If you’re a parent of a child on the autism spectrum, surely a chronic worry must be your child’s future, beginning with that will happen to your child once whatever supports you have been able to cobble together from your local school system time out in the late teens. Even young people with “mild” autism or Asperger’s syndrome face significant problems in dealing with the everyday world, navigating morning routines and social interactions other people can take for granted. With an apparent epidemic of autism spectrum disorder troubling families across the country—overall one in 88 kids now is diagnosed with ASD and one in 54 boys—how well is U.S. society preparing for the coming of age of ASD epidemic? A study published in the June issue of Pediatrics suggests the answer is: “not very well.”
The study found that young adults with an autism spectrum disorder are far less likely to continue their education or get a job after high school compared to young adults with other disabilities. Only about 35 percent of young adults with autism attended college and only 55 percent had a job during the first six years after high school. That rate compares unfavorably to rates maintained by young adults with other disabilities: 86 percent of young people with a speech or language impairment, 94 percent of those with a learning disability, and 69 percent of those with mental retardation were employed during the same time frame.
"Many families with children with autism describe leaving high school as falling off a cliff because of the lack of services for adults with an autism spectrum disorder," said senior study author Paul Shattuck, an assistant professor of social work at Washington University in St. Louis. "So much of media attention focuses on children. It's important for people to realize autism does not disappear in adolescence. The majority of lifespan is spent in adulthood."
The study suggests that more thought and resources need to be directed to figuring out how to help ASD kids transition to adulthood and whatever level of self-sufficiency they may be capable of establishing. About 50,000 youths with autism will turn 18 this year in the United States.
These days I presume many will say this is not society’s problem; it’s up to the families of kids with ASD to make whatever decisions are required and preparations made. But that position completely ignores how overwhelming the challenges of autism can be, even for the most psychologically and economically equipped households. These families and these kids are going to need a hand.