Special Education

Life Paths Diverge for Young Adults With, Without Disabilities

By Nirvi Shah — September 08, 2011 2 min read

Six years after high school, students with disabilities are less likely to have gone on to postsecondary schools than their classmates without disabilities and less likely to be financially independent, but a little more likely to have children, according to a new report from the National Center for Special Education Research.

The report found that 55 percent of young people with disabilities reported having continued on to postsecondary school since leaving high school, compared with 62 percent of their peers in the general population.

These and other conclusions were based on 10-year-long study of the characteristics, experiences, and outcomes of a nationally representative sample of youth with disabilities. The National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 focuses on students who were 13 to 16 years old and receiving special education services in grade 7 or above on Dec. 1, 2000.

Perhaps predictably, young adults with learning disabilities, speech and language impairments, orthopedic impairments, other health impairments, traumatic brain injuries, autism, or emotional disturbances were more likely to be working on their education beyond high school compared to students with other types of disabilities, such as mental retardation.

The results of this study may come into play when, or if, Congress takes up the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act, first passed in 1998. The Council for Exceptional Children and the National Center on Learning Disabilities, among other advocacy groups, already have some thoughts on how the law should be changed to better serve people with disabilities.

For example, a June issue brief from CEC says that when the law is revamped, it must strengthen coordination with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, removing barriers in the workforce system, and maintaining high expectations for individuals with disabilities to achieve fulfilling careers throughout their lifetimes.

Also, as might be expected, young adults with disabilities who had finished high school were three times as likely to have enrolled in a school after high school than those who didn’t—59 percent vs. 17 percent.

Of the 63 percent of young adults with disabilities who enrolled in a postsecondary school within six years of leaving high school and were no longer attending, 38 percent had graduated or finished their program.

Although 71 percent of young adults with disabilities had a paid job other than working around the house, the same as for those without disabilities, they were less likely to be living independently, or have a checking account, a savings account or a credit card.

White young adults with disabilities were more likely to live independently than their black peers with disabilities, the report says—39 percent vs. 21 percent.

And, while 20 percent of young people without disabilities had or had fathered a child since leaving high school, it was 23 percent of those with a disability, though the latter group was less likely to be married.

A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.