student. I never miss a day of school. I get A’s on my report card. Please, can you help me go to college? I am an American. I am autistic.”

Billy’s mother Edith Pagoni told FoxNews.com in a prior interview that she had asked several local Florida colleges if there were any programs for her son – and was denied at every turn.

“They tell me there’s no place for him,” Pagoni said. “He goes to school every day, he gets A’s in a specialized curriculum, but he’s being denied a post-secondary experience.”

According to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 88 children in the U.S. have been identified with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  Approximately 50,000 adolescents with autism will turn 18 years old this year in the U.S., the researchers said.

“It appears that youth with an ASD are uniquely at high risk for a period of struggling to find ways to participate in work and school after leaving high school,” the study researchers wrote in the report. “These findings point to potential gaps in transition planning specifically for youth with autism and barriers to participation that may be specific to this population. Future research needs to examine how transition planning is conducted for youth with an ASD to ensure that services promote participation in education and employment in the first years after high school.”