Article: The Impact of Early Intervention in 1999 on Shaping a Novel Profile Within the Autism Spectrum, Alongside the Ongoing Challenges in Employment

By TKU Staff

The landscape of autism support has evolved significantly since the early 90s. In 1999, New York introduced early intervention services to infants who were not meeting developmental milestones. Once these youths received early intervention services, they were likely to continue within the NYC Department of Education’s Committees on Preschool Education and Special Education, thereby receiving various ongoing services. Beginning as early as ages 0 to 2, a new pathway of support from a very young age was created. As a result of these interventions, a large number of young adults are in a new and interesting position as they have benefitted from various new approaches to learning. Despite this, there is a lack of meaningful employment opportunities for individuals who have received extensive therapies, education, and support. Many mid to late 20 year olds in this demographic find themselves underutilized, highlighting an urgent need for societal change.

A Brief History of Early Intervention

The concept of early intervention services gained traction in the 1980s, emphasizing the importance of identifying and addressing developmental challenges in children with autism and other disabilities. This led to the development of Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI) and other evidence-based therapies aimed at improving outcomes for autistic children. Prior to this, many individuals with disabilities lived in state institutions, only receiving minimal accommodations such as food, clothing and shelter. Education and rehabilitation were not a part of this and most families did not have a chance to take part in planning for their children and resources were limited.

In 1986, early intervention was introduced under the Education of the Handicapped Act (EHA) to enhance the abilities of what was then termed “handicapped” infants and toddlers to help minimize cognitive delay. In 1990, EHA was renamed to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), marking the initial introduction of early intervention for autism as part of these disability categories.

States across the country reported rises in the number of children with autism receiving services each year within the education system, with an average increase of more than 800% since 1992.  

In 1999, the New York Early Intervention program established evidence-based guidelines for children aged 0-3 with autism, leading to increased scientific research and specific treatments for early intervention programs. If a person received early intervention at 2 in 1999 they are now approximately 29 years old. 

The Impact of Early Intervention

Although there is ongoing and still more research to be done in the field of autism, 20-30 years ago, there were no effective treatments available for individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum. As a result, many of these children were often placed in large institutions where they remained for the rest of their lives.

The implementation of early intervention strategies, including EIBI, has led to significant improvements in educational outcomes for autistic individuals. More than half of children undergoing EIBI are now able to integrate into regular education classrooms and pursue higher education opportunities.

It is important to acknowledge that every autistic person is unique, so different things work for different people. However, the aim of autism intervention is to enable each child to thrive in their own unique way and to equip individuals with the tools they need to survive in society. These interventions have also contributed to better brain functioning among a notable portion of autistic individuals, leading to improved social, cognitive, and emotional skills. Early intervention strategies address various areas such as speech, communication, socialization, motor skills, self-care, and independence with speech-language, occupational and physical therapists along with teachers who are trained in special education.

The Rise of the Neurodiverse Individual with Intermediate Needs or Abilities

As a result of early intervention and ongoing therapies since 1999, there seems to be a new cohort of neurodiverse individuals who have emerged. These individuals still face challenges associated with autism but are capable of participating in society, attending school, and sometimes even post-secondary education or vocational opportunities. Many can and want to work. 

Neurodiversity describes the idea that people interact with and understand the world in various ways, challenging the idea that there’s only one “right” way to think, learn, or behave. Instead, it celebrates differences as valuable strengths rather than weaknesses. The term was coined in the late 1990s by Judy Singer, an Australian sociologist, as a way to promote equality and inclusion of “neurological minorities.” It refers to individuals with autism or other neurological or developmental conditions, such as ADHD or learning disabilities who have differences in brain functions and behavioral traits. 

Challenges in Employment

Despite the successes in education and therapy, the transition to meaningful employment remains a significant challenge. The employment rate for people with disabilities, including autism, remains low, with autistic individuals experiencing difficulties in finding and maintaining employment. Autistic individuals receive some of the lowest pay rates among those with disabilities. Disability employment reached a record high of 22.5% in 2023. The employment rate among individuals with disabilities is also approximately one-third of that observed in the general population. Unemployment rates are significantly higher for individuals with disabilities across all education levels, regardless of their educational attainment.

Society’s lack of understanding and mythologizing around autism via tv and movies, limited job opportunities, and communication barriers contribute to these challenges. While there is some representation of autism in the media, it is often a very biased, stereotypical view based on the experience of white, adolescent, young-adult males typically from middle-class families.

Autistic individuals often face discrimination, lack of accommodations, poor support and mentoring at jobs and limited access to suitable job roles that align with their interests, skills and abilities. 

Employment opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities have traditionally been confined to the “four F’s”: food-related tasks like food preparation, sanitation duties such as cleaning and janitorial services, landscaping responsibilities involving simple gardening, and factory jobs such as rote assembly work. These limitations do not allow many neurodiverse autistic people to reach their full potential. 

The Importance of Inclusive Employment Practices

These limited job opportunities have detrimental effects on autistic individuals, giving them a lower quality of life. Employment gives many human beings satisfaction and a place of belonging. There are many benefits for mental health and well-being of being employed as an autistic person. Some benefits include structure, financial freedom, autonomy, and confidence. In a study done on the meaning of work to autistic adults, it was found that many felt that by not earning an income, others did not take them seriously, resulting in a strong negative effect on self-work and well-being. Many also felt guilt, shame, and social exclusion. Participants also reported feelings of social isolation. In contrast, participants who received paid employment felt that employment had provided them with social contacts and appreciation by others, which increased their sense of well-being. 

To address these challenges, there is a need for greater awareness, inclusive hiring practices held by human resource departments, and tailored support programs in the workforce–before even entering a job. Currently, the buzzwords to help any student obtain a job is “work-based learning” or “career readiness” which leads to “workforce development” or the actual obtainment of a job. The importance of career-readiness is undeniable. However, the current approach often fails due to the  significant challenges that are encountered. There is an overall misunderstanding of essential skills needed in the workplace, an excessive focus on off-campus work-based learning over more accessible work-integrated learning in the classroom, and a lack of guidance in navigating the array of career related opportunities available to students. 

As a society, we need to do more for autistic students in their high school and college years to teach and model for them work skills. What does a good work-based learning program where career readiness and social emotional skills are taught for neurodiverse students look like? Who is doing this type of work? Investing in neurodiversity initiatives, providing accommodations, offering training programs, and fostering a culture of inclusion can create opportunities for autistic individuals to thrive in the workforce. By bridging the gap between education and employment, society can unlock the full potential of neurodiverse talent and promote a more equitable and inclusive workforce. Employers can benefit from the unique strengths and perspectives that neurodiverse individuals  bring to the table.


Early intervention and therapies have indeed created a new paradigm for autistic individuals, enabling many to achieve educational milestones and participate more fully in society. This neurodiverse individual wants to contribute to society and find a meaningful place in the world. However, the journey towards meaningful employment remains a work in progress. By making sure interventions around “learning to work” are taught, modeled and practiced in high school and post-secondary in specialized work-based learning and career readiness programs designed specifically for these constituents, we can move the needle. By addressing societal barriers, advocating for inclusive practices, and providing ongoing job support, we must create a future where all individuals, regardless of neurodiversity, can contribute meaningfully and lead fulfilling lives. Let’s forget the four “Fs” of disability work culture and move these individuals into next level job opportunities.


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