The numbers don’t lie. That is the first lesson we learn in the business world fresh out of college. Understanding the metrics of any profession is an absolute must before experiencing any measure of success. Grasping the magnitude of the autism epidemic is no different, as millions of families are coping with the wrath of this disorder. Since the 1990’s we have followed the destructive path autism has inflicted on families around the world. The numbers have increased significantly since then, but care and treatment options remain limited. Moreover, we are as perplexed today in many areas related to autism spectrum disorders as we were some 30 years ago. That’s not to minimize the progress made in the areas of medical research and therapeutic intervention resulting in improvements for many. Nor is this a plea to eliminate early intervention assessments which have proven vital to long term success. This is, however, a declaration based on experience and observation that the time has come for us to end neglecting adults with autism.
The early statistics from the 1990’s has yielded an entire generation of now young adults coming of age in a world that seems unsure about their presence. No longer children, these adults are seeking validation from a world that once dismissed autism as a passing fad. They don’t want pity or patronage, but real opportunities to prove themselves as adults – not as children caught in a cycle of perpetual dependency. They are not children trapped in grown up bodies, or any other condescending caricature of what it means to live with autism. In order to accomplish this we must start with our speech, ensuring respect, dignity, and true tolerance. Like young adults everywhere, those on spectrum have long been recognized as having amazing talents, but society can’t seem to get past the hidden “stigma” of autism. The time has come for all of us to shed the labels and embrace these bright gifted young people for who they are. Who exactly are they, you ask? Autistic adults are fellow human beings who love, cry, reflect, create, and laugh out loud – just like the rest of us. They attend college or maybe decide to live with mom and dad; perhaps getting an apartment of their own to share with their favorite pet suits them best. In short, autistic adults encompass a diverse swatch of humanity with a multitude of abilities and interests.
Moving forward, the time is now to outline legislative initiatives related to jobs, housing, and safety concerns for autistic adults. We have failed miserably in introducing measures to nurture and protect our autistic brothers and sisters. Even our dialogue surrounding autism fails to address the plight of adults on the spectrum. To reiterate, there should be continued efforts to provide support services for autistic children. Advocating for expanded services for school age children is needed, in fact, due to broader diagnostic parameters for autism. That notwithstanding, addressing the needs of adults with autism must start now as aging parents are feeling pressure to identify appropriate long term solutions. Taking a single minded approach towards autism has not delivered a cure or changed much in the lives of most autistic families. There appears to be a fascination with discussing the proclivities of autistics in social settings, but little regard for others areas of life. Having more job training resources, dating and relationship counseling, life skills instructions, and money management classes are just a few relevant topics needed for adults with autism. Lip service is simply unacceptable in addressing the concerns impacting adults on the spectrum. They, and family members, deserve better and we are capable of delivering more to the autism community.