Yang-Tan Institute launches autism transition initiative

The Yang-Tan Institute on Employment and Disability in the ILR School has secured a $646,000 gift from benefactor K. Lisa Yang ’74 to launch the Autism Transition to Adulthood Initiative (ATTAIN), aimed at helping students with autism achieve success after high school.

The three-year project, which began Jan. 1, will create the first national longitudinal database for policy-focused research focused exclusively on older teens with autism, said Thomas Golden, YTI’s executive director.

“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; the study examined the effect of transition services on employment and schooling success.

The new initiative will explore factors that predict successful transitions to adulthood for young people with autism.

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

Youth with autism spectrum disorder face obstacles – including limited job opportunities and complex adult service systems – as they move from high school to early adulthood. The combination of disability and poverty, Enayati said, makes that transition even more challenging.

ATTAIN will focus initially on the at-risk population of youth with autism who are living in poverty, and will aim to understand what can be done to best prepare students with autism for success after high school.

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 the common thread in all three phases will be communication of their findings. The team plans to produce an academic paper and policy brief each year, as well as webinars and tools for practitioners.

“All of this,” he said, “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.”

Julie Greco is a communications specialist with the ILR School.

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