Monday, September 19, 2011


The kind of long-form journalism at which the New York Times excels is increasingly rare in these days of Huffington Posts and 140-character tweets.  All the more reason to savor it: here's a terrific article on the challenges individuals with autism face as they leave the public school system and transition into adulthood.

It's a tough and not particularly well-charted road: endless energy has been to developing school-based and home-based interventions for children, to pushing for the inclusion of kids with autism, to remediate communication skills, social skills, behavior, etc.

School, though, is a controlled environment.  Adulthood is a free-for-all.  We owe each child and free and appropriate public education, but what do we owe disabled adults?  At 21, all taxpayer-funded interventions abruptly cease.  It's like a twisted version of your first trip to a bar, with independence as your hangover.

But even if we were to fund services for adults with autism, what's the best thing for these individuals?  How much energy should we devote toward helping them function like neurotypical adults, versus searching out a niche in which they can be comfortable, fulfilled and cared-for versions of who they are? 

My husband's employer employs an elderly autistic man part-time.  He has a routine and a place to be, a specific set of tasks to accomplish and topics he likes to talk about.  No one expects him to move outside of his comfort zone; he, and the people around him, have arranged a partnership in which he, in all his atypicality, fits.  (I should note that my husband's workplace is not-for-profit.  Profit-making and disability don't tend to make congenial bedfellows.) 

When do you stop rehabilitating and start accommodating?  It's a tough question.  But we'll have to ask it- and ask it again- as our bumper crop of autistic little ones starts growing up.

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