It is the season for graduation. All over the country we are launching our kids out into the big wide world. What happens then?
Well if you are a person on the autism spectrum (ASD) your hopes don't look quite as high. In fact, recent studies show that 35% of people with autism are just sitting at home. Not employed, not attending post-secondary education- just sitting at home.
Why is that since a majority of people on the spectrum are high functioning and should be able to handle college and/or a job. I think there are several reasons.
One of the most defining elements of people with autism is lack of social skills. Whereas the majority of people pick up social skills by watching the habits of others, people with autism do not. So they may have difficulty sticking with a conversation and interjecting their own topic that has nothing to do with what is being discussed. They often appear to be very self-centered, having a great deal of difficulty taking another's perspective. Their idea of person space can get confused causing them to stand too close to the person with whom they are speaking. All of these deficits need to be overcome if they are to successfully move into a work place.
Another reason I believe they are underemployed is the failure to capitalize on a special interest. Many people with ASD have a particular interest. Sometimes it is very difficult to get them to move off the topic to discuss anything else. But that special interest can often be a pathway to a job. And it will be a job about which they are passionate. Too much energy is spent getting the individual to move past the special interest rather than capitalizing on it.
Failure to look at the benefits of having autism and matching those benefits to the job at hand. People with autism do better in a work environment that does not demand a great deal of sociability. As noted above they are weak in social skills. People with ASD may also appear rigid and in some ways they are. Being rigid about doing something the same way all the time can be a work benefit if a proper match has been made between job requirements and personal skills.
A good transition program in high school is critical to the post secondary success of a person with autism. Too often this program is not available to students in the public schools. There is a one size fits all approach and if the student gets admitted to a college, then everyone seems to be content that the job has been done. This is not so and the same problems that existed in high school pop up again in 4-5 years or sooner than that if the student drops out of college.
Families must work VERY hard to get that transition program and to make sure that the skill deficits of a child with autism are addressed before the entitlement to a free and appropriate education expires.