Thirteen years of education has come to an end. There were good times, there were bad times, and there were we-made-it-through-the-day times. Whether the child attended "mainstream" classes, special education classes in a public school, or had a specialized education at a place like the Autism Treatment Center, the educational experience for families affected by autism was very different from nearly every other family on the block. Students with autism are as different from each other as any other student is from the next, and every child has their own best method for learning. The autism student may or may not have enrolled in AP English, played a sport, learned to drive, or gone to senior prom, but they had their own milestones along the way that are just as worthy for celebration. Happy Graduation Day!
At the end of this long long road many parents experience the joy and trepidation of sending their child off into the "real world". Many parents will drop their son or daughter off at the university dorms in the fall. For the parent with a child with autism, the joy might be quickly outweighed by the nervousness that comes with the question: What next? Many parents knew that after graduation college would not be the next step for their child. It is estimated that over 2,000 students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) graduate from Texas schools each year. While many may be off to college in the fall, there is a large percentage who will not.
As students become adults treatment and program options change. They were once enrolled in a structured educational environment that filled their day, which was possibly provided by the State. Upon graduation, or "aging-out", students and parents are left to find their next steps. This is where many adults with autism fall through the cracks. Without the structure that was once provided, recent graduates may be filling their time by playing video games, watching tv, or simply sitting in their room. This may sound like the typical teenage summer, but this behavior can often become a permanent way of life for these adults. While support services for adults are scarce, there are options to ensure that a student with autism can continue to progress and learn; it just takes a little research and work to find, and maybe even create them.
Though the autism community is growing, it is still a small group. Chances are parents of children with autism know one another. The saying goes that it takes a village to raise a child and this is never more true than with a special needs child. There are many support and peer groups in the community where parents and adults with autism can commune. Parents are able to seek advice and adults with ASD can practice communication and social skills. The Autism Treatment Center hosts a peer group once a month where adults in the community can come together for a life-skills lesson, dinner, comradery, and a chance to practice communicating.
Parents can also search for Transitional and Employment programs and services. There are many employers with programs specifically focused on hiring adults with developmental challenges. These businesses are committed to working with individuals to help them succeed and be an active member of the community. Many in the Adult Services program at ATC spend several days a month volunteering at nonprofit organizations like World Vision, Volunteer Center, and Meals on Wheels. Lora, one of the adult volunteers, says "I deliver food to old people! I like it. My favorite thing is giving people their meals and everything. I want to tell them thank you for letting me help." Read more about ATC Volunteering here.
Heading off in to the "real world" can be scary, but having a plan and a support group can help make the transition easier.