Lisa Goring is the Vice President of family services at Autism Speaks. In that role she helps families and individuals impacted by autism to make informed decisions that maximize the quality of life and development potential of affected individuals. Her 16-year-old son Andrew has autism.
For many, June marks the time of year for high school graduations. Students have worked hard and graduation is a time to celebrate their achievements and think about the next phase of their lives. Some will get jobs, others will move on to colleges, or technical and vocational schools. For many students with autism, this can also be a joyous occasion. But for their families, it is often a daunting time as they think about their child with autism no longer having the supports and services that he or she had during their school-age years.
Over the next ten years, over half a million children with autism will enter adulthood. Families have worked so hard to advocate for the appropriate educational settings and supports for their children, and as a result many children with autism have made good progress. However, for many of these families, their children will continue to need those supports and services well after they leave the educational system and enter adulthood. Unfortunately for those who need this, the services to which they were entitled under educational law are not available in the adult service system. Many families report that the supports for adults with autism are just too few and far between.
In order to help individuals with autism and their families with the transition process and gaining access to appropriate adult services, Autism Speaks has developed several tools and resources. For families going through the journey from adolescence to adulthood, we have created the Transition Tool Kit. This extensive guide provides options for families to consider including the need to develop communication and self advocacy skills, job sampling and employment, post-secondary educational opportunities, housing, health, recreational and social opportunities and financial planning.
We know that employment is a critical component for most adults to build full and productive lives and individuals living with autism deserve the opportunity to contribute as productive workers in appropriate employment settings. Yet adults with autism have an extremely high unemployment/underemployment rate. This seems to have less to do with their ability and actual job skills, but more to do with the social or “soft skills” necessary in most workplaces. Autism Speaks has worked with people with autism, service providers and employers to develop the Employment Tool Kit, which provides people with autism with the strategies they need to help find and maintain a job.
One of the most challenging aspects of adulthood for those with autism and their families is the decision to move out of the family home and find a home of their own with the proper supports (if necessary). This can be a particularly difficult process to navigate, and there are extremely long waiting lists in many areas of the country for adult services. Our Housing and Residential Supports Portal on the Autism Speaks website provides information about different housing options and supports, funding sources, waiting lists, and different residential models available throughout the country. We also feature a “home of the month” that highlights what different families and individuals have found helpful.
Transitioning to adulthood can be scary for everyone. For those with autism and their families it can be even more difficult. We at Autism Speaks know that every individual on the spectrum is different. Each person has different preferences, strengths and weaknesses. We also know that though the path will be different for each family, the goal remains the same: for every member of our community to lead happy, healthy and fulfilling adult lives as independently as possible.