An estimated half million children with autism spectrum disorders will reach adulthood in this country over the next 10 years, according to the national advocacy group Autism Speaks.
Here are some of the challenges and needs mentioned by the people who have been attending our Puzzle Solvers meetings over the past five years:
Life Skills training: We hope to resume having companion sessions concurrent with our monthly meetings where Applied Behavior Analysis therapist(s) will offer life skills training. Past topics have ranged from emotional regulation, problem solving, conflict resolution and making friends, which goes hand-in-hand with our PEERS program.
Jobs/job coaching: People with autism often have talents and skills that make them perfectly competent for competitive employment. But relationships with supervisors and coworkers can be tricky because of the presence of “unwritten rules” and expectations that are not expressed directly. While “office politics” can make work life difficult even for neurotypical people, it can create a formidable barrier for people with autism who often have trouble picking up and deciphering indirect communication and social cues. Some of our attendees have discussed how they’ve benefited from job coaching services and others have expressed an interest in learning more about this service.
Appropriate accommodations at work and school: While needed accommodations will vary, depending on the nature of the job or the type of coursework, as well as the degree of challenge posed by an individual’s disability issues, some common examples include written rather than verbal instructions, part-time rather than full-time hours, a limit on multi-tasking demands, extra time to complete a task or assignment, a quiet place to work or study where distractions are kept to a minimum, lighting adjustments if sensitivity to fluorescent light is a problem, and clear direct communication in which job or coursework expectations are explicitly spelled out.
Housing: Several participants living with parents have expressed a desire to live on their own. But many who do have jobs are paid minimum wage or less, so finding affordable housing in a safe neighborhood is a challenge. Some could benefit from supported housing where they get help with such things cooking, shopping, housekeeping and budgeting.
Reliable transportation: Some people with autism don’t drive, either because they can’t afford a car, or have disability issues that prevent them from being able to drive safely. So they must rely on bicycles, rides from others or public transportation.
Financial independence: Some members want to learn budgeting skills, how to handle checking and savings accounts and other skills needed in order to handle their own finances and make financial decisions.
Help with sensory needs: Many people with autism have sensory issues, which can include auditory, visual or touch sensitivities. These may require accommodations, in some cases.
Tolerance and understanding: The public needs to be educated about autism in order to eliminate the myths and stereotypes that can lead to stigma, discrimination and even outright bullying. People with autism also need opportunities to develop friendships with other people – whether autistic or neurotypical – who share their interests and accept them for who they are.
Accessible community services: Individuals may need help accessing community services such as supported or subsidized housing, employment assistance/job coaching, public transportation, etc. This may include knowing what services are available, as well as help filling out forms or understanding bureaucratic requirements. Also, individuals and parents have asked how to access clinicians who can diagnose an autism spectrum disorder or who have enough knowledge of Aspergers/autism to provide affordable ongoing individual/family therapy.
Education of elected officials: Elected officials should be educated about the needs of adults with autism so that more services will be available and will get better funding.